Sour Cream Coffee Cake

April 6, 2010



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I made a lot of things this weekend on a visit to my parents’ house, including some batik eggs. Wax on a convex surface is decidedly unruly, but that is not the story here. This story is of a cake that almost didn’t get made: one I planned to bake and serve on Easter morning, until I got blue and decided to whip it up on Saturday night.

At first, things seemed to go from bad to worse, the day we commemorated Jesus in the tomb. It sounds trivial by comparison, but I cut my index finger rather badly while sulking and slicing a lemon (although if I were to turn lemons into lemonade over this one, I’d say I learned a damned good lesson: never use a sharp knife if you’re feeling sour / pondering God).


After dinner—which I ate with my left hand elevated—I sulked around some more, thinking about light, Pascal things like losing my religion, and wayward Catholic priests. Fortunately, my mother suggested coloring eggs, a no-fail pagan remedy to life’s bigger questions. Honestly, the eggs really did cheer me up: nothing like a bunch of adults sitting around staining their cuticles and the smell of vinegar wafting from old, color filled tea cups, even on a day when no bells ring. Plus, my eggs turned out the spiffiest, with all of that wax running everywhere. Am I revealing my childhood personality here?

By the time I finished abut ten eggs, my finger seemed on the up and up and I thought I could possibly lift my mood to even higher levels—the way a real Catholic girl might feel about the ascension of Christ. Sadly, the only thing I really could envision rising that night was the dough of a sour cream coffee cake, and so I started with my mise en place.


Foolish, cut up, heretic that I was, I set out all of my flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, salt, cinnamon and sour cream before considering the possibility that Mom, in her zest to cheer me, had boiled every single egg in the house. I looked around as a hot, itchy panic set in: there they were, 18 colored, useless eggs, squatting in a nest of plastic grass, their insides hardened and congealed.

And so, there would be no coffee cake. I began to wonder—would there be any place on Easter morning where a person could buy a pair of eggs? Or would all of the egg sellers be wearing pastels and singing hyms? All of the stores in town had announced their intended closure in little hand-made signs taped across front doors and bulletin boards.  I lay awake that night, wondering if miracles really could happen. And when I awoke, as if he came to me in a dream, I remembered the one Muslim in Washington, Connecticut, who owns a convenience store. I drove there in pajamas and with bated breath until I saw the light: blue and red neon lights that proclaimed OPEN! So, at 7am I got to raise some dough after all and read the paper, too.


This recipe is so good, it tastes like sin. Or redemption, depending on how you tend to your gastronomical guilt. Mine is pretty laced with the lessons I learned in CCD, and with the constantly reoccurring phrase my father uses for things that are shockingly tasty, “This is so good, it should be outlawed.” I always know I’ve done right by him when villainy of the federal government is invoked. So I felt that familiar ambivalence: guilt, excitement, guilt. You can take the girl out of church, but you can never take church out of the girl.

No matter how you feel about Uncle Sam or Jesus, this cake will set differences aside—unless of course you are on a diet, in which case, please avoid my kitchen at Easter. After a heady meal of Polish sausage, Explorateur cheese, many hardboiled eggs, spiced nuts and a butter lamb—spinach, asparagus and quinoa were thrown in for good measure—we moved on to the cake. And as I took my first bite, I knew the day was holy. (Just look at these eggs!)


I got this recipe from an online personality named Jan Taylor. She posted it to All, and I owe every last morsel of genius to her work, except that I threw in a little extra brilliance, if I do say so myself, by doubling her crumble topping so that the ribbon through the middle of the dough was twice as thick and the crown of streusel was even more crisp and proud. I also added a cup of walnuts to the top, which really was extraordinary. I may try subbing out some of the sugar in the batter and replacing it with maple syrup, but that would be a coffee cake for another holy day—perhaps Christmas morning?

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Serves 9

1 c butter
2 c white sugar
2 eggs
1 c sour cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 c all purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ c all purpose flour
1 c packed brown sugar
4 T melted butter
1 T ground cinnamon
1 c chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter and flour a 9 x 9 inch cake pan.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. (I like to do this in a stand mixer and let it whip a while so that the consistency is extremely light and airy.)

Mix in eggs, one at a time, then stir in sour cream and vanilla. (Once again, I let my mixer to a lot of heavy lifting here.)

Very gently, stir in 2 c flour, baking powder and salt and spread half of batter into pan.

Prepare the topping: combine ½ c flour with brown sugar and cinnamon.

Melt butter and pour into flour and sugar mix, teasing with a fork so that some large crumbles remain intact.

Spread ½ of filling evenly over dough then carefully cover streusel with remaining batter then top with leftover filling and walnuts.

Bake for 30 minutes, then rotate and tent with aluminum foil. Bake another 20 and remove foil for a remaining 10 minutes in the oven.

Let cool slightly and serve.

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