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How-To

Three Great Coffee Cakes

Fine Cooking Issue 54
Photos: Amy Albert
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Coffee cakes are a great reminder that a cake needn’t be complicated to be really good. If you’re new to baking, they’re a fine way to get your feet wet with a no-fail recipe that gives impressive results. And if you’re a more seasoned baker, you’ll enjoy the easy-breezy nature of these cakes (plus, none of the ingredient lists requires a wild goose chase).  

There’s more to recommend these coffee cakes, especially during hectic holiday time: They’re extremely versatile and can go from brunch to teatime to a dinner party. They travel beautifully, which makes them great candidates for whatever potluck occasion you might find yourself invited to. And all of these coffee cakes taste even better the day after you make them.

A quick-bread method for easy mixing and moist results

You may have seen recipes for yeast-raised coffee cakes, but the ones here involve a quick-bread technique. There are two methods for mixing up a quick-bread type of cake; both use baking powder or baking soda (or sometimes both) to provide lift. The first technique is popularly known as the creamed-butter method. The second is a simple two-step process of mixing the dry and the wet ingredients (including either melted butter or oil) separately before gently stirring them together. I use both methods in the recipes that accompany this article, as they both produce deliciously moist cakes that are great right out of the oven, and even better a day later.

A crumb-topped vanilla cake is a nostalgic favorite.
Fresh cranberries add sassy, bright flavor.

Coffee cake basics

• Keep ingredients at room temperature. It’s easier to blend them this way, with less risk of overmixing and ending up with a tough cake.
• Make sure the butter is softened so it’s easier to beat in air. Along with baking powder, it’s air bubbles that help leaven the cake and create a light texture.
• Measure your ingredients carefully, and weigh the dry ingredients. A common reason cake recipes don’t turn out is because of imprecise measuring.
• Go easy on the mixing. Follow the recipe directions: “Mix until just incorporated” is meant to ensure a tender crumb.
• Cool all cakes on a rack. This helps air circulate and will keep the cake from getting soggy on the bottom.

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