Crud. I’ve had the crud. Dave, too. Days and days of nasty, head cold life–luckily not much else like sore throats or tummy troubles. Unable to navigate further than the kitchen, we summoned up pots of my easiest chicken soups, ordered pizza when the soup was gone, and watched as many Christmas movies as two people could handle in what ended up to be more than a week. In between, there was a snow storm that left us with several inches in the drive and on the walkways but with luckily no power outages. That meant a few gorgeous fires in the fireplace to cheer us up.
Unable to sleep for long periods of time — or to see up close for more than a few minutes at a time (my eyes were strangely tired) — I fell into the large stacks of holiday magazines lying around the house–even at 4 am. I finally and very slowly read the entire December, 2008 issue of GOURMET, which, as it turns out, was the last published always-famous Christmas issue even though the staff had no idea of that difficult, sad truth at the time. If this seems a theme for More Time 2019 holidays, it might be because I read Ruth Reichl’s excellent biography this fall (lovely gift idea!)….
and found myself more than once reaching back into the past to thumb through the magazine that might never again be. Might never be again. Whatever. Could it be resurrected? Who knows? I just saw that MAD ABOUT YOU is being filmed again after 20 years. Did the Berlin wall come down? Who knew it could? There’s been a tremendous amount written about GOURMET since its demise and, you know, the recipes, the photographs, the stories…they live on; they’re not gone. Like Winston Churchill, I never give up.
It turns out this particular issue, December, 2008, was tucked into a storage ottoman –right where I drink my coffee every single morning. That issue was like brand new and in the wrong place; it should have been with the rest of the GOURMET copies! Thumbing through, I wondered if I’d ever read it (December being what it is), so read it I did this week bit by bit, 11 years late, while making my way though 6, no, 8 boxes of Kleenex. There is a plethora of beautiful recipes to dream through or maybe even cook if you’ve health and time (sneeze, choke, cough), but the one that caught my eye was a Cranberry Vanilla Coffeecake— part of a brunch spread called, “Merry Morning,” written by the talented food writer Melissa Roberts and perfectly photographed by Mikkel Vang. His beautiful photograph of the original cake is included in the link below for the recipe, which is, like many other GOURMET recipes, on epicurious.com.
The instructions for Cranberry Vanilla Coffeecake weren’t difficult, but you had to look at them two or three times despite an obvious resemblance to a typical crumb coffee cake. Still. I loved the sound of such a treat for Christmas morning, but I wanted it bigger than a 9-inch round pan–more like a 9×13 cake pan size. We’re talking brunch here and considering the need for leftovers at holiday time. Cranberries, yes, but what about pears and apples, too, like one of my favorite More Time fall pies? Since I had them on the counter? I began to think crunchy Georgia pecans in the crumble topping. *Since I had them on the counter. Warm winter spices layered through out. Some brown sugar in the mid-section? A drizzle of fresh lemon juice in the fruit. Vanilla extract for the batter in place of the vanilla bean in the sugar– as I had no fresh vanilla bean anyway.
Thus began the math of 50% enlargement and lots of additions and changes. A little bit loosy-goosy due to the stuffy-cold head, I found myself increasing some ingredients by 50%, but doubling others. Math = not my strong suit and increasing odd amounts in American recipes, unlike European ones that depend on weight instead of volume, is usually a goat rope. Luckily all that was on paper. I got the new ingredient amounts figured right in the end, re-wrote the recipe longhand, and baked my cake from the tangled web below.
This exercise in frustration was sort of like old school recipe card baking when you can’t decipher your dead aunt’s handwriting. After checking and rechecking, I typed it out while the cake cooled and found it mostly made sense. I’m not sure Melissa Roberts would recognize her cake at this point, but I’m ever so grateful. I’ll edit it all again tomorrow and make sure it’s nigh unto legible for you. If not, you know where to find me.
The past few years, I find I have less and less of a sweet tooth. A bite or two of a dessert is all I want, though I continue to love to bake when I have the time. This cake, however, with its spicy low notes, sweet-tart fruit layer and crunchy browned pecans–all wafting entrancing throughout the house– summoned me; I could hardly wait until it was cool enough to try, though wait I did as cake right out of the oven is a hot mess. The flavors are more my husband’s style, so he, too, was drawn and ended up eating two pieces right before dinner.–totally unlike he who has the willpower of the gods. Tummy full of goodies before dinner…not a typical occurrence in my kitchen. I think this is the kind of holiday breakfast or afternoon coffee treat that folks keep going back to and cutting a little more here and there…until there’s nothing left. Which is a good thing.
While I think the cake would be all kinds of pleasurable with a little scoop of smooth plain yogurt or as part of a brunch buffet, it shines best all by itself fresh and warm… with a strong cup of coffee to wash it down, of course. Should you have kids with some baking experience (cookies, banana bread, pancakes), you could put them to this recipe though I think they might need a few pointers as there are divided ingredients, for instance. There’s also the matter of alternating adding the dry ingredients and the milk into the wet ingredients–always ending with dry ingredients. These are excellent teaching points for a next-level up baker, but they may need a little explaining to a young chef. I’m particularly thinking of my smart young students, Josiah and Alaena Shipp, who might like a new challenge this month — and who love pears, by the way!
Whoever gets the sweet chore of baking spirits bright here will be one popular baker. Don’t overbeat at any stage (or it will be tough instead of tenderly crumby) and, as for all baked goods, do your best to bake only until crispy golden brown at the edges and just barely done at the center. While I liked it absolutely best warm, two days later on the counter, it was the only thing we’d eat for breakfast. By then the fruit had softened, the crunchy crumble topping had sunk in, and the spices had intensified. Do try this, friends:
Cranberry-Apple-Pear Coffee Cake
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 EACH: Honeycrisp apple and Bartlett pear-cored, peeled, and cut into ½-inch dice
- 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
- 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose, unbleached flour, divided
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
- 3/4 cup salted butter (1 1/2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons, divided-softened
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs at roomm temperature
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- PREP: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set rack at center. Grease well and flour a 9×13 inch metal baking pan.
- MIX FRUIT: In a medium bowl, stir together the brown sugar, apple, pear, cranberry, lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Set aside.
- MIX DRY INGREDIENTS: In a large bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the flour, the baking powder, salt, cloves, nutmeg and reserved 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Set aside.
- BEAT WET INGREDIENTS/ADD DRY INGREDIENTS: With an electric mixer, beat together 2 cups of the sugar and the 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) softened butter until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and then one egg at a time until just thoroughly combined. With mixer on low, add flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with flour, being careful not to overmix.
- SPREAD BATTER IN PAN: Spread half of the batter into the pan and spoon the fruit mixture over it (spoon off any huge puddles of liquid from the fruit, it should just be very wet) leaving a ½-inch border around the edges. Spread remaining batter over the fruit using a small offset spatula.
- MAKE THE TOPPING: To a small bowl, add the reserved ½ cup granulated sugar, the reserved 2 tablespoons EACH of flour and butter, and the cup of chopped pecans. Using your fingertips, blend the ingredients together. Crumble evenly over the top of the cake.
- BAKE AND COOL: Bake for about 50 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into the cake comes out clean (not into fruit filling) and sides begin to pull away from pan. Cool in pan 30 minutes on a rack before slicing and serving warm or at room temperature. Store wrapped tightly on the counter for a day or two or in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you'd like to freeze it, the cake should last, well-wrapped in a 0 degree F freezer, for 2-3 months. Thaw overnight on the counter while still wrapped.
more holiday breakfast ideas…
Make my NUTCRACKER GRANOLA, pictured above. (Also a lovely gift!)
Or how about a Shrimp + Green Chile Quiche?
Fill everyone up: Apple-Walnut Pancakes with Eggs and Bacon
Alyce’s Green Chile-Turkey Gravy on Cornmeal Cheddar Waffles–my current choice.
I’ll be taking a little break from the blog over Christmas, though I’ll hopefully get this year’s Christmas cookie posted tooty-sweety before that. Bake yourself something, why don’t you?
Recipe and post for “Peaknut” Crinkles— my cookie for 2018.