Stand in line at any cappuccino bar and your eyes are drawn to the pastry case, where pieces of streusel-topped “coffeecake” wink back at you temptingly. Don’t waste the calories. Coffeecake -- real coffeecake -- is not just a cold, sweet hunk of generic cinnamon-topped cake gobbled down in the front seat of your car.
Real coffeecake is a Sunday-morning experience. It begins (if you’re a lucky houseguest) with the unforgettable aroma of bread filling the house on a winter’s morning, a yeasty smell so tantalizing that it seduces you out from the cozy bedcovers and down to the kitchen. There you pour yourself a fragrant cup of hot, strong coffee and score that slice of warm, fresh, not-too-sweet “cake” (but it’s more like a buttery sweet bread), made rich with a filling that incorporates just a few luxurious details: hazelnuts, maybe, or citrus peel or chopped bittersweet chocolate. Each bite stands up to the java.
Real coffeecake is also the all-American answer to tea time. It’s the warming, not-too-heavy snack to go with that 4 p.m. espresso.
Too much trouble? Not -- for people who like to bake -- with this update of an old family recipe that breaks the process down so that you make the dough one day and the filling the next.
It allows for slow overnight rising, which gives the coffeecake its satisfying, rich flavor, and is so versatile that one master recipe allows for an endless number of variations. Get this technique down and you’ll never need another coffeecake recipe again.
Prepare the dough using an electric mixer (there’s no kneading). Refrigerate it overnight in a covered, lightly buttered bowl. The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it stand for about half an hour to warm before rolling. You will find the dough to be pliable and easy to roll out so there’s no need for a longer standing time.
While the dough is standing, mix the meringue filling. Our master recipe calls for a hazelnut meringue, but you can vary it by adjusting the flavorings that are folded into the meringue filling. Each variation gets a different, complementary glaze. For an orange coffeecake, you’ll fold orange zest and almonds into the filling; for chocolate, you’ll use chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate with the hazelnuts. The pecan variation substitutes toasted pecans for the hazelnuts in the filling.
Next, roll out the dough and spread it with filling, then roll it up like a jelly roll. Slashing the dough reveals the meringue, creating a contrast between the filling and the pastry. There’s also a practical advantage, because it helps the coffeecake bake more evenly.
After a leisurely 45-minute rise, brush it with a little beaten egg and milk. Then, after baking, glaze it, which adds not just sweetness but complexity. For the master recipe, a rum glaze is fabulous with toasted hazelnuts that go on top to finish it.
Citrus flavor comes to the fore in an orange version of the coffeecake, with a zest-enhanced filling, juice-powered glaze and bits of candied orange peel on top. For the chocolate variation, the master glaze recipe is used with a topping of hazelnuts and chopped chocolate.
Praline is the idea for the pecan coffeecake. Its brown butter and maple syrup glaze weaves together the buttery pastry and the toasty nut flavors. Or you can simply stick with the master recipe, topping it with Brazil nuts or even chopped glace fruits such as cherries, pineapple or chestnuts.
Whichever variation you choose, our recipe makes two generous coffeecakes, so why not hide away a piece for later? Then when you get that mocha to go, you’ll have something real to enjoy with it.