Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Jersey Coffee Cake: FAIL.

I love it when people "get me". I love it when people have recipes that "get me." Robin Sue of Big Red Kitchen turned out a beautiful and simple coffee cake which gets me. It has a hugely disproportionate ratio of crumb to cake, which is completely me, and it starts with a yellow cake mix -- also, admittedly, me (thus far). It doesn't have funky raisins, chocolate, icing, or anything other than the cake, the crumb, and a dusting of sugar. That's me.

I recently gifted myself a KitchenAid mixer (I really, really earned it by holding down essentially three jobs in 2008) and the only use I'd made it, in a month, was to turn out a batch of Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies (hooo humm, boring) for my brother at Christmas.

2009 dawns new, and with that, I'm cleaning out my pantry, inventorying my goods, baking my own goods from scratch, and either putting my appliances to work, or paring them down. This baby isn't going anywhere, so I started with her, this weekend, by making (and failing) Robin Sue's Coffee Cake. All was not lost, however. Read on!

Robin Sue's cake called for one yellow cake mix divided among three cake pans, 4 cups of flour and 4 sticks of butter for topping -- and it makes three full coffee cakes to eat or give away. Egads! I want that high crumb-to-cake ratio, but, I'm not a mother of never-full children or have a husband (I do have a lovely boyfriend who's pretty fit, so he doesn't eat dessert [except chocolate chip cookies--- borrringgggg]. He holds out his hands and turns around slowly and says to me "Do you want to ruin this? Look at me. You probably want me right now." He's vain, but really funny about it, so he gets away with it).

So, I only needed a one-pan cake. Easy, I thought. Just use a cake mix which makes one layer. Right? This was my first mistake.

Trader Joe's makes a simple vanilla cake mix, shown above, which was in my pantry. It makes one 8x8 pan of cake. Perfect for one, right? Cleaning out that pantry is also on the list for 2009, so already, two birds and all that. Now, this cake mix has an unusual personality. When it's raw batter, it's the best tasting vanilla batter I've EVER had. It's rich, buttery, and resplendent with vanilla beans, as you'll see below. But oddly, baked, which I've done once before, it's oddly plain and lackluster. It really needs to be the base of desserts, rather than the star attraction, so I paired it with Robin Sue's recipe with that in mind.

Into the mixer it goes. Wheeeeeeeeeee! Yes! Let's use a $250* mixer to make a $2.99 cake! Freakonimics at work. *I don't remember what I paid for it, but I got a great deal on Amazon. I think it was $150-180 or something. Still. Way to save on baked goods.

See what I mean bout that batter? It's chock full of Vanilla beans. I could eat this batter with a spoon.

But I don't. I spread it as the box calls for, in an 8x8 pan, because it only makes one layer. See where I made my second mistake, Robin Sue? RIGHT HERE! Her recipe calls for dividing one cake mix, among THREE pans -- and makes three cakes. So right there, obviously, the cake is going to be thinner than a traditional layer. I didn't take that into account, and poured the entire bowl of batter into one cake pan. I *should* have poured it into an 8x16 pan, so that I had one long, thin pan of batter. As you'll soon see.

Next, you're supposed to bake the cake for just 15 minutes, to "set" the top, but not cook it. It should look wet and jiggly, right? So here we are, baked for 15-18 minutes, and ready for the crumb topping. I'm a little worried now, because it's baked up high and puffy already, and I see there isn't much clearance in the pan. Oh oh. Now I realize I should have spread it in the larger pan, so it was thin and more bar-like. Crap.

Not dissuaded yet, I had a little tub of Cinnamon Sugar Compound Butter in my fridge for a month now, and it needed to go. I didn't make that cinnamon toast and tea for my mother this holiday season, as I planned, and I can't let it go to waste. The ingredients were pretty much as Robin's called for, except this has brown sugar in it. No matter! I plopped this tub of butter-sugar-cinnamon into the mixing bowl, and happened to drag my finger across it to taste. I was quite surprised by how salty it was, and I looked at the tub again -- sure enough, sea salt was prominent. It was GREAT! A sweet and salty compound butter -- love it.

I planned to then intentionally play up that sweet salty crumb, by adding more of everything. I added the entire tub of compound butter (I guess it was about a stick, more or less), about a half stick more of regular butter, and lots more cinnamon and sea salt, and finally, White Lily soft winter flour. It had the perfect taste to me, and away we go, to top the cake. Kind of looks like ground turkey or lamb, doesn't it?

I then peeked in the oven and said crap again. It was sinking fast. The foamy cake was continuing to rise and would likely go over the plan, while the heavy crumb top was sinking below the waves like Leo on a cruise gone wrong. Darn it all. It's all going to melt like goo inside, I thought. No matter. Just let it bake.
Forty minutes later, baked long enough to make sure it wasn't all battery goo, this is what I had. The dark brown top you see is the cake -- the light bumpy areas are the only remaining evidence of the crumb topping. I knew it was going to be a wreck, but ... it wasn't!
True, it didn't taste or look anything like Robin's, I'm sure, but oddly enough, this is what happened: The crumb mixture only floated about half way down, and rested right in the middle of the cake like a deliberate streusal filling. It didn't melt or turn into goo; it baked into a crumbly streusal texture, and when I sliced a piece and pulled it out, it looked DELIBERATE, like I intended a ribbon of topping to go through the cake. Woo hoo, no one's the wiser! A quick dusting of sugar later, and it was served, with no admission of my silly mistakes.

1 comment:

  1. Kate you are so funny and so much like me! Just last week I scraped two entire dinners into the trash because I made some "adjustments" to the recipe. 2 dinners in a row even! So I can identify. I did have one cake where the batter bubbled up a little. But like you said a little powdered sugar covers everything! I like the Tj's cake mixes but they have tree nut issues for us or I would use them. Your boyfriend's comment cracks me up! My husband says that I am trying to make him fat and ruining him too!