Dessert for Breakfast: Coffee Cake (literally)

Sometimes I just get a hankering to bake a cake. Unlike cookies, though, I feel like a cake requires at least some sort of occasion to justify it, so I’ve had this recipe in my “to-bake” stash for quite some time. And oh my goodness, am I glad I finally made it.

This coffee-flavored cake is moist, dense, and seriously delicious. I can’t wait to make it again with a caramel frosting. Several colleagues reaped the benefits of my baking, and one pointed out it tasted kind of like a more intense tiramisu in cake form. That’s a pretty good analogy, especially if I dusted it with cocoa powder next time… so many options!

“Easter” was my excuse for baking this, but let’s be real, that was an excuse. It was actually the reward after an 18 mile bike ride on Easter morning since the crepe place we often finish with was closed. My friend Megan and I were both thoroughly satisfied with this alternative. (Though I should say, I did make us egg sandwiches before we partook of the cake – this is not coffee cake in the traditional sense, and that much sugar for breakfast without anything to temper it would give me a raging tummy ache).

I got the recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s blog when I was on some mission for a cake recipe ages ago. This is the first recipe of her’s I’ve made, and it’s certainly convinced me to explore more of them.

Since I’m sensitive to caffeine, I made mine with decaf crystals (yes, it uses instant coffee crystals). I knew I’d be eating this for breakfast and dessert, and I didn’t want to be up all night. It would probably be amazing with instant espresso powder, but I’m not going to sacrifice a night’s sleep to a dessert. One must know one’s limits.

I was also skeptical about the frosting being overwhelming – both in terms of coffeeness and quantity – so I reduced the ratios a bit. It turned out amazing: light texture and flavor, and just enough to have a thin layer that enhanced rather than suffocated the cake’s rich flavor.

Also of note – I keep powdered buttermilk in my pantry. On the occasions that a recipe calls for it, I usually don’t need a whole carton (even if it’s just a pint), and I don’t want to make an extra trip to the store. The powder gets mixed in with the other dry ingredients, and you use water when it’s time to “add the buttermilk” to the recipe. The only thing is (I rediscovered when I made this), you have to be diligent about mixing the dry ingredients together well first. The powdered buttermilk can be a bit clumpy if not thoroughly whisked. This didn’t make the least difference in taste, but there were a few cream colored lumps in the cake that I’d prefer to avoid next time.

Literal Coffee Cake (adapted from The Pioneer Woman)

Grade: A+

For the cake:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups fugar
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbs powdered buttermilk
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 3 Tbs instant coffee crystals
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup room temperature water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

For the icing:

  • 1 stick butter (softened)
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar (to taste)
  • 1 Tbs instant coffee crystals
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 Tbs heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two round baking pans. This is important, as the cake is moist enough to be pretty sticky. So grease it and flour it well – or, at least use a cooking spray with flour.

In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour, powdered buttermilk and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mix well and set aside.

Melt the 2 sticks of butter in a pot over medium-low heat. While that’s melting, add 3 tablespoons instant coffee to 1 cup boiling water. Once butter has melted, add coffee mixture to the butter in the pot. Let it come to a boil for about ten seconds, then turn off the heat. Set aside for just a minute.

In a separate bowl, add the 1/2 cup room temperature water, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix until well combined.

Pour the butter/coffee mixture into the flour mixture. Stir the mixture together gently. The purpose here isn’t to mix it together perfectly, but to cool down the heat before adding the egg mixture (you don’t want the eggs to cook from the heat).

Add in the egg mixture and stir gently until well combined. Then pour into pans.

The layers will be relatively thin, so you only need to bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until set (a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).

Allow to cool completely.

For the icing, combine butter and 2 cups powdered sugar using an electric mixer. Beat until well combined. Add coffee crystals, salt, and a dash of whipping cream. Add more sugar to taste and more whipping cream to desired texture. It should be very spreadable, but not overly soft.

There’s enough icing for thin layers in the middle and on top and to cover the sides – but just enough. So be mindful as you spread the icing, else you’ll run out.

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