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Sincere Acts of Sweetness

January 24, 2009

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Toasted Pecans

Every once in a while you come across a recipe that you know in your bones is a winner. I knew that the minute I saw the pictures of this glorious coffee cake in the October 2008 issue of Fine Cooking magazine. Having never bought the magazine before, I was really blow away by all the great recipes in the issue and have quickly become a fan.
This coffee cake has three different flavor variations: Toasted Pecan, Chocolate Ripple, and Ginger and Macrona Almond. I plan on making all three eventually but decided to start by making the toasted pecan flavor. I was a little surprised that the recipe had a small amount of unsweetened cocoa powder in it but it added that little something extra but without giving the cake any hint of chocolate flavor.

The article's author did a great job of educating me about some of the ingredient choices. For example, this cake uses super fine-sugar which is something I've never used before. The reason it is used is because the batter, which is very dense, just doesn't get hot enough during baking to dissolve the larger crystals in granulated sugar. Just like pasty or cake flour ensures a fine crumb and lighter texture, so does the super fine sugar. You don’t even have to buy a special package of it. You can easily make your own by spinning granulated sugar in a food processor until it is as fine as sand.

My favorite thing about this recipe was the reaction by those who ate it. One of my co-workers asked me where I bought the cake. He just couldn't believe that I had made it. "Are you a professional baker?" he asked. "No," I said with a big smile, "I know how to pick great recipes."

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Toasted Pecans
Yield:I was able to get about 18 slices of various sizes out of the cake.
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature for greasing the pan

For the Streusel Topping
2 ounces or 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 big chunks
3 ounces or 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt

For the Filling
1 cup toasted pecans
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

For the Cake
1 1/4 ounce or 3 cups cake flour, sifted
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon table salt
10 ounces or 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
11 1/2 ounces or 1 2/3 cup superfine sugar (if you can't find this sugar, blend regular white sugar in a food processor until the texture becomes much finer)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
16 ounce or 2 cups full-fat sour cream, at room temperature

Take the eggs, sour cream, and butter out of the refrigerator so that they can come to room temperature. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350F for a silver pan or 325F if using a darker pan. Generously butter a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.

Make the topping: In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted but be careful not to cook. If any small solid chunks remain, that's okay. Remove from the heat and cool to tepid.

In a small frying pan, toast the nuts in a single layer over medium high heat. Stir or shake the pan constantly for about 5-7 minutes. It's a bit hard to see but when the nuts start to turn a darker shade of brown and you can really smell them cooking, pour them into a separate bowl to cool. Do not leave them in the hot pan as they will continue cooking and burn.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, pecans, both sugars, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt and stir with a fork. Add the flour mixture to the butter and stir with a fork until it's evenly moistened and crumbly. Set aside.

Make the filling: In a food processor, pulse the pecans a few times until they are evenly chopped. Then add both sugars, cinnamon, and cocoa and pulse again on high 4 to 8 times to combine.

Make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar slowly, beating until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl (especially the bottom where flour pockets love to hide). Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending for a full minute before adding the next. Scrape the bowl and add the vanilla. On low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the sour cream, adding the flour in four parts and the sour cream in three parts, beginning and ending with the flour, and scraping the bowl as needed.

Layer and marble the batter and filling: Spoon 2 generous cups of the batter into the prepared pan (if you're not the type of baker that likes to measure, I strongly suggest you fight the urge to eyeball it and really measure you batter. This will ensure you have enough for each layer.) Take your time and smooth with the back of a soupspoon, spreading the batter to the side of the pan first and then to the center. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the filling evenly over the batter (again, be sure to measure!) Cover the filling with about 2 cups of batter, dropping dollops around the pan and smoothing with the spoon. Sprinkle another 1/2 cup filling evenly over the batter and cover with 2 more cups batter. Layer on the remaining filling and then the remaining batter. (You'll have four layers of batter and three layers of filling.) Insert a table knife 1 inch from the side of the pan straight into the batter going almost to the bottom. Run the knife around the pan once, then without lifting up, move the knife closer to the center of the pan, about an inch away from the center, and slowly drag the knife through the batter again. Smooth the top with the back of the soupspoon.

Check the sides of the pan for stray batter. Remove any excess with a small rubber spatula or a wet paper towel. Re-butter any exposed pan surface.

Top and bake the cake: Take a handful of the streusel crumbs and squeeze firmly to form a large mass. Break up the mass into smaller clumps, distributing the streusel evenly over the batter. Repeat with the remaining streusel. Press the streusel lightly into the surface of the cake.

Bake 70 to 75 minutes for a silver pan and as long as 90 minutes for a darker pan or until the top of the cake is golden brown and the sides are beginning to pull away from the pan. Test for doneness by inserting a long wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Be sure to check in several areas as there can be pockets of raw batter hiding out.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least an hour before removing from the pan. Check out Fine Cookings tips for removing the cake from the pan easily.

Here's a photo of what the cake looked like when I was about to invert it onto the plate. What I liked about this photo is that you can clearly see all the layers right through the center.

This cake keeps at room temperature, well wrapped or under a cake dome, for up to 5 days; you can freeze it for up to 3 months.


  1. Mmm. That coffee cake looks incredible! Your pictures are teasing my tummy. The swirling is just beautiful. Can't wait to try this one!

  2. Julia that coffee cake looks great. Your right you can see all those lovely layers! Btw, that's a great photo!

    I wanna slice! Let's see how well it travels. :-)

  3. That looks glorious!!! YUM! I don't own a tube pan, but I think this is a good excuse to buy one! :)

    Cool pic with the layers!

  4. Yes you do pick good recipes! a picture is worth a thousand words and your great picture says it all! I'm making your snickerdoodle blondies for a Super Bowl Post we're putting together. I've never made them but will tomorrow. I can't wait to taste them!! You are a genius!

  5. mmmm. sounds so good! i love the "looking down" pic! beautiful!

  6. This is an absolute must bake for me. I am a coffee cake freak and make them all the time. I love new recipes. Thanks! And it looks great!

  7. My mom LOVES coffee cake, and this would be such a perfect surprise for her. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi Everyone! Thank you so much for all your comments. I really think you will love this cake. If anyone makes it, please let me know. I'd love hear about your results.

    Elyse - Thanks Elyse! I know you'll just love it!

    Ingrid - Thanks! The photo came out all shadowy so I almost didn't post it but I couldn't resist!

    Bridget - I'm not sure if you're much of a thrift shopper but I always see tube pans on the shelves when I go. You could probably pick one up for less than $3.

    Bunny - Aww! You're so sweet. Let me know how your Snickerdoodle Blondies come out.

    Heather - just a little something different. Thank you!

    Jamie - I think this recipe will blow you away. It's something else!

    Hayley - Your mom will go bonkers over this cake. You really can't go wrong! :-)

  9. Nice looking coffee cake. Saving the recipe:) thanks for sharing.

  10. Does this ever look good! I so want a piece right now!! I would like to try it.

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  12. Wow. All your recipes look AMAZING but this one just really caught my eye. I'll be making this in the near future for sure...
    I love your response about picking good recipes. It's the same for me - I am an avid review-reader :)


Your comments really make my day. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave one!


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