Today I’m giving you my favorite recipe of all time. It makes me happy, proud, and kind of nervous. This recipe has been mine and mine alone for a few years now, and even though I have gladly shared it with friends and family, as far as I know nobody’s made it due to all the steps and time it takes to make. I guess they figure “Why bother,” when they know I’ll make it for them if they just ask.
But don’t be intimidated! It’s a very straight forward enriched yeast dough. If you’ve ever made a yeast bread (like cinnamon rolls or a sandwich loaf), you will have no trouble at all. And if you’ve never used yeast before, I urge you to give it a go anyway. There’s no better way to learn than to jump right in!
This coffee cake is single-handedly the reason I began baking with yeast. It was done out of necessity, to satisfy a craving I’d had for years (I’ll get to that in a minute).
But as I dove into the intimidating world of yeasted dough, I learned so much. The first version of this cake I attempted wasn’t an utter failure, but was not what I was hoping for. It was kind of dense, not flavored as I’d wished it would be, and was seriously lacking a streusel. So I tried again. And again. And again.
I learned slowly about mixing, kneading, and “feeling” the dough through trial and error, watching YouTube videos, and reading cookbooks.
You see, what I was after was something very specific: a coffee cake my Greek yiayia always served to me when I visited her house in the suburbs of Chicago as a child. This wasn’t a fancy pretentious cake, and it wasn’t a homemade cake made from a recipe passed down generation after generation. It was a grocery store coffee cake that came in a white cardboard box. I believe it cost $3.99.
To be fair, it was a grocery store coffee cake that was baked by a specialty bakery (Heinemann’s) and brought in daily. It was moist, fluffy, soft, buttery, and amazing. It didn’t need some strawberry or raspberry or cream cheese filling to make it shine. The dough and topping were perfect on their own.
Yiayia would buy 2 or 3 cakes at a time and store them in her microwave (which nobody ever used). They’d sit there, hidden from my greedy siblings, and yiayia would pull them out when we were alone. She’d slice the cake into thin slivers and we’d share it together, chatting, laughing, with glasses of milk.
This is my favorite, most nostalgic food memory of all. Right up there with Oreo blizzards in the scalding humidity of Chicago summers, and my mother’s cinnamon-scented Greek stuffed peppers (yemista) for my birthday. Finally nailing this coffee cake recipe lets me relive these wonderful memories over and over, from the comfort of my own home.
The base of this dough comes from a Peter Reinhart recipe for an enriched sweet dough used to make cinnamon rolls. It was a mighty tasty dough! But not what I was after.
So through many more tries, several months, and a whole lot of butter and yeast, this recipe was born.
This coffee cake is light, fluffy, moist, tender, and airy. It is flavored with vanilla and a light hint of lemon, with a buttery crunch from the streusel which coats the finished loaves. It is all topped with a simple white glaze of powdered sugar and water.
This is the coffee cake of my dreams. So much love and effort was put into this recipe, and it’s a favorite of friends and family. I get orders for it randomly throughout the year, but especially for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and peoples’ birthdays. It has brought joy to many–even just for the duration of breakfast–and there are several people in my life who greet me with “So….. do you have any coffee cake?” with a big hopeful grin. The way they’ll say “coffee cake” is different when they are referring to this one, versus the others I make. I just know what they are referring to.
It is perfect for any time of day. Not too sweet or heavy for breakfast, and great with a cup of coffee. A slice with some tea in the afternoon is a welcome treat to tide you over ’til supper. And, of course, you can have it for dessert. It needs no accompaniments like ice cream or whipped cream.
So I hope someone out there tries their hand at my favorite recipe and I hope it warms you the way it warms me. I hope sharing it with your family and friends brings you many smiles. And I hope at least one of you who’s never tried working with yeast takes the leap with this amazing coffee cake. It will open a whole new world of baking for you.
Please do let me know how you like it!
Let’s get baking!
In a stand mixer, combine butter, sugar, and salt. Add egg, vanilla, and lemon:
Add in the flour, yeast, and milk:
And mix just until it comes together, then switch to the dough hook:
Knead for about 10 minutes:
Your dough is done when it’s cohesive, smooth, and shiny. Form it into a ball and place in a greased bowl:
Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled:
When you return, dough should be doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes:
Dump dough onto an oiled work surface and cut into 4 equal pieces:
Shape your loaf by lightly stretching each piece of dough into 4 logs. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then twist each rope several times. Attach 2 of the ropes together by pinching ends; repeat with other 2 ropes:
Lay one set of ropes in your oiled pan, then top with the other set of ropes. Cover with plastic and set aside until doubled:
Meanwhile, let’s make the streusel topping! Combine brown sugar, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Yep, that’s a Dixie paper bowl. Like mother, like daughter:
Add in some cold, cubed butter:
And smoosh it up into pea-sized bits. You could do this in the food processor, but today I wanted to get my hands in there:
After an hour or so, your cake should look like this:
Now we get crazy… You will probably want to line your baking sheet to avoid a mess with the topping. LAYER THAT SH*T ON! Seriously, just keep pushing it (gently) onto your cake until you’ve used it all up. You won’t regret it:
Now bake. The house will smell divine, if it doesn’t already. After about 20 minutes, you’ll be rewarded with this:
Let it cool for a bit, then unmold this beauty:
Oh, how I love you:
You are perfect in every way.
Look at your tender, fluffy crumb!!!
OH CRAP. Forgot to ice it. I was just so damn excited to take a peek inside.
Now, beat together some powdered sugar and water into a thick white glaze, and practice your drizzling skills:
Now, pretend you didn’t already slice into that thing and cut yourself a sliver:
And there you have it, the coffee cake of my dreams.
THE CARBOHOLIC’S YEASTED COFFEE CAKE
Makes 2 loaves (8″ x 4″ or 9″ x 5″), or about 20 individual pastries
Notes: The photos above are of a half batch of dough. The recipe as written below will yield 2 full loaves, and all instructions are written accordingly.
This dough can also be made by hand–simply add ingredients in a bowl as per instructions, and knead until dough is smooth and elastic.
To form individual pastries, you can either follow traditional Danish-shaping techniques, or roll the dough out into a large rectangle, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and then slice into rolls (like cinnamon buns). Lay on a baking sheet or in a pan, top with the crumble, and proceed with the recipe. Baking time will vary; start checking Danishes on a baking sheet after 8-10 minutes. Rolls squished together in a pan will take longer, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Store baked cakes in airtight containers or Ziploc bags. It will stay soft and moist for 2 days; by day 3, it may need a 10 second stint in the microwave to get all soft and fluffy again.
For the Dough:
- 1 (.25 oz) package active-dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1 1/4 cups warm milk, divided (warm milk in saucepan or microwave until lukewarm, about 110 F)
- 6 1/2 tablespoons white sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
For the Crumb Topping:
- 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2″ cubes
For the Filling:
- Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling
For the Icing:
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1. Make the dough: In a small bowl, whisk together yeast, 1/2 tablespoon of the sugar, and 1/4 cup warm milk. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes (if yeast doesn’t foam up, discard and start over again with a fresh pack).
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, the salt, and butter until creamed. Add in the egg, vanilla, and lemon, and beat until incorporated. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Add in 3 cups of the flour, yeast mixture, and remaining 1 cup of warm milk, and mix 30 seconds to 1 minute until dough begins to form. Scrape down sides of bowl and then switch to dough hook.
4. Knead dough with dough hook for about 10 minutes. You may need to add slightly more flour if dough is sticking to sides or bottom of bowl. Dough should be tacky but not sticky. After 10 minutes, dough should feel warm, look smooth, and stretch easily when tugged. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl (I use Baking Pam) and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside to rise until doubled, 60 to 90 minutes.
5. Make Crumble Topping: Add sugars, flour, salt, and cinnamon to a small bowl, or the food processor, and either stir or pulse a few times to mix. Add in cubed cold butter. Using fingers or a pastry blender, cut butter into sugar until it’s the size of small peas. If using food processor, pulse butter several times for 1 second each time. Cover topping and refrigerate until using.
6. Once dough is risen, dump out onto a lightly oiled work surface (do not add more flour if possible–this will make dough dry and tough). Cut dough in half; return one half to bowl and cover while you work with the other half.
7. To Shape: Cut dough half into 4 pieces. Lightly stretch each piece into a rope, roughly the length of your baking pan (9″). Sprinkle ropes with cinnamon sugar, then twist from both ends several times. Lay 2 of the twisted ropes side by side and pinch the ends together to attach. Repeat with the other 2 ropes. Grease your loaf pan, and lay one set of ropes in the bottom. Top with other set of ropes. Repeat with remaining dough to form 2 loaves total. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 60 minutes.
8. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment for easy cleanup. Place loaves on top of sheet.
9. Remove plastic from loaves and sprinkle liberally with streusel topping. You will probably have to press it on to get it to adhere; be gentle so as not to deflate the dough. Use all of the topping!
10. Bake rolls at 350 for 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Decrease oven temperature to 325 F and continue baking until golden brown and just set, 5-10 minutes more. Cakes are done when filling is golden brown and bubbly. They should be fragrant. If you press gently on the top of the loaves, they should spring back lightly; if the loaf deflates under your finger, or your finger sinks into it, return to oven and check again in 5 minutes.
11. Let loaves cool in pans for 10-15 minutes before inverting and placing on a cooling rack. Let cool 30 minutes more before slicing.
12. To Make Glaze: Using a fork or a whisk, beat powdered sugar with small amounts of water (1/4 teaspoon at a time) until a very thick glaze forms. Drizzle liberally over cakes.
**I am submitting this bread to Yeastspotting**