Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ravioli Nudi

With sage-infused browned butter and crispy sage leaves....

If you shop at your local farmers' market...or are a member of a CSA...right about now your refrigerator is filled to overflowing with greens....  Spinach, arugula, young kale, chard... lettuces of all kinds...beet greens...  Just to name a few.    A salad....or a side of braised or wilted greens...are fine uses for this abundance, but the world of greens really does have so much more to offer.  With this in mind, this Spring I offered a class on some of the ways you can use these greens that are filling the market right now.     

Four of the recipes in my class have already appeared here on my blog...Spinach Pasta, Arugula Pesto, Kale and Ham Quiche and Spinach Meatloaf.  I probably could have pulled one more recipe from something I have already posted (a quick count revealed more than 40 such posts....who knew I loved greens so much?), but in the end I settled on a recipe that held some nostalgic appeal for me...and at the same time struck me as something that might be unfamiliar to some: Ravioli Nudi.

Ready for the broiler...
I first encountered Ravioli Nudi when I was just becoming interested in food and cooking.  I was enrolled in a series of cooking classes that featured the food of ten local chefs.  Each class was in a different restaurant kitchen and was taught by the chef.  Twenty-four hour food TV had not yet been invented (at least, not to my knowledge...) and the culture of the celebrity chef was in its the classes were small and intimate and very low key.  It was a wonderful that could probably not be recreated in quite the same way today.

Both series I attended included a class taught by Chef Steve Cole at his restaurant Café Allegro.  Not only did he cook for us in his restaurant kitchen, but during the second series he took us to the Farmers' Market where he introduced us to some of his favorite growers and gave us a quick tutorial on navigating the market.  That day was a first for me...I was totally enamored with the market.  The things I learned about the market that morning have stayed with me for all of my professional life.  Much of what I learned showed up in one of my first blog posts (appropriately called "Navigating the Farmers' Market").  When we returned to the restaurant, one of the things he made for us was a delicious, tender, pillow-y little spinach and ricotta dumpling called Ravioli Nudi.

The name "Ravioli Nudi" comes from the fact that this little dumpling is basically a ravioli of greens and ricotta....without the pasta covering....   It is a "naked" ravioli.  When I worked in the south of France, there was a restaurant in Biot that served the same thing...Ravioli "Nu", in French.  The same dish is sometimes called Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi (focusing on the fact that it is really just a little dumpling....and rather gnocchi-like).  And I think most commonly of all, it is called Gnudi....which I'm guessing is a name that has evolved from Gnocchi and Nudi.  No matter what you call it, when properly made, it is delicious.

When I began working on my class I pulled my recipe from that long ago class thinking it would be "class ready".  Unfortunately, it was not.  I had not done a great job of taking notes...and frankly didn't have enough knowledge at the time to ask questions that would really help me replicate Chef Cole's results.  It called for "3 lbs spinach – picked and washed".  Today I would know to ask for a net weight of greens.  Spinach varieties vary widely in how ropey or delicate the stems are...and therefore how much weight will remain after the stems are removed.  Since I had promised to teach Ravioli Nudi made with Swiss Chard (instead of spinach), a net weight of greens was what I really needed...not a pre-trim weight. 

Poking around the web to look at other recipes wasn't particularly helpful.  The list of ingredients from recipe to recipe was quite consistent...basically greens (usually spinach or chard), ricotta, parmesan, eggs and flour.  But the ratios of these ingredients to one another were all over the map...and absolutely no one gave a net weight of greens.  Furthermore, there seemed to be a divide between gnudi made with whole eggs and those made with just the yolks.  All of these differences presented me with somewhat of a daunting task.  Quality of gnocchi-like preparations varies widely....often these things are horrid little belly bombs...heavy and doughy...  Chef Cole's ravioli nudi had been the antithesis of this...and I wanted to present something like what I had experienced in his class to my class.    

After some trial and error, I achieved my goal.  As it turns out, the recipe I ended up with looks very much like Cole's as long as you assume a fifty percent trim loss for the greens.  This seems high to me....but I am very happy with my results and would not want to include any more greens.  My recipe uses Swiss Chard...but since I call for a net weight, you can substitute spinach or beet greens...or probably any other green you prefer. (I have discovered that I particularly like gnudi made with beet greens.)

12 oz. (trimmed weight) beet greens...filling a 4 quart bowl...
As always, in the course of researching and testing my recipe, I learned a lot.  Firstly, the greens and the ricotta must be as dry as you are able to make them.  This means the ricotta you use must be of a high quality (preferably one that contains just milk, vinegar and salt) and you will probably have to drain it even further (even if it looks well-drained) by placing it in a cheesecloth-lined sieve and letting it drain overnight.  I found a helpful tip in Judy Rodgers Zuni Café Cookbook for assessing whether or not you need to drain the ricotta:  Place a small spoonful of ricotta on a dry paper towel.  If, after a minute, the towel is wet beyond the perimeter of the spoonful of cheese, then it is too wet and needs to be drained. 

As far as the greens are concerned, "as dry as possible" means not only squeezing them dry a handful at a time (which is sufficient for most other spinach pasta...a grain pilaf....or a quiche...), but going a further step and squeezing out even more water by rolling the greens up in a towel and wringing out as much water as you are able.  This process will turn the towel green (or pink, if using red chard or beet greens), but a vigorous rinse in cold water will remove most of the color....and normal washing will probably get the rest. 

The reason I belabor all of this is that the drier the ricotta and the greens are, the less flour that you will need to add to obtain a dough that can be lightly handled and that will hold a shape.  And the less flour you use, the lighter will be your result.  A lot of flour creates the heavy, belly bomb gnudi mentioned earlier.

Another thing I learned while working on the recipe is that I prefer gnudi made with all egg yolks.  This is what Steve Cole's recipe called for, but since I noticed that a lot of recipes used whole eggs, I gave that a try too.  The gnudi made with whole eggs seemed slightly rubbery to me....but they were also more stable.  In the recipe, I direct you to save the whites when you separate the eggs so that you may add a bit of the white back into the dough if you discover that a "tester" gnudi shows a tendency to fall apart in the water during cooking.   

All of the details of this recipe may seem a bit tedious, but if you love dumpling-type preparations, I encourage you to give them a try.  Much of the prep can be done ahead.  The greens may be cooked and dried ahead....and of course the ricotta can be drained overnight.  After these two things are accomplished, the dough comes together very quickly.  The gnudi themselves can be formed several hours ahead.  They can even be frozen.  And since they are at their best when served quite simply, all your effort can be focused on making the gnudi.  Served in a pool of fresh tomato sauce....or a white wine cream sauce (embellished with a few spring vegetables, if you like)...they make a delicious dinner.  And for an elegant first course for a dinner party, a drizzle of sage-infused browned butter...or plain olive oil...and a scattering of all you need.     
Dinner...gnudi in a white wine cream sauce with peas,
 asparagus and mushrooms

Ravioli Nudi        

12 oz. (trimmed weight) Swiss Chard or Beet Greens, or 16 oz. (trimmed weight) spinach (see notes)
8 oz. (a scant cup) well-drained whole milk ricotta (see notes)
1 oz. finely grated Parmesan
3/4 t. kosher salt (or to taste)
1/8 t. nutmeg (or taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg yolks (see notes)
2 to 4 T. (15 to 30 g.) all-purpose flour (see notes), plus more for forming
Olive oil
Grated Parmesan

Prepare the greens:  Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Add the greens and simmer until very tender—depending on the green you are using this will take 5 minutes or so.  Scoop the greens out of the water and place them in a colander to allow most of the excess water to drain.  Spread the drained greens on a baking sheet and allow them to cool.  When cool, pick up small handfuls of the greens and squeeze out most of the water.  Spread the handfuls of greens in a kitchen towel and twist/squeeze the towel to remove as much of the remaining liquid as you are able.  (The towel will be stained green—possibly red, if using red chard—by this operation.  The color will come out with a rinse under cold water and a good wash...but just in case, don't use a good kitchen towel...a flour sack towel is perfect.)  The more liquid you are able to squeeze out, the lighter your gnudi will be.  Scrape the dry greens off of the towel and onto a cutting board and mince finely.  Set aside (refrigerating for longer storage) until ready to use.

Make the dough: Place the drained ricotta in a bowl and beat with rubber spatula to smooth it out.  Add the greens, Parmesan and seasonings and beat until well combined.  Beat in the yolks.  Add 2 T. of the flour and stir just until the flour is absorbed.  If the dough is too soft to form a soft ball that can be handled gently with floured fingers, add another tablespoon or so of flour.  The less flour you add, the lighter your gnudi will be.

Test the dough:  Bring a pan of salted water to a bare simmer.  Form, flour and add one gnudi.  If it falls apart in the water, add a tablespoon or so of the reserved egg white to the dough and test again. 

Form the gnudi:  You may form the gnudi in any number of ways.  Some people pipe them in strips on a floured board and cut them into short "corks"...  others scoop with a small cookie scoop and then form a ball....  I like to use two teaspoons to form a rough quenelle by scooping up a small amount of the dough (10 to 12 grams or so) with one spoon and then passing it back and forth between the two spoons to form a football shape.  

Drop the gnudi as you form them, a few at a time, into a dish of flour.  

Sprinkle the top of the formed gnudi with a bit of flour 

and then gently pick them up and lightly roll in your floured fingers to give a coating of just a dusting of flour.  

Place the formed and dusted gnudi on a pan that has been dusted with semolina (all purpose flour will work in a pinch...but semolina is a better option.) The gnudi may be cooked right away...or held at a cool room temperature for a short while...or refrigerated for several hours.

Cook the gnudi: Bring a large pot of well salted water to a bare simmer (a boil will encourage the gnudi to fall apart/explode in the water).  Add half of the gnudi and give the pot a gentle back and forth shake to make sure the gnudi aren't sticking to the bottom.  Monitor the pot to make sure a gentle simmer is maintained.  The gnudi will begin to bob to the surface.  Begin checking them for doneness a couple of minutes after they float to the top and remain on the surface.  

They are done when they go from feeling squishy to springy to the touch.  Using a mesh skimmer/sieve, lift the cooked gnudi out of the water, transferring them to an oiled baking dish that is large enough to hold all of them in a loose single layer.  Poach the remaining gnudi and add them to the dish.

Serve the gnudi right away...or hold at room temperature for an hour or so.  If serving right away, they may be spooned directly onto a plate of sauce or broiled.  If held for service, it is best to reheat them by broiling them.  To broil, drizzle the gnudi with oil or dot with butter and sprinkle with Parmesan.  Run the pan of gnudi under the broiler until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbling. 

The gnudi may be sauced with a drizzle of browned butter (infused with sage or thyme) or a light butter sauce.  They may also be served in a pool of tomato or cream sauce. 

Recipe makes 32 to 40 gnudi, serving 4 as a light entrée or 6 to 8 as an appetizer. 

To freeze:  Place the pan of formed gnudi (they should be in a pan dusted with semolina and they should not touch one another) in the freezer.  When the gnudi are frozen, wrap tightly with plastic wrap.  When ready to cook, unwrap and set in a cool place (or in the refrigerator) and thaw...this should only take about an hour.  Cook as for fresh within 10 to 14 days.

(Adapted from a recipe by Chef Steve Cole)

Ravioli Nudi Tips & Notes
  • You may use any green that you like in this recipe. The amount given is the trimmed weight. You will need to purchase more than this because of trim loss. A standard 1/2 lb. bunch of chard will yield about 6 oz. of greens, so for this recipe you will need 2 bunches. 
  • When cooked and squeezed dry, you should have 3 1/2 to 4 oz. of very dry cooked greens...or a scant cup. 

  • Spinach (particularly baby spinach) has, in my experience, shrunk more in weight during the cooking process than chard or beet greens.  To obtain the same 3 1/2 to 4 oz. of very dry cooked greens, you will need to start with a pound of trimmed spinach.
  • Even good quality ricottas will probably need to be drained. My favorite ricotta (Hautly) appears to be quite dry right out of the container, but when allowed to drain in a cheesecloth overnight (set in a strainer, suspended over a bowl), I found that about 10 percent of the weight of the cheese was whey...for 8 oz., this is a couple tablespoons of liquid—which is a significant amount in this recipe. You will need 8 oz. of drained ricotta for the gnudi. 
  • In general, 8 oz. of ricotta requires 40 to 50 grams of egg to bind it for successful poaching. One whole egg weighs 50 grams and two yolks weigh 40 grams. You may use a whole egg instead of two yolks in this recipe, but I find the resulting dumpling to be much lighter when made with all yolks. Because using yolks will give you slightly less egg than a whole egg, when you separate the eggs, save your whites—you might need them. After you have made your dough, cook a tester before forming them all. If it seems to want to break apart in the water, you can add a small amount of the whites back in to the dough. If you double the recipe, consider adding an extra yolk (5 all day...5 yolks equal the weight of 2 whole eggs). 
  • The less flour you use, the lighter your gnudi will be. Start with 2 T. (15 grams). If the dough is still too soft to handle, add another one or two tablespoons. 
Printable Recipe

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jam Bars...a Sweet Treat for Summer

The recipe for jam bars I'm sharing today has been a part of my baking repertoire for several years.  Until recently I had never planned on posting it...  The recipe is virtually unchanged from Martha Stewart's recipe (which is available on line).  Furthermore, it isn't too different from the slightly more upscale Mixed Berry Crumble Bar that I posted here a few years ago.  But I have made these bars four times in the past month (for personal/family consumption) and they are so quick & tasty & friendly...I thought others might want to have this recipe in their repertoire too. 

The batch of bars I made yesterday was strawberry. I spent a wonderful hour last week in a strawberry patch, picking a huge flat of berries.  We have enjoyed many of them plain, for breakfast...or with sugar, over vanilla ice cream.  And I did make a big batch of fresh strawberry ice cream. 

But most of these berries were destined for jam.  As is always the case when I make a batch of preserves, there is extra...not enough to fill a jar...but more than just a spoonful...  So yesterday this extra went into these bars.  You can of course use a good quality store-bought preserve when you make the bars, but they make an awfully nice home for any preserves that might come out of your own kitchen.  Besides strawberry, blueberry and plum are my favorite.  But since we are at the beginning of the summer fruit...and jam making...season, the possibilities seem endless. 

Today really is the perfect moment to share this recipe.  For most Americans, today is the traditional, unofficial start of summer....  the season of all manner of outdoor activities....  picnics, backyard barbecues, concerts in the park, hikes, trips to the beach or pool, boat rides, etc.  I think that most (if not all) of these activities require some sort of sustenance that comes in a packable/transportable form.  So whether you are in need of a sweet treat for the end of an official meal...or just a little something to take along for a pick-me-up nibble in the midst of your activities...these bars will fill the bill quite nicely.    Happy summer.

Jam Bars

170 g. (1 1/2 c.) all-purpose flour
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. baking powder
113 g. (1/2 c./1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
100 g. (1/2 c.) packed light-brown sugar
50 g. (1/4 c.) sugar
1/2 t. vanilla (optional)
1 large egg yolk
65 g. (2/3 c.) quick oats (not instant)
1/2 cup fruit jam (see note), well-stirred to loosen and break up

Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.  Line with parchment and butter the parchment; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugars until well blended.  Beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture and mix until just beginning to be absorbed.  Add the oats and continue to mix until all the dry ingredients have been absorbed and the mixture looks clumpy. 

Place half of dough (265 g.) into the prepared pan and press into an even layer.  Spread the jam over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border so the jam doesn't stick to the sides of the pan. 

Sprinkle remaining clumps of dough over all.  

Lightly press to form the top layer.

Bake in a preheated 350° oven until the top is golden, 25 to 30 minutes; cool completely in the pan.  

Turn the cake of bars out of the pan and flip back over onto a cutting board.  Cut into 16 to 24 bars with a serrated knife.

  • The original recipe called for sliced almonds instead of oats. To make them this way, omit the oats and replace them with 3/4 c. sliced almonds. If you like, substitute 1/4 t. almond extract for the vanilla. 
  • Any favorite fruit jam will work in this recipe. I prefer dark jams like strawberry, cherry, blueberry and plum....but I'm sure a lighter jam (like apricot or peach) would be delicious too—especially in the almond version. 

Note:  If you are looking for a homemade Strawberry jam recipe, David Lebovitz just posted one that is quite similar to the one that I make.  I use more sugar...75% of the net weight of the berries....and I crush the berries with a potato masher before adding the sugar.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Spring Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas, Mushrooms, Pesto, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

When I purchased some sugar snap peas (first of the season!) at the market last week, I knew that one of the things I was going to make would be a quick pasta.  I wanted to share the recipe for this particular pasta the first time I made it (one...maybe two...years ago).  But I didn't.  I post so many pasta recipes that I am almost always hesitant to post another.  But the reality is that I love pasta…..and I eat a lot of pasta.... and if I am going to post things that I love to make and serve at my own table, it will often be a recipe for pasta.  Ultimately, I have to assume that if you visit my blog regularly, you like the kinds of things that I like...and that another seasonal recipe for pasta (particularly one that includes some fresh young sugar snap peas) might be just the thing you are hungry for right now.

If you don't yet have sugar snap peas in your region, you can still make a version of this pasta.  I have made it with asparagus...and have also used it as a way to use up odds and ends of spring vegetables

(a little asparagus...a few sugar snaps...a handful of English peas).  I like it best with the sugar snaps...they go particularly well with the tangy goat cheese...but it is very good with asparagus too.   All of these spring vegetables are delicious with mushrooms and pesto.  The pesto itself is a very nice addition, but if you don't have any (and don't want to make it), the addition of a little garlic....some chopped fresh herbs (basil, arugula, parsley and/or mint)...along with a handful of finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino will do just fine.  

Even though I have posted many pasta recipes, I have not posted too many recipes that include sugar snap peas.  As a consequence, I have never posted any kind of commentary on their preparation.  If you have never prepared them there are a couple of things you should know.  The first is that sugar snap peas frequently have tough strings that run the length (or nearly so) of the pod on both sides.  Removing them may seem like a pain...or a detail that only the most persnickety of cooks would attend to... but I assure you it is a necessary step.  When present, the strings can be as tough as dental floss and just as inedible.  You (and your guests...) will end up either picking them out of your mouth or simply pushing the peas aside to eat the other things on the plate rather than deal with them.  It is best to go to the trouble to remove them before you cook them.

To remove the strings, simply pinch off both ends of the pod (the stem and the blossom), pulling down one side—and then the other—as you do so.  Sometimes the strings are so tough that when you bend and snap the first end (I start with the stem end) the strings on both sides will come away as you pull down.  On other occasions, you will find that the strings have not developed at all.  If this is the case—you have hit the sugar snap pea jackpot—and you only need to pinch off the stem.

The "string" on the flat side is typically thicker and stronger
 than the one on the curved side.

This one has thick, tough strings on both sides...
they will both come away with one pull.

The'll be so glad you removed them...

Sugar Snaps without their strings...ready to eat!
The second thing about sugar snap peas is that they are best eaten when they are just barely cooked....or raw (as a crudité or in a salad).  Part of their charm is their pleasant crunch...and their sweet and ultra fresh pea flavor (just as the name "sugar snap" would imply...)...both of which are preserved by minimal cooking.  When cooked, sugar snap peas go from crunchy to mushy in a cook them just long enough to soften the crunch....this will only take about a minute when dropped into boiling salted water.  After their quick blanch, the peas are ready to be dressed with butter or olive oil (to be serves as a vegetable side), tossed in a salad....or added to the "sauce" of a fresh, Spring pasta....

Gemelli with Mushrooms, Sugar Snap Peas & Goat Cheese

olive oil
2 or 3 spring onions, thinly sliced (white and some of green)
1/2 T. butter
4 oz. crimini or white button mushrooms, brushed free of dirt and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/3 lb. sugar snap peas, strings removed and sliced on a long diagonal into 2 or 3 pieces each
8 oz. gemelli pasta
2 to 4 T. pesto (basil or arugula)—see note
2 T. toasted pine nuts
2 oz. crumbled goat cheese

Heat some olive oil (about a tablespoon) in a medium sauté pan over moderate heat.  Add the spring onions along with a pinch of salt and cook at a gentle sizzle until just tender (3 minutes or so).  

Increase the heat slightly and the butter to the pan.  When it has melted add the mushrooms along with a pinch of salt.  Cook until any liquid the mushrooms have released has evaporated and the mushrooms are sizzling in the fat and beginning to brown around the edges.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Salt generously (at least a teaspoon per quart of water).  Add the snap peas and cook for one minute.  Taste one to make sure it is cooked to your liking.  If so, scoop the peas out of the water and add them to the pan with the mushrooms...toss to combine and set aside. 

Add the pasta to the same pot in which the peas were cooked and cook at a rapid boil until al dente.   Drain, reserving some of the cooking water.  Add the pasta to the pan with the vegetables and toss to combine.  Thin a few spoonfuls of pesto with some of the pasta water and add this to the pasta along with the pine nuts and a drizzle of oil.  Toss well.  If the pasta seems dry, add some of the cooking water.  Divide among serving plates, drizzle with more olive oil if desired.  Crumble the goat cheese over and serve immediately.  Serves 2 generously.

  • I prefer arugula pesto in the spring, but have made this dish with basil pesto too.  Both are good. If you don't have any pesto on hand, you may leave it out. To replace some of the flavor, add a small clove of minced garlic to the pan and cook briefly when the mushrooms are finished cooking. Then, add a handful of julienne/chiffonade arugula or basil leaves to the pan with the hot pasta. Finally, toss in a few tablespoons of Parmesan or Pecorino just before serving. 
  • This recipe is easily doubled...simply use a large sauté pan (large enough to hold the mushrooms in a single layer...and ultimately all of the pasta ingredients).
  • Substitute asparagus for the some or all of the sugar snaps.  Trim the tough ends from the asparagus and cut into 2-inch lengths on a short diagonal.  You will probably need to blanch the asparagus for a little bit longer...maybe 3 minutes, or so.
Printable Recipe

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate, Cinnamon & Pecans

This past Sunday I volunteered to bring “something sweet” as my contribution to a brunch that was going to have a south of the border kind of feel.  As I thought about what to bring, I decided I wanted to bring a big sour cream streusel coffee cake (doesn’t everyone likes sour cream coffee cake?).  I wanted the cake to feature the Mexican flavor combination of cinnamon and chocolate….with pecans… and I wanted a cake that was baked in a large tube pan so guests would be able to help themselves to a thin sliver….or a big fat chunk. 

As I looked through my recipe files and cookbooks, I was unable to find one that matched what I had envisioned (…surprising when you consider that neither my recipe file, nor my cookbook collection, is particularly small….).  Ina Garten’s Sour Cream Coffee cake from Barefoot Contessa Parties was a possibility.  It is a big tube cake….and includes a streusel….but has no chocolate.  I was also intrigued by Claudia Fleming’s Chocolate Marble cake in Rose Beranbaum’s Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.  This one is a small sour cream bundt cake (alas, without streusel) that features a ribbon of soft cinnamon scented chocolate running through the middle of the cake. 

Neither was exactly the cake I was looking for, but of the two, I was more drawn to Fleming’s cake.  The cake batters are actually nearly identical, but Fleming’s has a higher percentage of sour cream and a lower percentage of egg.  These proportions make for a softer crumb…which is what I wanted.  In the end, because I wanted a tad more structure to support a streusel, I made a cake that struck a balance between Garten’s and Fleming’s: more egg than Fleming’s, but less than Garten’s…and more sour cream than Garten’s, but less than Fleming’s. 

And I have to say that I really liked the resulting cake (as did everyone at the party!).  It is tender and slightly soft…but still has the nice, neatly sliceable crumb one expects of a sour cream bundt/tube-style cake.  

The mixture of cocoa and brown sugar that makes up the marbling liquefies in the oven and stays soft even after the cake has cooled.  It is an unusual and delicious addition. 

The streusel that I added...adapted from another cake in Beranbaum’s book… is somewhat of a revelation.  If you have made streusel-topped coffee cakes, you know that sometimes the streusel sinks into the cake a bit.  Or the cake doesn’t rise as much in the center as it does on the edges.  With this cake, neither of these things is a problem because the streusel isn’t added until the cake has been in the oven for half an hour.  At that point, the cake has enough structure and loft that it doesn’t sink under the added weight of the streusel.  Furthermore, just enough of a crust has formed on the cake that the streusel adheres, but doesn’t penetrate into the cake itself.  I was skeptical about the streusel having enough time in the oven to brown properly.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  The streusel crisped nicely and turned a lovely, golden brown. 

Since I am a firm believer that one can never have too many recipes for coffee cake, I am so pleased to add another “keeper” recipe to my file.  Because it is baked in a large tube pan, it makes a cake that is big enough to feed a crowd…and beautiful enough to set out on a buffet.  And while I love the flavor combination of chocolate, cinnamon and pecans (it was perfect for the brunch), I have no doubt that other combinations of flavors (different nuts, dried fruits, zests, other spices…) will make an appearance in future renditions of this cake.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate & Pecan Streusel

60 g. (4 T. plus 2 t.) golden brown sugar
18 g. (3 T plus 1 t. ) non-alkalized cocoa
3/8 t. cinnamon

300 g. (2 1/2 c.) all-purpose flour
3/4 t. salt
2 1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
170 g. (12 T.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
300 g. (1 1/2 c.) sugar
2 t. vanilla
3 large eggs, at room temperature
325 g. (1 1/3 c.) sour cream

100 g. (1/2 c.) golden brown sugar
40 g. (1/3 c.) all-purpose flour
3/4 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. salt
2 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
55 g. (1/2 c.) toasted and finely chopped pecans
55 g. (1/3 c.) finely chopped bittersweet (60%) chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter and flour a 10-cup capacity tube pan.  Set aside.

Combine the first three ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl and whisk to blend.  Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy—this will take 3 to 5 minutes at medium-high to high speed.  Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl occasionally. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl in between each egg and waiting until the previous one is fully incorporated before adding the next.  Stir in a third of the flour mixture.  Stir in half of the sour cream.  Fold in half of the remaining flour, followed by the remaining sour cream, followed by the remaining flour mixture. 

Dollop half of the batter (about 625 g) into the prepared pan.  Use a spatula or palette knife to spread evenly so that the bottom of the pan is fully covered.  Sprinkle the brown sugar-cocoa-cinnamon mixture evenly over the batter, leaving a quarter inch border of batter showing on both the inner edge and outer edge.  

Dollop the remaining batter over all and spread to smooth out, making sure all the cocoa mixture is covered.  Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes.

While the cake bakes, make the streusel (or, you may make it ahead and set it aside).  

Combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl and whisk to blend.  Rub in the butter until well distributed.  With a fork, fluff in the chocolate and pecans.  If the room is very warm, store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

When the cake has baked for 30 minutes, carefully remove the cake from the oven

and quickly scatter the streusel evenly over the cake—a large spoon or a measuring cup makes this easier.  Or, place all the streusel in a sheet of parchment and use it as a make-shift funnel to quickly and evenly strew the streusel over the cake.  

However you choose to do it, work quickly and hold the spoon, measuring cup or parchment funnel close to the surface of the cake so that you can lay the streusel down lightly on the surface (rather than dropping it heavily from height).  Return the cake to the oven and continue to bake until the cake is golden brown, springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean….another 20 to 30 minutes. 

Let the cake cool for 20 to 30 minutes before running a spatula around the outer edge and removing the sides from the pan.  Let the cake cool completely before attempting to remove the center ring of the pan.

Makes one large cake, serving about 16 people.

(Adapted from two cakes:  Sour Cream Coffee Cake in Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten & Claudia Fleming’s Chocolate Streusel Coffee Cake as adapted by Rose Beranbaum in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes)