Baked Sunday Mornings: Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl

The recipe on this week's Baked Sunday Mornings schedule is Pecan and Almond Chocolate Toffee. I made the toffee back in December for our holiday party and loved it; you can read my blog post about it here. Instead of making the toffee again I decided to go rogue and make the Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.

This cake wasn't difficult to make but the method was slightly more involved than what I would have expected for a coffee cake. And perhaps the most unexpected part was that notwithstanding the name of the cake, there is no "swirling" involved. This coffee cake has two ripples (not swirls -- but perhaps that's a distinction without a difference?) of chocolate-cinnamon mixture running through it, and a sweet pecan crumb topping.

To make the topping, you need to break out the food processor. It's a mixture of flour, dark brown sugar, salt, toasted pecans, and cold cubed butter. You end up with a topping the texture of coarse sand, which you stick in the fridge until you're ready to use it.

For the cake batter, you beat softened butter until ribbonlike; add sugar and beat until fluffy; add eggs; mix in sour cream and vanilla; and add the dry ingredients in several parts (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). You spread a third of the cake batter into a 9-inch by 13-inch pan (I lined mine with parchment), sprinkle on a mixture of sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, and then layer on more cake batter, more chocolate-cinnamon mixture, and more cake batter. Finally, you add all of the crumb topping and bake.
The recipe instructs you to turn the cake three times during baking but that seemed a bit excessive, so I just turned the cake once, midway through the baking time. I did have to bake the cake for an extra five minutes to ensure that it was cooked through. I let it cool completely before cutting and serving, even though the recipe says you can serve it after cooling it for 30 minutes, which means it would still be warm. I was delighted when I cut the cake to see two clearly defined lines of the cocoa-cinnamon mixture running through it. The crumb topping was prone to falling off not only as I cut the cake but also as anyone tried to use a fork to cut off a bite. But the cake was very good.

I didn't love the large, irregular crumb of the cake, but it had a definite tang and what I would call a classic, familiar, sour cream coffee cake flavor. I was a little surprised that the chocolate-cinnamon layers didn't add more flavor. I couldn't taste the chocolate at all (there is only one teaspoon of cocoa in the entire swirl mixture, so I suppose that was to be expected), and the cinnamon flavor was barely detectable. I think the "swirl" is really all about the visual effect, and not enhancing the flavor of the cake. One the other hand, the crumb topping adds a lovely sweetness and a wonderful crunch. My cousin ate a piece of cake and remarked that it had exactly the right amount of crunchiness. His compliment perfectly echoed the sentiment in the recipe headnote: "this cake has the perfect ratio of moist cake to crumbly topping." The fine texture of the crumb topping might make a mess, but this cake is a crowd pleaser.

Recipe: "Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl" from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

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