I first heard of Rose Levy Beranbaum when I was on holiday in San Francisco two years ago. She was making brioches on telly and watching her, I was struck by her manner of demonstrating, very detailed and reassuring, I almost believed it is really that easy to make the heavenly buttery bread. Being a novice baker, I have also started to read more on the subject, an activity that led me to the very belated discovery that her book The Cake Bible is a highly respected and compulsory reference for many bakers, amateurs and professionals alike.
This afternoon I made her Sour Cream Coffee Cake. It is one of her simpler recipes, and truly, it was not difficult to make at all. Once everything is measured out it gets mixed in the mixer, assembled and baked. She even details how many minute for each mixing, so exact and frequent were these timing instructions that my digital Tanita timer got a really good workout.
Her method too, was completely different from what I learnt in baking class. The butter is added to the flour, not creamed first with sugar. The resultant batter was quite thick yet has a stretchy feel but still, I was worried whether it would rise. Rose it did, to a respectable height almost 1.5 times more, despite the weight of sliced apples, streusel filling of chopped walnuts, white and brown sugars and streusel topping (same as filling but with added butter, flour and vanilla) on top of it.
Before I studied the recipe I thought I was making a coffee cake, like the recipe title said, you know, with coffee as an ingredient. But no, there isn't any coffee anything inside, no paste, no essence, no expresso, no liquers, nothing. Since she couldn't possibly have left out this ingredient, it must be that this is a cake for drinking coffee with. The streusel, which was also something novel to me, was composed mainly of walnuts, brown sugar and butter, all good friends of coffee and cake. Caffeine-free coffee cake, heh.
Obtaining the walnuts was another minor hurdle. Maybe it is just me, but I have difficulty finding fresh walnuts in Singapore, most of the time the ones available are old and rancid, or goes stale quite quickly. It can also be quite expensive, Cold Storage was selling 150g bags for $6.20 each. But the Victoria Wholesale Market came through for me. An old lady in one of the shops just happened to be repacking a big bag and I asked her for a sample. It was fresh, I bought 200g and to my delight, it only cost me $2.80.
The baking time was quite long, 55-65 minutes, at 175 C or 350 F. Mine needed all 65 minutes but the result was indeed worth every minute's wait. The cake was welcomingly soft and moist, not overtly buttery like other butter cakes or stolid as butter cakes can get. The streusel fillings and toppings were nutty and warmly spicy, crunchy yet melting, I could easily imagine getting addicted to it. The optional apple layer was cooked till tender but not soft, its mellow tang contrasted and complimented the cake and streusel components in perfect symphony. Everyone agreed it was delicious. This was definitely the most sophisticated cake I have ever baked (even though it is supposed to be 'easy').
It is also one of the richest. I resisted from finishing an entire slice, knowing how rich it was, and friends who know me know that I am not one to hold back where food is concerned. But see, just by eating it, one could not have guessed that the ingredients included almost an entire 250g block of butter, an equally heart-stopping wodge of 35% fat sour cream, 298g sugars, 200g flour, 4 egg yolks and 125g of walnuts. Well, more walnuts than the recipe called for, boy was I daring.
I could always eat a whole slice for breakfast tomorrow. It is not unusual for people here to eat cake for breakfast. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.