The Diana Ross of coffee cakes

It started with a vision, based on the butternut squash ravioli my friend had at Volterra last week: I’d make pumpkin bread, only instead of using regular oil (or pecan oil, which I considered but then dismissed for cost purposes), I’d use brown butter infused with sage. I’d fold toasted pecans into the batter, and each bite would be ravioli-inspired bliss. A breakfast of champions.

But from the get-go, my pumpkin bread proved high-maintenance. We still had four sugar pumpkins loafing on the porch (leftover from the night we forgot to carve them), so I decided to use real pumpkin, for pure flavor with none of the grittiness the canned stuff has sometimes. The night before last, I roasted them, whole in their skins, because I just couldn’t get a knife through them. Just plopped them on the baking sheet, and pulled them out when they were soft:

Roasted whole pumpkins

I leaned over the counter, hair dangerously close to a dip in the whole wheat flour canister, and planned. It didn’t seem right to skimp on calories if I was going to go through the trouble to brown the butter, so I cooked up a scheme for a recipe with sour cream, and plenty of nuts.

I whisked the dry ingredients together. I browned the butter on the stove, and chopped the roasted pumpkin into 1″ pieces, so it was easier to fit into the food processor. I creamed eggs with sugar in my mixer, realizing I’d covered every surface of my kitchen with utensils and pumpkin jetsam. I decided against the sage, sure that it would be lost among the spices I’d added to the flour mixture.

I added the brown butter and sour cream to the pumpkin, and added the contents of the food processor, alternating with the dry ingredients, to the eggs and sugar. It seemed . . . more. Yes, there was definitely more batter than I expected. I looked from the bowl to the two loaf pans I’d greased, and back again.

Oh, God. I forgot to measure the pumpkin.

See, the plan was this: I’d puree the pumpkin, measure out 2 cups (about what’s in a can), and then mix it with the sour cream and butter. Only, I’d spaced out, and just added stuff to one entire pumpkin’s worth of flesh. It must have been at least three cups . . .maybe four?

The batter looked thinner than I thought it should, but the eggs gave it plenty of structure, so I figured it would bake up nicely, as long as I found a container big enough to hold it. When I flung open the cupboard doors, my eyes settled on a 10″ tube pan.

I rinsed the food processor, swirled the pecans up with brown sugar and cinnamon, and layered the batter with a cinnamony pecan topping. I slid the whole thing into the oven and prayed it wouldn’t overflow.

The batter flooded the house with the scent of baking pumpkin, but it all stayed in the pan, puffed up into a perfect dome. I took the cake out of the oven, let it cool, and figured out how to flip the coffee cake onto a platter without showering the kitchen with brown sugar.

I felt myself swelling with pride, even though I hadn’t tasted it, and didn’t know if I’d overpumpkinned the batter. It was one big, beautiful coffee cake. I wanted so much to try it, but knew I’d appreciate it more in the morning. I said so: I won’t touch it until the morning.

My husband started belting out a song I’d never heard. Touch me in the morning. . .

When I told my husband how much I love his made-up songs, he looked at me funny. He wasn’t making this one up. How could you, of all people, not know that song? he asked.

I was pretty sure he was referencing my taste in music, which tends toward the years of my early childhood. But when I looked it up, I was miffed. Diana Ross?

My husband thinks I listen to Diana Ross.

Wait, my husband listens to Diana Ross? How could I not know this?

I didn’t know it was Diana Ross, he said. Yeah, right.

But when I peeled the foil off the cake this morning, I saw a Diana Ross coffee cake. It’s voluptuous and high-maintenance and totally over the top. And God, when I tasted it, the shoe fit. The coffee cake was deeply buttery and marvelously moist, more cake than breakfast, for sure, a convenient way to justify eating pumpkin pie for breakfast before Thanksgiving. The first bites were exciting, a rush of sugar and flavor and nutty richness with my coffee. Then, just as I was about to finish it, I overdosed. Turn it off. The last bite would not go down.

And now, after a trip to the neighbor’s house, there are still about 12 servings left. I think I’ll let the sugar rush subside, then buy an album, make some coffee, and croon a made-up song to my Supreme coffee cake.

The only question is whether I (or you) will be able to duplicate it, because of the whole pumpkin-measuring thing. But today, a mostly-complete recipe is all I got . . .

supreme pumpkin coffee cake

Supreme Pumpkin-Sour Cream Coffee Cake (PDF)
Recipe 311 of 365

On my plate and in my mouth, this coffee cake, made with home-roasted sugar pumpkin, is everything I want in a coffee cake. The topping has just the right sweetness, the cake is moist enough to handle a few days on the counter, and the balance of spices works well.

But an important disclosure: It is not everything I want in a recipe. I roasted and scraped the flesh out of one five-pound pumpkin, and whirled it into the batter. But I didn’t measure the pumpkin. I’m guestimating it was about 3 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin, or not quite 2 cans, but how am I to know? Your pumpkin may be more fleshy than mine, or I could have been more liberal when scraping out the seeds and skinning my squash than you might be with yours.

So, if you make this, use your judgment with the pumpkin, adding more in at the end if the dough looks too stiff – you want a batter that’s a little thicker than cake batter, but not nearly as thick as cookie dough. And please measure your pumpkin, and let me know what does or doesn’t work.

And oh, that trick at the end – it’s a lifesaver!

TIME: 40 minutes prep
MAKES: 1 giant coffee cake

To roast ahead:
One 5-pound sugar pumpkin or kabocha squash

For the topping:
2 cups pecans
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

For the cake:
Butter and flour, for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sour cream
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs

To do ahead: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pry the stem off the pumpkin, and bake, whole, for 75 to 90 minutes, or until soft all the way through when poked with a long knife. When cool enough to handle, cut the pumpkin open, scrape out the seeds, and peel the flesh away from the skin. (You can do this up to 48 hours before making the cake, then store the pumpkin in the refrigerator, covered.)

When you’re ready to bake, combine the topping ingredients in a food processor. Pulse ten times, transfer the topping to a bowl, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10” tube pan, and set aside.

Cut the pumpkin into 1” chunks and puree in the food processor. (If there are still little bits of pumpkin, that’s fine, it’ll get pureed again later.) Measure 3 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin, return it to the food processor, and save the rest (if any) for another use.

Whisk the first ten cake ingredients (through baking soda) in a mixing bowl, and set aside.

Brown the butter: melt the butter in a small saucepan. When melted, let cook over low heat, swirling occasionally, until the foam on top subsides and the butter solids begin to brown along the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Add the brown butter and sour cream to the 3 1/2 cups pumpkin, and whirl until uniform in color and texture.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and eggs on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and the pumpkin mixture in three additions, alternating between each.

Transfer half the batter to the tube pan, then sprinkle with half the topping. Add the remaining batter, then add the rest of the topping. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached.

Let the coffee cake cool in the pan for about an hour. When you’re ready to transfer it to a platter, run a small knife around all edges of the cake. Cover the coffee cake with a large piece of wide heavy duty tinfoil (one that’s big enough to cover the entire cake, including the sides), and crimp the edges around the edge of the pan, effectively sealing the topping in. Flip the pan onto a cooling rack upside-down, uncrimp the foil, and pull the pan off the cake. Invert a serving plate and center it on the upside-down cake, and wrap the foil around the bottom of the plate. Flip again, and voila: Crumbs stay in.

almost done with coffee cake

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6 Comments

Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, kitchen adventure, recipe

6 responses to “The Diana Ross of coffee cakes

  1. lrfoodies

    I absolutely love your blog and love reading your entries. I know exactly what you mean about the sneaky fat-ass, it always creeps up on me this time of year.

    One time when my husband was gone I pretty much just threw a bunch of ingredients in a pot without measuring anything and out came a to-die-for pasta dish. Sometimes I think accidents and mistakes turn out best in the end, and maybe even the fact that you can’t re-create them makes it more special. You might try and tease and exact recipe or maybe even a meaning out of the situation–for instance, maybe it was fate you didnt carve those pumpkins, because look what at the wonderful cake they gave you–but maybe it’s better to just reflect on a glorious accident and remember it for what it was.

  2. SAWII

    Will we be able to toast the pumpkin seeds for snanks later after they are already roasted inside once?

  3. You know, I’m not sure – I didn’t roast mine, and I’ve never done it before. I don’t see why not, though . . . but I’d still soak them in salt water to plump them up and help remove the pumpkin slime.

  4. Yours is the last straw: time to bake some pumpkin into my life (hey, could be a start of a jingle:)).

  5. Kirsten

    I have been enjoying your blog for awhile now, but thought this one was worthy of feedback. This was our Thanksgiving day breakfast, and it was in fact supreme. Officially a new tradition in our house.

    For recipe notes, I used tinned pumpkin, as my oven was otherwise occupied, and the large double can worked perfectly. I did not have a tube pan, only a bundt meant to be inverted, so I used a springform pan. I think the tube pan would yeild better results, as the edges got a bit dry before the center was done.

    oh, and I completely missed the line about layering the topping, until i was scratching my head why there was so much topping left. So I simply jutted and swirled some of the topping down with a spoon, and sprinkled the reaminder on top.

    note to selft: read entire recipe before completion. Divine, none the less. Thank you.

  6. Thanks for the notes, Kirsten!

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