Battle of the Coffee Cakes

We’ve been on a bit of a coffee cake kick over here in the Recipe Box Project kitchen lately. Whether it’s for friends in town visiting, hosting a weekend brunch, or just for ourselves as a weekday morning treat, coffee cake is one of those things that takes a normal morning from ho-hum to spectacular… something that’s particularly important when you’re starting month four of Extremely Early Mornings thanks to a Puppy Who Sleeps All Day and Wakes Up at the Crack of Dawn.*

coffee cake #1

coffee cake #1

I’ve made three coffee cakes in the last month, but I’m gonna try to drop them on you gradually so I don’t overwhelm you with too many breakfast options at once. So here are two lovely ones to start with: The first one is an easy recipe—one bowl, no weird ingredients (unless you’re like me and realise halfway through making it that you don’t have enough milk. Facepalm.), and best of all, no fruit to prep. The crumb on this one was spectacular—dense but still fluffy, soft and pillowy but still crumbly, the perfect combination of cake and breakfast bread. But that description does nothing to prepare you for the amazing crust. You guys, the crust on this is so spectacular. I mean, you’ve got cake batter, you’ve covered it in melted butter, and then you sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon and just enough flour to make it come together and cook it on high? It’s perfect. Crispy and spicy with just enough crunch to make you excited for that top layer, even a day after it’s made.

coffee cake #1

coffee cake #1

Coffee cake #1

Coffee cake #1

The other one involves prepping some apples (peeling and chopping very finely), but otherwise also nice and simple, one bowl, and a sticky-sweet, toasty topping bursting with apple flavour. This one looks perfect in its pan but even better popped out of it; it stands tall and fluffy and looks amazing on a cake stand served up at a brunch. Best on the first day, when the topping is still that perfect balance of crispy and sticky, but it still tastes great on day two or three.

Coffee cake #2

Coffee cake #2

Judson and I have been passing an irritatingly long-lasting summer cold back and forth for awhile, so I didn’t feel comfortable sharing these cakes with anyone, just in case… which ended up being even better because, well, more for us! Plus, what better motivation is there for getting out of bed on a morning when you’re still battling the world’s most lingering cold than the promise of a warm slice of coffee cake, a hot cup of coffee, and a sunshine-filled Scotland day? Also, they freeze beautifully, so make one of each and pop half in the freezer for your next busy week.

*This time of year, the sun literally rises in Edinburgh around 4:30am, so when I say crack of dawn, I mean MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

Coffee Cake #2

Coffee Cake #2

Coffee Cake #2

Coffee Cake #2

The verdict:
COffee Cake 1: Quick & easy plush coffee cake

5 spoons out of five. This is an amazing breakfast treat, and probably you should make it to help get you through this week. Seriously, make this coffee cake ASAP. I opted to leave mine in the cake pan for a more rustic (read: lazy) approach, but you could just as easily line the pan with paper and remove it to serve on a platter. Or make it as cupcakes. Or bake it in a springform pan so you can just remove the ring and serve!

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coffee cake 2: Sticky-Toasty apple coffee Cake

4 spoons out of five. This cake is great, but it's slightly more work than the first one (due to the apples) and its much better on day 1 than day 2, so I subtracted a spoon for both of those.

one year ago: White cake with creamy chocolate frosting
Two years ago: Mandarin Barbecue chicken

The recipe:

Quick & Easy Plush Coffee Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 200C/400F and grease a 9-inch cake pan.
Sift 2 c flour once, then measure.
Add baking powder, salt, and ½ c sugar, then sift again.
Cut in 6 tbsp butter.
Beat egg and milk together, then add to flour mixture, stirring until blended.
Turn into prepared pan and spread evenly (mixture will be thick).
Melt remaining 1 ½ tbsp butter and brush over batter in pan.
Mix together remaining 4 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp flour, and cinnamon (and cardamom, if using).
Bake 15-20 minutes until pick inserted in middle comes out clean.

the ingredients:

2 c + 1 tbsp flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
½ c + 4 tbsp sugar, divided
7 ½ tbsp butter, divided
1 egg, beaten well
½ c milk
½ tsp cinnamon
Optional: ¼ tsp ground cardamom

The recipe:

Sticky-Toasty Apple Coffee Cake

The directions:

Grease a springform or 8x10 square pan. 
Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Sift together flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt & baking powder.
Cut shortening into dry ingredients until it looks like cornmeal
Add eggs & milk then stir until smooth.
Pour into prepared pan and cover with apples.
Sprinkle with brown sugar (up to 1/3 c depending on tartness of your apples and your taste).
Bake 20-30 minutes until well-brown on top and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

the ingredients:

2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 c shortening or Stork
3 eggs
1 c milk
1 c apples, peeled & chopped finely
1/4 to 1/3 c brown sugar (to taste)

The Battle of the Carrot Cakes: An Easter Saga

Carrot cake, to me, has always been a take-it-or-leave-it situation. If it’s got raisins in it, obviously it’s terrible. But it’s so often perfectly moist with such a lovely layer of cream cheese frosting, I’ve never been able to completely stay away from it. Eleanor, I suspect, shared exactly my sentiments: it’s a non-chocolate dessert, and as such, it’s immediately suspect. But it has cream cheese frosting (one step away from cheesecake for a die-hard cheesecake fan), nuts, and it’s a veritable classic—all points in its favour. Also, Easter and Lent were always a big deal to Eleanor, so I could see these carrot cake recipes being go-tos for her around this time of year… although in 1950s Florida without air conditioning, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision this frosting melting right off the cake.

Up until this week, I don’t think I have ever made a carrot cake. Having now made two in less than a week, I can tell you with a fair amount of surety that these recipes are practically foolproof. One of them doesn’t even involve a mixer, and both are so perfectly moist you’ll be shocked at how you can slice through them like warm butter. Also, both cakes are dairy-free (except for the frosting).

If you’re not big on Easter, carrot cake is still a good springtime treat—somehow lighter than a chocolate cake, but not requiring any fruit that’s not in season yet. Plus, let’s be real: cream cheese frosting is the best frosting, but so often comes out grainy or just too heavy… not so this frosting. If you’re a fan of frosting, might I recommend (heartily) the below frosted version? It’s the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever tasted, and I’m already plotting all the future cakes I can top with it.

That said, if you’re heading to a brunch-y Easter gathering, the unfrosted, bundt pan version of this cake is sturdy, easily transportable, comes together with only a large bowl, a whisk, and a grater, and is the perfect weekend breakfast treat.* (If you’re curious how I know this, it’s because I brought it to work to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday, and we all nibbled thick slices at half past ten on a Wednesday morning. We regretted nothing.)

If you’re only going to have a chance to make one carrot cake (which, unless you’re me, is all the carrot cake a normal person can deal with in a single month), then I wholly recommend the frosted version below. It’s moist, fresh, nutty and somehow buttery, despite the fact that there is not a drop of butter in the whole cake. But it’s also a bit fragile (from all that moistness) and it’s going to be a pain to transport it if you wanted to take it to a party. Team it with a strong espresso if you're hosting Easter dinner and everyone will love it. Plus, there’s no divisive fruit in it to make any non-raisin eaters jealous.

If, however, you’re not a frosting person, you’re more into the traditional carrot cake with dried fruit included, or you need to take this cake somewhere with you, then make the bundt version. It’s even easier, faster, and still tasty and moist with the perfect crispness just around the edges. Plus, you can pretty easily convince yourself or anyone else that this one is breakfast food, so it deserves some points just for that.

*The recipe actually calls for an angel food cake pan, which I assume means a tube pan. But I hate angel food cake and refuse to buy a pan specifically for a food that I don’t even like, so I used my bundt pan. It turned out fine, and when I brought it in to work, one guy thought I had carved the cake into a wheel shape, complete with the ridges all the way around. So maybe consider using a bundt pan if you want everyone to think you’re super talented.

The verdict:
Carrot cake 1: Perfect Carrot Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

5 spoons out of five. This cake was so good, we and the houseguests we shared it with all ate it for breakfast at various points. I can’t overstate the perfection of the icing!

Carrot Cake 2: Easiest Carrot Breakfast Bundt Cake

5 spoons out of five. I know the point of pitting these two against each other was to determine which was better, but they were both so amazing I just couldn’t choose. They’re unique enough that I’m glad to have both in my arsenal and will always revert to this one for a brunch situation or whenever I need to transport a cake across town, as this one is the sturdier of the two.

Easter recipes, previously: Easter Bread & Hot Cross Buns

One year ago: Quiche a la Bramafam (Tomato & Caramelised Onion Tart)

The recipe:

Perfect Carrot Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

the directions:
cake:

Preheat oven to 150C/300F.
Line 2 8' pans with baking paper on the bottom and set aside.
Cream sugar and oil until fluffy.
Add eggs and beat well.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, then fold in carrots and nuts gently, just until combined.
Pour into prepared pans and bake 25-30 minutes until a pick inserted in the middle comes out barely sticky.

Frosting:

Beat all ingredients together, chill frosting slightly, then fill and frost cake once completely cool.

the ingredients:
the cake:

2 c sugar
¾ c vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3 c carrots, grated
½ c pecans, chopped

the frosting:

½ c butter, melted
1 c cream cheese, softened
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1 c pecans, chopped

The recipe:

Easiest Carrot Breakfast Bundt Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 160C/325F.
Grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside.
Mix sugar and oil together in a large bowl.
Add eggs, one at a time.
In a few batches, add flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
Add carrots, vanilla, nuts, and dates, stirring well after each addition to make sure the batter is well-incorporated.
Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour until a pick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Let cool slightly, then turn out to cool completely.
If serving immediately, dust with powdered sugar-- otherwise skip it or it will get clumpy.

the ingredients:

2 c sugar
1 ½ c vegetable oil
4 eggs
3 c flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp salt
2 c carrots, grated
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 c pecans, chopped
1 c dates, chopped
Powdered sugar for dusting (if serving immediately)

Battle of the Biscuits: Classic Biscuits vs. Emergency Biscuits

Classic Biscuit in front, emergency biscuit behind!

Classic Biscuit in front, emergency biscuit behind!


You guys, I love American biscuits. In fact, living in a country that does not understand the Breakfast Perfection that is an (American) Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit is probably the only downfall of living in Scotland. But they’re totally one of those foods I have never been able to make very well myself. The second Christmas Judson and I were dating, we decided to make ham and biscuits for a progressive dinner we were invited to.* Unsurprisingly, this turned out… poorly. So poorly, in fact, that 20 minutes before the dinner was to start, when we realised our biscuits had come out more like crackers, I had to drive to the nearest Whole Foods and buy a half dozen varieties of fancy mustards and chutneys to spread the biscuits/hard tack with to try to remedy the situation. Judson’s neighbours were nice about it, but I was pretty disappointed in us. I mean, biscuits! They have 3 ingredients! They shouldn’t be difficult!

I seem to have inherited my mom’s complete inability to make biscuits, though, (sorry, mom!), so I’ve been apprehensive (at best) to tackle these two biscuit recipes. First of all, why did Eleanor even have these? I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t taste a biscuit until she was in her 20s, and I can’t imagine Eleanor making (or eating) something as southern as biscuits… but here we are. I had a bit of luck with the ‘shortcakes’ from this strawberry shortcake recipe back in the summer, but although the flavour on that batch was great, they were still dry enough that I wouldn’t have enjoyed them by themselves, not coated in juicy strawberries and whipped cream.

So I’ve been both stoked to make this recipe (potential for biscuits!) but also nervous because what if I get my hopes up and then they go the way all my other biscuit forays have gone? I delayed making these two recipes for ages because I was nervous, but then I realised the fact that one of them is called ‘Emergency Biscuits’ was just too funny not to share. What possible emergency is there where biscuits are the only solution? You’re stuck in a flood of gravy with nothing to sop up the mess? There’s an abundance of fried eggs, crispy bacon and melty cheese in your kitchen and you need an edible thing to sandwich it all between before you chow down? As it turns out, Emergency Biscuits have basically the exact same ingredients in very nearly the exact same quantities as the regular biscuits, but instead of patting them out and cutting them with a biscuit cutter (ahem, juice glass—why would I have a biscuit cutter when I can’t make biscuits?), you just take a spoonful of dough and pat it into a small mound.

So I made these recipes back to back, baked ‘em both up, and then did the taste-testing. Judson mocked the shape and overall look of the ‘emergency biscuits,’ but then upon tasting both side by side, we came to the conclusion that the emergency variety was actually better. However, I’m going to go ahead and caveat that the only reason we liked the emergency biscuits better is because they are easier to make, and thus came out better for this experienced non-biscuit baker. If you’re good at making biscuits, I have no idea which one you’ll like better, but if you’re as bad at it as me, then start with the emergency version—they’re simple and nearly foolproof:  the perfect beginner’s biscuit!

Emergency biscuit: slightly less smooth, but also a lot fluffier!

Emergency biscuit: slightly less smooth, but also a lot fluffier!

*Whose idea was this? The year before we made shrimp dip and a plate of crackers. What hubris possessed us to think that in one year our cooking skills had progressed from ‘mix together cream cheese and shrimp’ to ‘make an entire ham and enough biscuits to feed 30 people’?

The verdict:
Emergency Biscuits:

5 spoons out of five. Easier than the regular kind, easier to clean up since you don’t have to make a mess of the countertop, and even though they’re not quite as pretty as a nice flat-topped biscuit, they have the perfect buttery crumb that makes me hungry just thinking about it.

Classic Biscuits:

3 spoons out of five. They’re tasty and still relatively easy, but my skill level is still not great and so mine came out quite a bit flatter than I wanted them to, though they were still delicious, soft, and tasted great with salted butter and a nice slick of marmalade.

the recipe:

Emergency Biscuits

the directions:

Preheat oven to 230C/450F.
Sift flour once, add baking powder and salt, then sift again.
Cut in shortening, then add milk very slowly, stirring until a soft dough is formed.
Drop from a tablespoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
Makes about 16 biscuits.

the ingredients:

2 c flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter or shortening
1 c milk

The recipe:

Classic Biscuits

the directions:

Preheat oven to 230C/450F.
Sift flour once, then measure.
Add baking powder and salt, then sift again.
Cut in shortening, then add milk very slowly, stirring until a soft dough is formed.
Turn out on lightly floured surface and knead very gently for 20 seconds, or enough for dough to take on a basic shape.
Pat or roll dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a floured biscuit cutter or juice glass.
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
Makes about 12 biscuits.

The ingredients:

2 c flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter or shortening
3/4 c milk