22 Jan 2011 Ina Garten’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

I buy a lot of cookbooks and a lot of cooking magazines.  It’s a big problem.  One time I tried to cook my way through one cookbook (which is how this blog got started) so I would have to stop buying new cookbooks.  I probably made it through half the cookbook, but I kept buying magazines and “Special Interest Publications” anyway.  It’s a big, big problem…

Over time I’ve found that I usually make three recipes from each publication, sometimes more and sometimes less, and then make a judgment about the book.  Not all books pass the three recipe test, and this infuriates me.  WHY publish so-so recipes? Just in case someone might like it?  I want to yell at all cookbook authors, editors, and publishers, “Stop publishing and republishing so-so, mediocre and bad recipes!”   Just because you have a recipe with a cute name or a pretty picture doesn’t mean it has to be published!  Where’s the quality control? If a recipe is so-so, dump it and move onto the next one, or if it has potential, remake it until it’s fabulous.  Stop publishing so-so, mediocre and bad recipes!

I understand differences in tastes, I don’t make recipes I know I won’t like.   I have nothing against publishing hot and spicy recipes.  Many people like those, I’m just not going to try them.  I make recipes that sound good to me, and I expect the recipe to work and I want the recipe to taste good.  No, more than good.  I want the recipe to be fabulous, but I will settle for one step up from mediocre.  One step up from mediocre wouldn’t make me angry.  It would be an improvement! I received a huge cookbook for Christmas, which shall remain nameless.  I made three recipes.  Three bombs. Well, not bombs exactly. The recipes worked, but they weren’t as great as the descriptions made them out to be.  I had taste testers for all these recipes.  All said the food was “OK, but not great” and then started giving suggestions for improvements!  You’d think the author would have done this.  If the recipe is not GREAT, don’t publish it, even if there is a good story or a fabulous picture to go with it. The stories and the pictures are supposed to be backup for a good recipes, not to compensate for them.

I have taste testers for ALL my recipes.  I know I have pretty high standards, so I check my expectations with my friends, family, Dining For Women members, book club members, clay class classmates, quilt group friends, massage night friends, neighbors, workmen… If I don’t like something, I check to see what others think.  Most often they agree with me.  If my testers like something I don’t, I remake it and test it again on myself, and some more testers, to see what I missed.  If I rave about something, but my testers give it so-so marks, I don’t publish the recipe.  I only publish recipes I love, and recipes my taste testers love, too.

I understand differences in preferences. Not everyone likes a particular texture. Not everyone likes the same kind of brownie or spaghetti sauce, I know this. I know not everyone is going to like the same thing, but still, there are recipes published that are just NOT good.  This needs to stop.  It’s no wonder some people think they are horrible cooks.  Chances are they’ve made some attempts over the years, have tried some some fantastic sounding recipes, only to be defeated by them.  It’s not always the cook. There are just too many bad, so-so, and mediocre recipes published.  I want to tell self proclaimed bad cooks, “It’s probably not you, it’s probably the recipe”.  To be a GREAT cook, you have to have a GREAT recipe…, and there are few cookbooks out there you can trust to give you a great recipe on every page.

I’ve  found a “post worthy” recipe in the newest cookbook I bought, “All Cakes Considered” by Melissa Gray.  Melissa works at NPR, and every Monday for a year she brought a cake into the NPR office in New York. If she didn’t get good feedback, she “re-baked” the recipe until it worked! (A woman after my own heart!)  Her cookbook is the compilation of the best cakes from that one year experiment.  The first cake I baked from this book was “The Barefoot Contessa’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake” (the recipe was originally published in “Barefoot Contessa: Parties!“).  Winner, winner, winner! My son likes the two-day old leftovers so much he’s taking them back to his dorm with him, and texting his friends to expect it!

This weekend I am going to bake to more cakes from the book and then test them out on my Dining For Women group.  Stay tuned!  But until then, bake this!  It’s yummy.  Not too sweet. Classic coffee cake. Goes well with coffee.  Very well.  A nice Sunday breakfast or mid-morning snack.  Every one of my taste testers liked it. Liked it a lot. We need more recipes like this to be published and republished.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

For Cake

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 ¼ cups sour cream
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt

For Streusel

  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

For the Glaze

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 325º.  Grease and flour a 10 inch bundt pan (or spray with Pam for Baking)
  2. Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 4 or 5 minutes.
  3. Add the eggs to the butter-sugar mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla.
  5. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  6. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, stirring until just combined.
  7. Make the streusel…combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt and butter in a medium bowl.  Cut in the butter.  Mix until mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Stir in walnuts. Set aside.
  8. Spoon 1 cup of cake batter into bottom of prepared bundt pan.  Sprinkle with half of the streusel mix.  Pour in half of remaining cake batter, top with remaining streusel, and then last half of cake batter.
  9. Bake cake in preheated 325 degree oven for 50-60 minutes.
  10. Let cake cool in pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool.  Let cake cool for at least 30 minutes, and as long as overnight.
  11. In a small bowl stir the maple syrup and powdered sugar together with a fork.
  12. Drizzle glaze over top of cake.
  13. Serve.  You’ll get about 16 slices of cake.

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen today!  My apologies for being a bit hot winded before I got to the recipe but I do feel strongly about NOT passing on bad, so-so, or mediocre recipes. I promise only to send you GREAT recipes! Make them! Then DEFINITELY tell me what you think!

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
3 Responses
  1. Mara says:

    You ALWAYS deliver!

  2. Adele says:

    This coffee cake was delicious! I don’t know if the two pieces you sent home with Brian were for the two of us to share. I didn’t ask him and went ahead and ate both slices!! I’ve never been able to suffer through even one full episode of The Barefoot Contessa…..maybe I should skip the show and just pick up a cookbook of hers! Thanks Polly.

    • Polly says:

      LOL Adele…I think I sent five or six slices, and I told the boys to make sure to leave some for you. Sounds as if they were generous.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>