My grandmother’s coffee cake was iconic, a symbol of her vigilant hospitality. Nannie never failed to have a sweet treat available, fresh from the oven, any time of day. She would bake, not just because she loved to bake, but just in case a friend, a grandchild, or one of her sisters just happened to stop by. Like a boy scout, she was always prepared! And more often than not, it was her famed sour cream coffee cake that sat, cooling, on her kitchen counter.
I loved sitting at Nannie’s sunny kitchen table, my legs sticking to her white vinyl chairs as I sipped instant French vanilla cafe coffee and munched on cake. Nannie usually served coffee cake as an afternoon treat; a little something to nibble while socializing with the ladies, an afterschool snack or a bribe for a juicy tidbit of good gossip.
But I haven’t made coffee cake in years. Putting aside for a moment the fact that I don’t actually own a bunt pan, how often am I free midafternoon for a coffee and cake break anyway? When was the last time I sat down at 4:00 p.m. to enjoy a cup of coffee, a slice of cake, and a bit of gossip? I just put “invite girlfriends over for coffee and cake” on my to-do list, but the reality is that most of my mid-afternoon snacks are a granola bars scarfed down at my desk in between conference calls.
And while coffee cake makes a lovely breakfast, the guilt associated with eating “cake” for breakfast is usually more than I can handle. A big old slice of cake with my morning coffee doesn’t actually make for a greater sugar high than that muffin I bought yesterday morning, but it’s a mental block. So I stuck Nannie’s sour cream coffee cake batter in some muffin tins and the guilt disappeared!
You could certainly add a cup of blueberries or a few chocolate chips to this batter. But I like the pure, sweet simplicity of the naked cake and the texture of the nutty topping.
Nannie’s Coffee Cake Muffins
Makes 12 large muffins
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
21/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut in cubes
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt (don’t skip the sifting step, Nannie was big on sifting for a nice light crumb!) Stir half of the dry mixture into the wet mixture, add in the sour cream, and then the rest of the dry mixture. Combine well.
In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients with your fingers, rubbing the butter until it comes together and becomes crumbly.
Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray. Fill each muffin cup to almost half way, then add about a tablespoon of the topping mixture, and then add more batter to fill each cup 3/4 full. Top the muffins with the remaining topping mixture. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes.