As the early morning light flowed into my kitchen one morning last week, I noticed a tree in the far back of my yard beginning to turn red. Another season, another set of holidays on the horizon that none of us will be quite prepared for, another slog in the early darkness from the office to the metro to home. Same. Same. Same.
It seems only children experience the absolutely new, from their early moments as terrifying bundles of sheer need, to their wobbling discovery of the world below their feet, all on the journey toward their own traditions and eventual drudgery.
I was at that 6:30 am moment overcome with the need to make a cake. A new cake, actually, because untried recipes -- along with ingredients and techniques -- are the one way we can keep our kitchens, and our lives, rebooting. I love my standbys, I have made some of them scores of times. But it felt nice to bring a new friend into my kitchen, especially one that would greet the rest of the family, warm and fragrant, when they awoke.
If you are in search of fresh meaning in your life, or, more likely, just a better breakfast cake, I strongly recommend Prune Coffee Cake. This fits the weekday mandate quite easily; I had the whole thing whipped up just in time to run upstairs and cajole my kids from their beds, by taking a very few shortcuts.
First of all, this is breakfast time, so your coffee is already made, no? While you plump your prunes in the hot liquid, get your butter and sugar going in the mixer while you whip together your dry stuff. Toss that egg in, then the vanilla. Don’t forget the maple syrup, the sweet key to this whole cake, but if you do, as I did, you can toss it in at the end. I did not process my prunes, but rather threw them in with the coffee into the batter. Just be sure to cut them on the small side.
I did not use powdered sugar, though would have -- for variety! -- were I serving it at a brunch. Which I should. If I had brunches. Which I don’t.
What amazed me about this cake was how moist it was, considering how little fat it has relative to the flour. Its aromas conjure some family tradition, which one just depends on your family. Bring it to work to spice up your day. Your life may not feel so different for your efforts, but it will be for the moment more pleasurable.
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup prunes, quartered
- 1/3 cup hot espresso or coffee
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter,room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2/3 cups whole milk
- powedered sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10 inch spring form pan. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, plump the prunes with the hot espresso or coffee for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the egg, vanilla and maple syrup and mix well.
- Puree the prunes with the espresso or coffee in the food processor. Add to the cake batter and mix well.
- Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan at least 10 minutes.
- Remove the cake to a serving plate and dust with powdered sugar. Enjoy!
Photos by Nicole Franzen.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.