Pear-Filled Cowboy Coffee Cake With Buttermilk

September 13, 2011
5 Ratings
  • Serves 8 - 12
Author Notes

This is inspired by my mother’s “Cowboy Coffee Cake,” a family favorite when we were growing up. I’ve always admired the cleverness of making the topping at the same time you make the cake. After all, if you’re using flour, sugar, fat and spices in both, why not spare yourself the step of measuring and mixing them a second time? The original recipe does not call for fruit, but I find that the pears improve it tremendously. I urge you to follow the instructions in the exact order stated. You want to mix the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients the minute you’ve finished preparing the pears, so you can put the whole thing together quickly, before popping it in the oven. Enjoy!! ;o) - AntoniaJames —AntoniaJames

Test Kitchen Notes

Spicy and rich with a tender crumb and loads of pears, this is nothing like the stodgy, bland coffee cakes many of us know so well. AntoniaJames' crumb topping is pebbly and rich, the sugar and walnuts crunching pleasantly between your teeth, and the cake itself is light and generously laced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The highlight is the melting layer of pears, just soft enough to yield without turning to mush and spiked with more spices. And there's not a hint of uncooked batter where fruit meets cake -- the pears merge effortlessly with the soft crumb. We made this in a 10-inch round pan, and it turned out beautifully. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • The Cake and Topping
  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon (divided: ½ teaspoon + 1 more teaspoon for the topping)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • ¼ cup toasted wheat germ
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (almonds or pecans also work well)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • The Pear Filling
  • 1 ½ pounds (4 medium) pears (I like barely ripe Bartletts) (apples, peaches, Asian pears or fuyu persimmons may also be used)
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Tiny dash of cloves (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9” x 13” baking pan with butter or cooking spray.
  2. Pulse the flour, brown sugar, salt, spices (remember, only ½ teaspoon of cinnamon) and wheat germ in a food processor four or five times, until combined. Add the butter and process for about ten seconds; scrape down the sides and pulse three or four times. Remove ¾ cup of that and put in a small bowl with the nuts and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Stir well to combine.
  3. Add the baking soda and baking powder to the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse two or three times.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Then add the buttermilk and whisk well to combine.
  5. Peel, core and coarsely chop the pears; toss with the filling spices (1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg, and a dash of cloves) and the tablespoon of dark brown sugar.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until smooth.
  7. Put half of the batter in the prepared baking pan. Spread the pears over the batter; then, cover with the remaining batter.
  8. Sprinkle on the topping.
  9. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the center springs back when lightly touched
  10. Allow to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes before cutting.
  11. Enjoy!! ;o)
  12. I’ve had this recipe in my files as long as I can remember. The original recipe (whose origin is unknown) calls for shortening, not butter, calls for “milk – sour” instead of buttermilk, and does not contain any fruit. I add a bit of toasted wheat germ, too, for its flavor and texture, and increase the nuts by 50%. If you really love nuts, feel free to add some more. I also suggest using the the food processor for the initial steps of combining the dry ingredients and then cutting in the fat. It's so easy! ;o)
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  • eluu
  • Tracy
  • BavarianCook
  • caroberts77
  • Ms. T
    Ms. T

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

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91 Reviews

Katherine R. March 15, 2023
It’s in the oven, and there’s no way it won’t be delicious but I wanted to leave one note: Using a 9x13 pan I found that I did not have enough batter to do even the thinnest possible bottom layer and top layer. I don’t think it matters, but prepare for a little logistics challenge and the time it takes to try to spread this batter (not pourable) in the pan,
eluu November 27, 2019
I was so worried about my batter as I spread it in my 9x13 pan (the bottom layer was so thin!). It looked like a disaster going into the oven, though that's more suspect of my ability and not the recipe itself. It turned out a beauty and a tasty little thing. I used four persimmons (roughly 1 lb) and one honeycrisp apple. Next time, I will use either riper persimmons or just apples, and more spices! The dough is so buttery... but healthy-ish tasting at the same time. Yum, yum!
alargura January 27, 2019
This was delicious, however, if you fail to note the pan size change from the picture and top description, you'll be in for a surprise. I used a 10" round pan (not 9x13) and it took 1 hour and 20 to bake through. Otherwise, the combination of spices, pears, and nuts is really satisfying. A keeper!
Tracy October 28, 2017
Cannot wait to bake this one!!
Lynn42 November 25, 2016
The recipe calls for a 9 x 13 pan, but the pictures show a round cake. Can you tell us what size round pan you used? Is the baking time the same when you use that pan?
AntoniaJames November 25, 2016
The editors decided to use a round pan, instead of the rectangular one, when they did the photo shoot at the time that this recipe was a contest finalist. I prefer making it in the rectangular pan, using parchment as a sling across the long side for easier removal. I tried this recipe in a round pan, after seeing the editors' photo; it takes 10 to 15 minutes longer to bake, given that it is deeper. Cakes with fresh fruit in them can be tricky, because the fruit teleases juice into the batter, which can make the crumb a bit soggy. Also, the outer edge of the cake tends to be finished baking before the inside, where the fruit is. For that reason, I prefer the less deep rectangular baking dish for this recipe. ;o)
Anne13 April 26, 2016
OK, maybe it's a little ridiculous to be adding a comment to a recipe that was published so long ago, but I love it and have made it so many times, with pears, and apples, and lately, frozen sweet cherries. I've been using all whole-wheat flour and don't mind that it's a little heavier that way, but last time I grabbed a can of meringue powder instead of the baking powder (now I know: they're the same size) and thought I'd ruined it. I was distraught, but the cake was incredibly light and delicious as ever. The family was divided on whether they liked it better one way or the other, so I can just make it both ways I guess--it's a hard cake to mess up, which is a great cake, the best kind, as far as I'm concerned!
AntoniaJames April 27, 2016
Not ridiculous at all, Anne13! Thank you for much for your kind words, and especially for the suggestion to use frozen cherries. I've often thought that those frozen slices of nectarines that beckon me from the grocery store freezer case this time of year (spring doldrums, waiting for summer fruit) would go well in this cake. I think I'll give it a try. Thanks again. ;o)
BavarianCook June 12, 2014
It is now in the oven and already smelling fantastic! I was out of buttermilk (how did that happen?) and used 3/4 c Greek yogurt and 1/4 c milk instead - seems to work just fine. I LOVE that there is plenty of topping and not just the dusting many other coffeecake recipes have. I can't wait to dig into it! Thank you, AJ!
caroberts77 April 27, 2013
I made this for a work birthday gathering and it was received quite well. I made a poor decision to not use the specified pan size and ended up over-baking the cake. That being said, another co-worker brought ice cream which took care of any dryness ;-)
fearlessem May 13, 2012
I realized I'd never come back to sing the praises of this recipe after making it. It is stupendous. So good!
AntoniaJames May 14, 2012
Thank you, fearlessem. I'm so glad you liked it!! ;o)
Ms. T. May 1, 2012
Deeee-licious! I made this for an office breakfast party and it was a big hit. I've never made coffee cake--never bought wheat germ before either--I'm so glad I did both, as this will be a go-to recipe for years to come. Be warned, little backyard pear tree: this year, I am ready and waiting for your fruit!
AntoniaJames May 1, 2012
Thank you! I'm so glad you and your colleagues enjoyed it. And how lucky you are to have a pear tree. By the way, I adapted the topping for this over the weekend to put on a breakfast bread pudding made with challah and chunks of pears. So, so easy, and a huge hit with my brunch guests. I'll post the recipe for that, one of these days. ;o)
AntoniaJames September 29, 2011
Thanks, everyone, for your kind words. ;o)
BlueKaleRoad September 29, 2011
Congratulations on the silver! This is a heavenly cake.
fiveandspice September 28, 2011
Congrats on the silver AJ! This is really a stellar cake!
EmilyC September 28, 2011
Congrats again on your finalist nod...your recipe has gone into my file and I can't wait to make it again.
dymnyno September 28, 2011
This sounds awesome! Congratulations!
lapadia September 28, 2011
Congratulations on being the "Silver" finalist winner for this beautiful recipe, AJ!
SallyCan September 27, 2011
Leave it to you, AntoniaJames, to take the most fabulous cake and to make it better!
AntoniaJames September 27, 2011
Thank you, Sally. You would know! I must take issue with you, however, on whether Mother's Cowboy Coffee Cake is THE most fabulous cake. Mother's Sour Cream Cake is actually the most fabulous, to my mind. Did I ever tell you about the time I made it in a Bundt pan (with the overflow into a loaf pan), with an inner layer of the Cowboy Coffee Cake buttery/brown sugary/spiced walnuts? It was really good! Hmm, I should make that again and post the recipe . . .. ;o)
Jr0717 September 21, 2023
I realize my comment comes years after this was posted, but I would love to know more about this storied Cowboy Coffee Cake!
SallyCan September 27, 2011
Leave it to you, AntoniaJames, to take the most fabulous cake and to make it better!
TiggyBee September 24, 2011
This looks just beautiful and delish...Congrats AJ!
AntoniaJames September 25, 2011
Thank you so much, TiggyBee! ;o)
Sydney September 24, 2011
Good God, I love this! So happy that you added the cloves and nutmeg in both parts. What a phenomenal flavor!
AntoniaJames September 24, 2011
Thank you, Sydney! I rarely use cloves, because the flavor can overwhelm, but when balanced with the copious amount of freshly grated nutmeg and the cinnamon, it works. ;o)