Pear-Filled Cowboy Coffee Cake

September 13, 2011
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

  • Serves 8 - 12
  • 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
In This Recipe
  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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Recipe by: AntoniaJames

When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)