I know it would seem that someone who makes as many celebration cakes as I do would dream only in stacked layers, draped ganache and swirled buttercream, but the truth is that I think that the best kind of cake on earth is a coffee cake. They’re simple and cute; they’re alll flavor with minimal flair; they take a third of the time to make. And they may not make people gasp when walked into a room topped with sparklers, but they, without fail, never make it out of said room intact.
I sometimes call these cakes “dinner party cakes” because as it turns out, it’s all people usually want for dessert after a big meal. In fact, you might find that the space between becoming a frequent or occasional dinner party guest is entirely filled with gusts of cinnamon-sugar, streusel or perhaps a vanilla bean and whole cranberries. (Yes, the obsession continues.)
I made this cranberry-vanilla one (an inspiration I was not alone in) for my friend Jocelyn’s tree-trimming party on Monday night. It was really easy… or, well, it should have been but the batter came out really thick (as I hear it did for others, too) and I found it quite annoying to spread, especially over the chopped cranberry filling. But, I completely forgave it when I tried the cake — which was light, fragrant with just enough tartness — and I think you will too.
Coffee Cakes/Dinner Party Cakes, previously: Big Crumb Coffee Cake, Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake, Caramel Walnut Upside Down Banana Cake, Dimply Plum Cake, Cherry Cornmeal Upside Down, Almond Cake with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote, Lemon Yogurt Anything Cake and Pineapple Upside Down Cake [Is it time for a new Topic Index or what?]
Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake
Gourmet, December 2008
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (6 ounces)
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
Confectioners sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter parchment.
Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a food processor with tip of a paring knife (reserve pod for another use if desired). Add sugar and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl.
Pulse cranberries with 1/2 cup vanilla sugar in processor until finely chopped (do not purée).
Whisk together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together 1 stick butter and 1 cup vanilla sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down side and bottom of bowl. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour, until just combined.
Spread half of batter in pan, then spoon cranberries over it, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edge. Spoon small bits of the remaining batter over the top of the cranberries and smooth them with as gentle of a hand as possible.
Blend remaining 1/4 cup vanilla sugar with remaining tablespoon each of butter and flour using your fingertips. Crumble over top of cake.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted into cake (not into cranberry filling) comes out clean and side begins to pull away from pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely, crumb side up.
Do ahead: Coffee cake can be made 1 day ahead and kept, tightly wrapped, at room temperature.