Back in the day when bread was the staff of life, the coffee cake was more likely to be a dough-based creation than one with a cake-like texture. Our expectations were pretty basic then, before box mixes and pastry chefs infiltrated the menus of American kitchens and left many cooks feeling inadequate for the task.
It also used to be that our grandmothers had a multipurpose dough recipe that could produce bread, as well as cinnamon rolls and coffee cake. Most cooks once made bread dough a couple times a week, as part of their kitchen routine.
Needless to say, folks weren't counting their carbs then.
I was reminded of this at a recent family brunch when a relative served an old-fashioned coffee cake made from yeast dough. The dough just as easily could have been made into cinnamon rolls, but in this case it was used to construct a gooey coffee cake that was dense enough to stick to the ribs.
The dough portion of the recipe below can be adapted to other purposes. As a cake for special occasions when traditional food is called for, this is a recipe to keep.
Joanne's Coffee Cake
1/2 cup water
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 3 cups or more
2 1/4-ounce packages dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1 cup or more brown sugar
1 pint whipping cream
Heat the first three ingredients together in the microwave until very warm. Mix together the 1 1/2 cups flour and the remaining dry ingredients. Add the warm liquid and stir to combine. Add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough is firm enough to work, turn it out onto a floured counter and continue to knead in flour until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers. Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Let the dough rise in a greased bowl covered with a damp tea towel. Then turn the dough into a 9-by-13-inch cake pan. Punch the dough down and let it rise again. Using your fingers, poke holes all the way through the dough, every inch or so. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the topping, break up butter and scatter on top of the dough. Sprinkle brown sugar over the surface to cover. Next, pour the cream over the top.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the surface of the dough is browned and slightly hard.
Makes 12 servings.