Updated: Jun 11, 2020
A friend of mine, who speaks several languages and learned English as an adult, once asked me whether "coffee cake" referred to a cake flavored with coffee. "No, that would be too logical," I answered. We both laughed.
Coffee cake is its own category. It includes classics such as cinnamon-apple cake or blueberry-and-streusel cake that are meant to go with a cup of coffee at breakfast or brunch, or as a casual dessert. Unlike layer cakes, coffee cakes are humble and unpretentious. They're under no illusions that they can be dolled-up with fancy piped icings and elaborate decorations, and they don't expect to be put on display at weddings and birthday parties.
I developed this cake recipe for the LA County Fair Specialty Breads competition in September 2013. It won third place for the category "Coffee Cake with Fruit."
This version is utterly delicious: moist, full of fruit, with just a hint of almond. The almond cream layer contributes moisture and flavor. Warm from the oven, this cake is pure heaven. Leftovers (which need to be refrigerated) are delicious the next day.
This is technically not a cake -- it is actually brioche dough filled with fruit and almond cream. The dough needs to chill for at least nine hours total, so plan accordingly. You can break up the work over a few days and hold the dough in the refrigerator for up to two days, and assemble everything on the day you plan to bake it.
Notes about ingredients. The brioche dough calls for anywhere between 140g to 200g of butter, depending on how rich you like your brioche. I opt for the larger amount because it tastes better and is more moist. When incorporating the butter into the dough, add it by the tablespoonful, and let it disappear before adding more.
The type of fruit is flexible. I prefer peaches, cherries, and blueberries -- that is what I used for the photograph. You can also use blackberries and raspberries. If using frozen fruit, let it all thaw and drain thoroughly.
What pan should I use? In the photos below, I used the center tube of an angel food cake pan, surrounded by an adjustable cake ring, on a half-sheet pan lined with parchment. You can use a 9 or 10 inch springform pan, or a square or rectangular pan with at least 3-inch-high sides. This cake will rise up considerably, so a pan with 2-inch high sides may not give it the support it needs. You can also make the sides of a pan higher with aluminum foil strips. Whatever pan you use, be sure to grease it and line it with parchment for easier removal.
As you can see above, the coiled dough has been arranged -- and it can even overlap -- but it needs to proof for an hour or two.
Now the dough has proofed, and the cake is ready to go into the oven. Notice how the brioche dough has expanded, the gaps have filled in, and it looks puffy and light. It will rise more as it bakes.
Peach-Cherry Brioche Coffee Cake
60g water, at room temperature
38g sugar or honey
1 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
180g to 240g unbleached flour, plus more for dusting counter
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon non-fat milk powder
½ teaspoon vanilla
140g to 200g unsalted butter, softened. (How much butter you use depends on how rich you want the dough to be).
Make a sponge by dissolving the sugar or honey in the water, then whisk in half the flour and the yeast. Let sit for 20 minutes. Mixture should be bubbly after 20 minutes, indicating that your yeast is alive. Let stand for another 40 minutes or so.
Finish making the brioche dough by adding the remaining flour, along with the eggs, the milk powder, salt, sugar, and vanilla. Begin mixing the dough in a stand mixer with a paddle beater, adding more flour a quarter of a cup at a time until the dough is smooth. Switch to a dough hook when necessary. The dough should clean the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom. Let rest for 5 minutes. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing until the butter disappears. The dough is going to be sticky and almost like a batter. Don't worry -- it'll firm up once it is cold. You can add a bit more flour if you think it is way too sticky, but don't add too much more.
Rest and chill. Turn the dough into a greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature about 1 hour. Place in refrigerator for about 2 - 3 hours, until it is cold.
Remove the dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a floured countertop. With floured hands or a bench scraper, shape the dough into a rectangle and give it 2 business-letter turns. Place it into a greased bowl or greased ziploc bag, and refrigerate at least six hours or up to two days.
In the meanwhile, make the almond cream.
175 g sugar
120 g finely ground almonds (such as Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal)
120 g unsalted butter
1 large egg
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ tablespoon all-purpose flour
Blend the sugar, almonds and butter in a food processor or by hand. Add the egg, extracts, then the flour, and blend just until mixed. Refrigerate until ready to use (up to five days). It must be at room temperature before using, otherwise it'll be too stiff to spread on the dough.
You're going to need about 640 grams of fruit, in whatever proportion you prefer. I like peaches, cherries, and berries, and I'm giving the proportions I used in the cake for the photos. If the fruit is cut into smaller pieces, it is easier to work with. Make sure frozen fruit is fully thawed and drained.
280 g peaches, skin and pit removed, and then diced into smaller chunks
250 g pitted cherries, cut in halves or quarters if they're really big
100 g blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries, left whole
120 g powdered sugar, sifted
Enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to make the glaze fluid
Whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth and pourable.
Assemble the coffee cake
On a floured countertop, roll the cold dough into a rectangle about 16 by 10 inches. Spread with the almond cream.
From the shorter side side, cut the dough into about nine or ten strips (you can cut 12 strips if you're using a rectangular pan). Working with one strip of dough at a time, arrange some fruit along it. Roll it up and place in a greased pan that has been lined with parchment (see notes above about what kind of pan to use). The coiled rolls should touch. They can even overlap to fit the pan. Insert any remaining fruit between them. Cover with greased plastic wrap.
Let proof 1 or 2 hours until puffy and light (see the photo above).
Bake in a preheated oven, 425 degrees F. After 5 minutes, lower the heat to 375 degrees. After 15 minutes, brush the cake with an egg glaze: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk. Keep an eye on it. If it is browning too quickly, cover with foil. Continue to bake about 30 to 45 minutes more, until a cake tester comes out clean or the internal temperature in the middle registers about 195 degrees F.
Let cool until warm or room temperature, then drizzle with lemon glaze. Refrigerate leftovers.