I haven’t baked a coffee cake in years but over the past four days, I’ve baked this apple and walnut coffee cake twice. I was inspired by my mom’s steal on a bunch of black walnuts and the need for something sweet as I push through the pho cookbook copyediting process. She found them in the bargain area of her supermarket, marked down to a ridiculously low price. Black walnuts are relatively hard to find, probably because they have very hard shells that make them tough nuts to crack (ha!). Compared to regular English walnuts, black walnuts have a winey, big flavor. In raw and cooked state, they exude a remarkable fragrance. Mom gave me several bags of her black walnuts because at 55 cents each, she bought all that the store had. I keep them in the freezer.
Last Sunday, I woke up wanting an easy old fashioned coffee cake for breakfast. I found a recipe in a 1994 Sunset magazine cookbook called “Breads” – the kind of cookbook you’d pickup at a grocery store. I loved the older one from 1966 because it was no nonsense and the recipe taught me a lot about American break baking. This one was somewhat of an updated version; I keep it in my collection for when I’m NOT in the mood for fancy, rustic loaves.
The 1994 recipe had a lot of sugar so I cut it down by half and used Fuji apples. The apple’s natural sweetness made up for the lesser amount of refined sugar. The first time I baked the coffee cake, I followed the recipe and sliced the apples, layering then under the crumbly walnut butter topping. The apples baked up kind of slippery and made the cake difficult to cut. It was delicious and we ate nearly half for breakfast. The rest went to the neighbors.
I was curious about the apple slices so I made the coffee cake again for an afternoon snack. I chopped the apple and mixed Granny Smith with Fuji apple. The result was that the cake was easier to cut (no slippery slices!) but the tart Granny Smith made things meh. My low-sugar approach needed the sweeter Fuji. You can opt to keep the peel on the apple but it seems more elegant if you peel it, even if you use organic fruit.
The first time around, I used all-purpose unbleached Gold Medal flour and a soft whole wheat flour that’s locally grown and milled. A 2:1 proportion worked out nicely. The second time around, I had While Lily all-purpose flour, a deal I found at Grocery Outlet, and the cake’s crumb was fine too. It’s up to you but know that there is leeway for this apple and walnut coffee cake. You don’t need to get a deal on fancy black walnuts either! Use regular ones.
Bake the cake in an 8-inch (20 cm) square pan and the coffee cake will be a little loftier and the crumbly topping will cover the entire surface nicely. However, the larger 9-inch pan seems to give a better cake to fruit ratio. Glass seems to be better than metal for a more tender crumb.
This coffee cake takes a little over an hour to make and bake. That’s pretty good for a easy-yet-special breakfast or afternoon tea treat.
Easy Apple and Walnut Coffee Cake
Yields: 8 servings
- 1 1/2 cups (7.5 oz | 213 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (3.75 oz | 85 g) sugar
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) whole milk
- 4 1/2 tablespoons (2.5 oz | 75 g) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 medium Fuji apples, peeled, cored and diced (2 cups | 480 ml total)
- Brimming 1/2 cup (3.5 oz | 105 g) firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Rounded 1/2 cup (120 ml) chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and position a rack in the center position. Grease and flour an 8-inch (20 cm) or 9-inch (22.5 cm) square pan and set aside.
- In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl or measuring cup, lightly beat the egg then add the milk and 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Use a spatula to combine and form into a batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, then smooth the top out. Scatter on the apples to cover the top.
- Mix together the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter with the sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts. Distribute as evenly as possible on top of the apples.
- Bake for about 45 minutes, until the cake begins pulling from the sides of the pan. Cool for 15 minutes on a rack before using a knife and offset spatula to cut and serve. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Eat with fingers or forks.
Adapted from Breads by Sunset, published in 1994.