My crush on coffee cake goes back decades. At fourteen I worked as a kitchen assistant at a day camp in Brainerd, Minnesota, where a handful of cabins ringed Rice Lake in two little boy/girl half-moons separated by an evil-smelling, leech-infested lagoon. My main task was dish washing, of course, and then peeling mountains of veg or prepping salad greens. Nothing too difficult for an amateur kitchen aide. But on Saturday mornings half of the staff had the day off, while the rest of us would enjoy a free Sunday. Thanks to our reduced staff, I had to wake an hour earlier and bake the weekly coffee cake. Two glorious, buttery batches of cinnamon-scented heaven that spread over four hotel pans.
Prior to this initiation, I had thought coffee cake (a) had coffee as an ingredient and (b) was reserved for old ladies’ tea parties with those little paper lace inserts on the plate. The camp recipe was nothing special, truly, and in fact when I snuck a copy home and insisted my mother help me scale back the quantity to family-sized, she balked, not wanting me to waste good ingredients on what was clearly a simple recipe designed to feed a crowd. I made it anyway, and for most of the following winter we had coffee cake every weekend. In fact, fifteen years and countless moves later, I’m still disappointed to have lost that particular recipe.
Instead I’ve tried a plethora of cookbook recipes for coffee cake and typically alter the simple one from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook to suit my ingredients. Until this time.
While my mother-in-law was visiting, I had decided to make Molly’s Oatmeal Pancakes — my new favorite pancake recipe — with scads of the fresh blueberries I’ve been hoarding in the fridge. But we ended up going out instead, and so I had a puddle of oats soaked overnight in buttermilk to contend with that evening. Rather than throw them out, I decided to convert the pancake recipe into a coffee cake one. I ended up with a denser, textured coffee cake speckled with fresh fruit and a sweet, crunchy, cinnamony top. It’s less sugary than my usual version, but the crisp topping lends an extra dose of brown sugar and the fruit’s flavor shines through. I used both blueberries and peaches, fruits that I love to pair with oats, but one or the other would work fine. Or apples or raspberries. . . whatever.
2 cups oats
2 cups buttermilk
Day one: mix oats with buttermilk and set in the refrigerator 24 hours or at least overnight.
¾ cup sugar
½ cup melted butter
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or more all-purpose)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
2 peaches, peeled and diced
2 cups blueberries, washed and picked over
For the crumble topping:
6 T butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour (or more all-purpose)
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
Day of baking (day two): Proceed as usual. Heat the oven to 350º and oil a 9”x13” baking pan.
To make the topping, in a clean bowl, use your fingers to rub the butter into the dry topping ingredients until the mixture sticks together when pressed and has the texture of wet sand. Set aside.
Into the oat mixture, add the eggs, sugar, melted butter, sour cream and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together, whisking to combine.
Prep the fruit for the filling and then mix into the dry ingredients (this helps the fruit not to settle at the bottom of the cake). Pour the wet oat mixture into the dry flour mixture, stirring to combine. Fill the baking pan with the mixture and spread evenly. Crumble the topping evenly over the batter.
Bake, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes, until the cake is set in the center and nicely browned. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.
Note: Because of the buttermilk in this recipe, please refrigerate any leftovers and reheat gently in the oven wrapped in foil.