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Cowgirl Coffee Cake (Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens' Cowboy Coffee Cake)

This coffee cake alternated with a classic streusel on my mother's table when I was growing up. We ate fresh, hot coffeecake once a week or so. That seemed perfectly natural to me - I took it for granted, and assumed everyone else ate homemade coffee cake pretty often, too. I liked both of Mother's standard coffee cakes a great deal, but this one is special, complex, delicious. It creates a signature fragrance in the house as it is baking. I could identify that "nose" out of 10,000 other baking smells, I'm sure.

Just as was true with the original "boy" version, the instructions for this recipe can be a little confusing. The point is to begin by making a pastry-type flour-sugar-butter blend that has two purposes: Most of it forms the base of the coffee cake, and a small portion turns into a kind of streusel topping that's the signature of this wonderful creation.

Put a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Spray a 9" X 13 X 2" sheet cake pan with non-stick spray, or rub it with butter and sprinkle it with a light coating of flour. I recently discovered Baker's Joy, and it works well.

Combine in a food processor and pulse a few times or mix in a large bowl using a pastry cutter or your fingers. Work until the mixture turns coarsely crumb-y:

  • 2 ½ cup unbleached flour (or substitute up to 3/4 cup whole wheat)
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt

For the topping, remove and set aside ½ cup of these coarse, tasty crumbs. If you want crunch, add ½ cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or black walnuts, and set this mixture aside. It will enhance the cake's crunchy-melty crust.

Go back to the large remaining portion of floury mix. Add to it:

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Blend well.

  • Beat 2 eggs well.
  • Add 1 1/3 cups buttermilk to the eggs and stir well.

Add to dry mixture and process or stir as lightly as possible. Really. Just barely blend it so you will have a tender, melting texture in your coffeecake.

Pour into the sheet pan, smooth out the dough in a couple of strokes, and sprinkle the top with the prepared crumb/nut topping you set aside earlier.

Set the pan on the middle rack in your preheated oven. Check after 25 minutes; it may need to cook as much as 10 minutes longer. It should be lightly browned. Cowgirl Coffee Cake is best served warm.

Good variations:

  1. Bake the batter in muffin pans instead of a flat cake pan. Check after 20 minutes for doneness.
  2. Grate one Granny Smith apple and add it to the batter along with the wet ingredients. Bake either in a sheet or as muffins.
  3. For muffins that go a step farther, drop a dollop of red raspberry jam into the top of each muffin before sprinkling with the topping. Works particularly well with the apple version.

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