Continental coffeecake: a taste of Tuscany

Don’t you love it when you actually make up a recipe—all by yourself—and it WORKS?

That’s just what happened to me a couple of years ago, when I enjoyed a simple fruit-nut bread at a local Italian bakery. The bread itself wasn’t sweet at all; but it was packed with dried fruit, gilded with a light/crunchy sugar topping, and the entire package was simply out of this world.

Now, the place I discovered this bread wasn’t the typical American-Italian bakery with which you might be familiar. You know, the kind with light-as-air, crackly-crusted—but flavor-neutral—loaves stacked by the counter. The over-the-top pastries, everything seemingly filled with custard or topped with whipped cream or crowned with a fat swirl of butter icing. Maybe a sheet pan of thick-crust pizza behind the counter, if you’re lucky.

Don’t misunderstand; there’s nothing wrong with your typical American-Italian bakery. It’s just different than an Italian-Italian bakery.

Which is the type of bakery that inspired this coffeecake. Picture this: golden loaves stacked in a basket, their creamy interior riddled with holes, courtesy of a starter and a long, slow rise. In a glass case, thin fruit tarts, plain to look at but bursting with fresh flavor. Several flavors of gelato chalked on the daily menu.

And, atop the glass case, a Tuscan-style bread stuffed with dried fruit and nuts. No, not citron and dried peel and the kind of years-old dried fruit that makes your mouth go “Uh, why?” But fresh, moist dried fruit, and nuts. With a hint of crisp sugar on top.

I saw it; I had to have it. Bought a slice; took a bite; thought I’d died and gone to heaven. That soft-chewy, creamy interior… the golden raisins and dates and toasted walnuts… and that crackly sugar crust on top…

Came back to the test kitchen and, miracle of miracles, re-created it. On the first try.

The Italian bakery has since morphed into an osteria/wine bar. I don’t know if they still sell bread. But what I think of as “my Tuscan coffeecake” has become one of my favorite treats: both because it makes me roll my eyes heavenward with every bite; and because I challenged myself to figure it out—and did.

And, since you’re a baker, you know how wonderful that feels.

Let’s make Tuscan-style coffeecake: Coffeecake Stars, in their holiday incarnation. For a one-pan version of this recipe, see our Tuscan Coffeecake recipe.

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First, let’s put together our overnight starter. As with many starters, it’s just about equal parts flour and water, by weight. Add a pinch of yeast, cover, and let rest overnight.

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Next day, the yeast has done its work very nicely. The starter should be bubbly all over, with those same kind of fragile bubbles you see on the uncooked side of pancakes as they fry.

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Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients. Here’s a tip: Take the water you’ll be adding, and swish it around in the starter container before pouring it into the bowl with the rest of the dough ingredients. Don’t want any of that good starter to go to waste.

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Mix till the ingredients come together.

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Then knead till soft and smooth. Note that this dough never really completely forms a ball. That’s fine; it’s supposed to be soft.

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Scrape the dough into a lightly greased bowl. Cover, and let rise for 1 hour.

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It probably won’t double in bulk. That’s OK; it just needs to get a little puffy.

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Now you’re going to knead in the dates, raisins, and walnuts. Can you use pineapple, papaya, and pine nuts? Sure, you wild and crazy thing, go for it! Kind of subverts the elegant Continental feel, but who among us doesn’t feel free to amend recipes to our own taste at will?

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Put the fruit and nuts on top of the dough in the bowl.

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Wet or oil your fingers, and knead the fruit/nuts into the dough, using the sides of the bowl to help keep everything together.

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A sticky minute or so later, here it is.

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Next, divide the dough in half, and press each half into the pan of your choice. An 8″ round cake pan works well; I’ve happened to pick one of our bakeable paper star pans. They’re pretty, and they make it easy to give a baked gift without worrying about getting your pan back afterwards.

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Press the dough to the edges of the pan—in this case, into the points of the star.

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Like this.

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Here are the two coffeecakes; I’ve placed them on a baking sheet for support as they rise and bake.

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Let them rise, covered, until they’re nice and puffy.

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Just before baking, GENTLY poke any emerging raisins down into the dough, to keep them from burning.

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Mix sugar, vanilla, and water. It’ll look paste-like at first.

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But after a couple of minutes, the sugar dissolves and it becomes drizzlable.

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Drizzle the vanilla glaze over the cakes.

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No need to brush it over the surface; a casual drizzle is just fine.

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Bake the cakes till they’re light golden brown, and their internal temperature reaches 190°F.

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One for you—one for your mom. Or your best friend. Or your boss?

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Look at that lovely, moist, golden interior. Stuffed with fruit and nuts. And I tell you, that crackly vanilla glaze on top is the perfect finishing touch. Salud!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Coffeecake Stars.

Hey, I just realized something – tomorrow (November 15) is the 1-year anniversary of this blog. Well, time flies when you’re having fun! Thanks, all, for chiming in here—

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Macrina Bakery, Seattle, Budapest Coffeecake: made with eggs, low-fat yogurt, sugar, and vanilla baked with a swirled layer of cocoa, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. Slice: $2.85. Whole loaf: $28.50.

Bake at home: Coffeecake Stars, two 2-pound cakes, $4.37 per cake.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Gene Hill

    I use the sour dough cycle on my Zo to make overnight starter and it usually works well. I want to adapt this to work using the dough cycle on my Zo with the starter developed on the sour dough cycle. Any suggestions?

    **LEAVING FOR PJ- 3/14/2016 Laurie**

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Gene, I’d imagine you can use the sourdough cycle for the overnight starter, then next day add the remaining ingredients (except the fruit/nuts) and program for the dough cycle. Add the fruits once the dough cycle is complete. Good luck – PJH

  2. Willi

    Because I’m a lover of traditional American style coffee cake, I’m intrigued with this recipe and want to try it. I do have one question. The butter you call for, is it, chilled, soft or melted? Let me know and I’ll be ready to give it a try. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We are happy to hear you are eager to give this recipe a try, Willi! The butter should always be room temperature unless otherwise specified. The recipe will say, cold, melted, ect. if it is anything aside from soft to the touch. Enjoy this recipe! Kye@KAF

  3. ann, ohio

    I believe it was in the comments for the original recipe that someone mentioned cherry & almonds as the fruit /nut filling. I have tried it both ways and preferred the cherry/almond. I’ve taken this many times to work where there is sometimes enough for folks to take home. They tell me they have it used it to make wonderful french toast as it dries. When using almonds , I use 1/2 vanilla & 1/2 almond extract. I usually coarsely shop the dried cherries & almonds, but the bread slices fine without doing so

    Reply
  4. sandylee6

    I can’t wait to bake these !! I have the star pans and this recipe divides dough in half to make two stars. The recipe link makes one loaf and bakes for 35 min. How long should I bake the divided loaves ?? (to 190 degrees but est time?) and do I stick with 350 degrees?

    thanks in advance.

    Yes, stick to 350°F. Start checking at 20 to 25 minutes, OK? PJH

    Reply
  5. dwgentry

    So – this is a post from the past, though I read about it in Facebook October 24, 2010.

    I’m always looking for ways to do most of the work the day before, and then the last baking step early in the morning. If I wanted to do that with this recipe, would I stop just before the sugar drizzle, cover and put it in the frig, then drizzle and bake in the morning?

    …Doug Gentry

    Hello Doug- Yes, I think you could do exactly what you described. Let us know how it turns out! kelsey@KAF

    Reply
  6. Kathleen

    Would this recipe work for individually baked small loaves? I would like to give some as gifts, and thought to use the wooden paper lined loaf pans.

    I did make one as the full loaf and it was wonderful!

    Yes, it definitely would. Susan, my fellow blogger, just made individual roll-sized cakes. Good idea! PJH

    Reply
  7. Dick Dearden

    Just wanted to let you know the Tuscan Coffee Cake is excellent. I made it to take to my daughters house for Thanksgiving….but it was half gone the night before!
    It works much better than the original recipe that was a one step procedure. I pan-proofed it in the refrigerator (I was not ready to bake it right away), and it came out perfect. After a couple of days, it works well if sliced and slipped into the toaster for a few minutes.
    Enjoy your blog, enjoy your sense of humor and certainly enjoy your recipes and hints.
    Thanks from a retired chef (and sous chef at Hanover Inn many years ago).

    Well, thank you very much, Dick. High praise from a chef – and I like the Hanover Inn connection. What a lot of changes there, huh? Glad the coffeecake worked out well for you. PJH

    Reply
  8. Audrey

    I finally made this today and it is GREAT!! I overcooked it a tad (about 10*F)because I had to pick my daughter up from school and it’s still moist inside!!!

    Reply

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