Rhubarb Coffee Cake + Make-Ahead Streusel Coffee Cake

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“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

I grew up hearing those words but not believing them. It wasn’t until after I became a mother that they came home to roost. Motherhood has humbled me like nothing else.

Time was I swallowed every sweet crumb of rhetoric: Yes, you can have it all! (!!!) You can have a successful career in the arts, a thriving marriage, a house that would make Martha Stewart feel at home, a thriving ministry, a whole host of Pinterest-worthy hobbies, all while successfully raising a happy gaggle of competent and cheerful kids. (!!!) Anyway, that’s what I wanted to believe.

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Naturally, wherever you see a maxim or a blanket statement, you’ll find a few anomalies hovering nearby to rip it apart, so to avoid all that ripping and tearing, let me add the essential caveat: I am certain somewhere there are parents who brilliantly manage to keep all these plates spinning beautifully, year and and year out, no matter the season or circumstances. I, however, am not among that happy number.

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I’m just a gal with a big heart, full hands, and a hot temper who’s come to realize something’s gotta give. I can’t be everything to everyone, and my 100% only stretches so far. So for this season, I’ve set some dreams on back burners. It took awhile, but I’m okay with that now, for now. Really. Someday, I’ll pick them back up, still at a simmer, and crank the heat. In the meantime, I’m throwing my all into family life: into my marriage and my four beautiful kids. Into the art of making our house a home (with or without Martha’s nod of approval). And, of course, into cake. Lots and lots of cake. (I like mine for breakfast, how about you?)

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The trick is balancing the “having” with the “eating.” This recipe gives the best of both worlds. Mix it up, and you can bake one to eat today. The other you can store up safely in the freezer to have until you’re ready to dream up your next creation.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake + Make-Ahead Streusel Coffee Cake
adapted from Cook’s Country

Print recipe here.

Regarding the streusel: I like it like I like my friends, fairly nutty. If you don’t like (or can’t do) nuts, cut them out and double the flour and sugars in the topping—not the butter. This will give you the traditional New York diner-style topping that Starbucks has never quite been able to replicate. There is one variation, however, that even I, nut-lover that I am, prefer with this nutless topping: traditional New York Crumb.

Prep time: 10 minutes (make-ahead) + 5 minutes (when ready to bake)
Cook time: 1 hour, 20 minutes + cooling time (if desired)
Yield: 2 9’’ coffee cake, approximately 12 servings each

for the coffee cake mix:

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
½ cup cornstarch, or arrowroot powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons salted butter, chilled + cut in ½’’ pieces

for the streusel topping:

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons salted butter, chilled + cut in ½’’ pieces
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, pecans, or almonds, chopped (see note)

for the rhubarb filling (for one coffee cake):

4 cups rhubarb, ends trimmed, chopped in ½’’ pieces
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch, or arrowroot powder
½ teaspoon ground ginger

for baking one coffee cake:

2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream

In a food processor, combine all coffee cake mix ingredients, except butter, for 30 seconds. Add butter pieces and pulse until mixture is crumbly. At this point, I usually divide: 3¾ cups goes into a quart-sized Ziploc, bound for the freezer, and the other 3¾ cups goes straight into my stand mixer, ready to be whipped up into something tasty.

Next, make the streusel by combining all streusel ingredients in your (uncleaned but now empty) food processor. Pulse until it’s the texture of lumpy sand. (How’s that for appetizing?) Divide in half—1 1/3 cups each—and either store or get ready to use. For the streusel, I like to use a sandwich-size baggie, then I stick it straight into the larger Ziploc so I can store both together in the freezer, ready to pull out and mix for breakfast. Both cake mix and streusel topping can be frozen for up to 2 months.

When you’re ready to bake, decide on your filling (if any). For the purposes of this recipe, we’ll be using rhubarb. You’ll want to combine your rhubarb, ½ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and ground ginger in a medium bowl and toss until the rhubarb is well coated.

Next, butter a 9’’ springform pan; set aside. Place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven, then preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Now you’re ready to whip up your batter. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a big bowl with an electric handheld), combine your 3¾ cups coffee cake mix with 2 large eggs and 1 cup sour cream. Mix with a whisk attachment on medium-high speed until quite smooth, about 3 minutes.  Pour batter into prepared pan, top with rhubarb, pressing lightly so it sinks partway into the dough. Cover rhubarb completely and evenly with the streusel topping.

Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until topping is golden and fragrant and a toothpick inserted comes out batter-free. (Note: there will probably be a little streusel topping clinging to the toothpick, so you’ll have to use your discretion. Personally, I’ve found when the cake doesn’t jiggle if shaken, it’s good to go.) If you are not using any fruit filling, your coffee cake will probably bake in a much shorter time. In this case, you’ll want to start checking after 45 minutes to ensure you don’t overbake.

Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before running a knife along the inner edge of the pan and releasing the springform sides. Serve warm or room temperature with (obviously) a big, steamy cup o’ Joe.

Variations (all include streusel topping, see note for New York Crumb):

Spiced Pear: Add ½ t. each ginger + cardamom to batter, top with thinly sliced pear.

Blueberry-Lemon: Add zest of 1 lemon to batter, top with 2 cups (frozen) blueberries.

Cranberry-Orange: Add zest of 1 orange to batter, top with 2 cups fresh cranberries.

New York Crumb: Cut the nuts in the streusel + double the flour + sugars (see note).

Print recipe here.

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