(I'll just get this out of the way right now. Yes, those are pecans atop my rhubarb almond coffee cake. I really like the crunch of pecans. Could I have used almonds, for consistency? Sure. But I didn't, and no one in this house complained. If you're wanting to double down on almond flavor, go for it.)
This is the coffee cake I've been craving for months. Did I know I was craving it? Perhaps I had an inkling. I think by now I've blown my cover as a lover of sweet, breakfasty things. A quick swim through my archives, and my, I do seem to like coffee cake quite a bit! But you can never have enough coffee cake recipes. And at the risk of wrist-slapping my shortsightedness the next time a find a recipe that can be called THE coffee cake, I'm telling you with as straight a face as I've got: this is THE coffee cake. The one coffee cake you really, truly will need.
Now tell me you like almond and we'll be all set.
Lord knows I love almond cake. I've made this one, from Amanda's wonderful book, several times, and it doesn't disappoint. But even a slice of that cake is a serious commitment. It's texture falls somewhere between downy and downright dense, depending on how you make it (food processor or mixer), and the almond flavor, it does not hide. I like almonds, a lot, and I don't mind almond paste, either; but I tend to enjoy that sweet almond flavor when it's a great deal more subtle.
Not absent, mind you - just more in harmony with other things. Like my favorite spring fruit, rhubarb. And some good vanilla. If all things had rhubarb, almonds, and vanilla in them, boy would I have an eating problem. The threesome are perfect together: almonds bring sweetness and also a milky flavor and texture; rhubarb offsets the sweetness with tang, and vanilla gives the whole thing somewhere to go. A coffee cake smooth with almond paste, fragrant of vanilla, with little lumps of soft, tart rhubarb throughout? Why yes, please. I'll take half the cake.
How do I say this without sounding insincere? This cake is perfect. The batter is like silk, the finished cake as soft and fluffy as they come, without any of that strange springiness you'd find in an angel food cake. Just light and fluffy, really moist without being mushy or dense, perfumed with almond and vanilla, with rhubarb just when you want it. God, it is so good.
Had enough of my kvelling? Go ahead, make it yourself.
Rhubarb Almond Coffee Cakeadapted from Amanda Hesser's Almond Cake and Claiborn's Sour Cream Coffee Cake, both printed in the NYT Essential Cookbook
2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened half a tube (3 oz.) almond paste 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar 2 eggs 1 cup sour cream 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces 1 cup sliced almonds or chopped pecans 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan or 9-inch tube pan.
In a small bowl, sift or stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), cream together butter and almond paste until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cups sugar gradually, beating until very fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Fold in sour cream and vanilla, then fold in dry ingredients and use a spatula to incorporate. Add rhubarb, and again fold into batter just until evenly distributed. Do not overmix.
Combine 2 tablespoons of sugar with pecans or almonds and cinnamon.
Spoon 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle 3/4 of the pecan or almond mixture over batter. Spoon in remaining batter, and distribute remaining nut mixture overtop. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the deepest part of the cake emerges clean. Cool on rack until cool enough to handle, then unmold cake onto serving platter. If you don't (I didn't), the sides will get a bit soft. Not that anyone here complained.