Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sour Cream Coffeecake with Chocolate Streusel

The stories that go along with recipes, those hand-me-down treasures from family members especially, lend a rich character to them. Their origin gives them special merit. Added credibility. A known quantity of deliciousness.

I don't talk about my first marriage much (thank goodness, you really should be spared the details), but in the course of the years that she was alive, I got to know and love my former husband's step-grandmother, Ethel. She was a dear little lady, and I have 3 or 4 recipes of hers acquired over the years. This is one (I also have one for avocado ice cream, and another for icebox almond cookies that I remember right off the top, neither of which I've posted yet) that must have been served to me one of the multitude of times I visited her home. She was a very good cook, and managed to prepare some amazing meals in her very small kitchen. She enjoyed entertaining, even though it was hard work for her as she aged. She lived to be in her 90's, bless her. I hope she's waving at me from heaven since I'm sharing her recipe for coffeecake.

For many years, even up until recently, I have made this on holiday mornings, like Christmas, or Easter, or the day after Thanksgiving. With a bowl of fresh fruit, and maybe some bacon or sausage, it would make a lovely breakfast or brunch.

Chocolate as an ingredient in coffeecake isn't very common. At least I don't think so. And this really isn't chocolate-chocolate coffeecake. For this occasion I'm going to rename it - originally it was Chocolate Sour Cream Coffeecake, but that's misleading. You might think the chocolate is in the entire coffeecake, and it's not. It's not overwhelming with chocolate, but is laced through in a kind of dry mix that is layered, then sprinkled on top. The coffeecake itself is just a rich sour cream based cake. The only unusual ingredient there is cream of tartar. Not many recipes include it anymore. It used to be quite common, before double acting baking powder. So, that probably gives you an idea how old this recipe really is. Old.

So I did a bit of research about it cream of tartar. I'd forgotten what it is, exactly. Now I know:

  • Cream of tartar is a by-product of the wine industry. A crystalline acid forms on the inside of wine barrels. The barrels are scraped and the sediment is purified and ground to form cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is used to stabilize egg whites when making meringue or as an addition to certain frostings to produce a creamy product.
Why it's in this recipe, I don't know, but I've never wanted to bake the coffeecake without it merely to test it. There's so much chemistry involved with baking that I don't want to tamper with success. But be my guest, then let me know!
  • Normally, when cream of tartar is used in a cookie, it is used together with baking soda. The two of them combined work like double-acting baking powder. When substituting for cream of tartar, you must also substitute for the baking soda. If your recipe calls for baking soda and cream of tarter, I would just use baking powder.
  • One teaspoon baking powder is equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 5/8 teaspoon cream of tartar. If there is additional baking soda that does not fit into the equation, simply add it to the batter.
Looks like you could substitute additional baking powder for the cream of tartar and baking soda called for, but since I had the cream of tartar, I stuck with the tried-and-true recipe when I made it this time.

Cook's Notes: The recipe can be halved and baked in a 9x9 pan. That pan will easily serve 9 people, so the double recipe probably would serve 18-20, no problem. The original recipe indicated it served 12. Although the recipe indicates two layers, I made 3 layers - more areas for the chocolate. The middle layer didn't completely cover the bottom layer. You don't have to be exact. The crumb on this cake is so tender, likely from the sour cream addition. The amount of chocolate/cinnamon mixture is probably a bit too much. I always have leftover that I toss out, so you could likely reduce the dry mix by about 1/3 and have just enough.

Grandma's Chocolate Sour Cream Coffeecake
Serving Size : 18
1/2 pound margarine -- softened
2 cups sugar
4 whole eggs
2 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder [I increase to 2 T.]
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350. In separate bowl combine topping: cocoa, sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
2. Combine margarine, sugar, eggs, vanilla and sour cream in mixer and mix well. Then add flour, baking powder, cream of tartar and soda.
3. Pour half of the batter into an oiled 9x13 pan, then sprinkle half of the topping over it (covering every inch of batter), then pour in remaining batter. Use a knife to swirl the batter a little, then sprinkle remaining topping on top. Bake for 45 minutes.
Per Serving: 396 Calories; 17g Fat (38.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 57g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 86mg Cholesterol; 383mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 3 Fat; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

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