Have you ever been appalled, or just otherwise annoyed, by the pathetic lack of streusel in an otherwise respectable-looking cinnamon streusel cake? If you're nodding your head right now, read on.
For the disappointed among us, here's an interestingly satisfying cake. It comes out looking very striped, with two pronounced layers of streusel--one in the middle and one on top. The recipe contains a full cup of chopped pecans, within the streusel layers only, but if you don't want to include nuts you can quite safely leave them out without harming the integrity, or the dignity for that matter, of your creation.
For the top I made a simple glaze of sifted confectioners' sugar, a few tablespoons of heavy cream (but you could use water or milk, if you prefer; the cream adds richness) and several judicious drops of almond extract. And while we're on the subject, I must tell you that I adore the smell of really high quality almond extract. It's just luscious.
In that same vein, I urge you to use the best cinnamon you can get your hands on for a cake like this, a cake whose whole focus and raison d'etre is the cinnamon. After trying a few brands, my personal favorite is Penzey's Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cassia. Yum. (Let me say that again for added emphasis . . . Yum.)
It's substantially more concentrated than the cheaper stuff and, like Penzey's almond extract, the scent of this cinnamon is out of this world. I mean like from another planet out of this world. Some really good planet, where the aliens bake incredible stuff, and probably even wear cute aprons.
Cinnamon Streusel Cake
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a ten-cup bundt pan (or use baking spray, which is a much easier tactic with this type of pan; it gets in all the pesky nooks and crannies, and never leaves that awful residue that regular cooking spray sometimes leaves on your good pans).
For the streusel:
1 cup AP flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tiny pinch of salt
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into chunks
1 cup well-chopped pecans
For the cake:
2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup of sour cream
4 large eggs
1 tbsp. of vanilla extract
2 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
For the streusel, mix flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add in the pecans. Set aside.
For the cake, in a large mixer bowl, beat the sugar, butter, and sour cream for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Scrape the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla.
Gradually beat in the flour and baking soda on low speed until blended. Scrape the bowl down to the bottom to make sure all the flour is mixed in.
Spread half of the streusel into the bundt pan, evenly all around. Pour/spoon half of the batter evenly over the streusel. Over that, sprinkle the other half of the streusel. Cover that carefully with the remaining half of the batter. Smooth the top.
Put it in the oven on the middle rack. Check it at about 45 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover it lightly with foil. Bake for about one hour total, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (I like to check it with the toothpick in a few other spots too, just to be on the safe side).
Cool the cake in the pan for only ten minutes. Invert it onto a cooling rack to finish cooling. If you like, glaze the cake, but only after it is completely cooled.
For the glaze:
In a medium bowl, using about one and a half cups of sifted confectioners' sugar, stir in two to three tbsp. of heavy cream. Continue adding additional cream, just a teaspoon or so at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. Keep stirring until all lumps are removed and the glaze has achieved the texture you like. Want it thicker? Add more confectioners' sugar, a bit at a time. Flavor the glaze with almond extract or, if you prefer, with vanilla extract. Probably no more than 1/2 tsp. is needed at most, depending upon the strength of your extract and your own taste. Generously drizzle on the glaze, evenly all around, letting it drip down the sides of the cake.
Another glaze option is to add some cinnamon to the confectioners' sugar; mix the cinnamon into it really well before you add in the liquid. The piece of cake pictured just below has been glazed in this way and the very top of the cake was sprinkled with a tiny bit cinnamon sugar as an added garnish.
Now, before you slice the cake get out a really sharp knife. Why? Because the very top of your cake may have an especially firm toffee-like quality from the cooled caramelization of the brown sugar in that top streusel layer. It will seem especially hard and candy-like if you have not used nuts in the streusel. (The entire inside of the cake will be predictably perfect, tender, and soft though. Don't worry.) If you decide you don't like that hard aspect of the top crust, then alter your cake the next time you make it by distributing all of the streusel inside of the cake, with no streusel base-layer touching the bottom of the pan (thus no heavy carmelization will occur).
(I first saw this recipe on the McCormick Spice Company's website. I made a few minor adjustments to their formula, nothing major. What can I say about McCormick? That they have decent, affordable, everyday herbs and spices. And that's good because, let's face it, not every day can be a Penzey's day, right?)
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