And by "the one," I mean the one coffee cake.

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Peach Cobbler Coffee Cake
Credit: Darcy Lenz

My favorite cakes are those of the unfrosted variety. (In other words, keep the piped buttercream and hand me a slab of pound cake, ya dig?) And of those favorite cake categories, coffee cake easily scores a top spot in my book. It's casual and cozy, but has so much substance — and depth! It's the kind of dessert your great aunt with all the good stories would plate you a slice of, entirely unprovoked, during any given visit.

Now, I know a fair share of cake consumers who have soured on the mere idea of coffee cake due to unfortunate experiences with cakes that just weren't up to snuff. For example, if someone adds a little bonus sour cream into a boxed yellow cake mix and tops it with cinnamon-sugar, and proceeds to pass it off as a "coffee cake," well... no shade to a box mix shortcut, but that's not right

You can spot a real-deal piece of coffee cake from a mile away; and trust me, a truly great coffee cake is irresistible. I remembered this fact while editing a collection of sour cream coffee cakes last week and found that I couldn't shake the craving — nay, the calling — for this divine confection, prime for breakfast, afternoon, or after-dinner indulging. And that is exactly what led to the creation of this Peach Cobbler Coffee Cake

For those slightly less familiar with this particular style of cake, you may be wondering how to discern the breed of coffee cake of which I speak from a sham. To which I say, a truly great coffee cake is characterized by three important traits: 

The Iconic Crumb Topping

We're starting at the top because this is the most instantly recognizable attribute that distinguishes a coffee cake from other cakes. The topping is similar but distinct from a streusel (think less defined clumps, and more…well, crumby), and it's utterly delightful once baked to a perfect crispness. Making the topping is often where you'll start with many coffee cake recipes. 

Speaking of, making your topping is an absolute breeze. A classic coffee cake topper is typically made with flour, sugar (granulated and/or brown), cinnamon, salt, and butter; you simply whisk together your dry ingredients in a bowl, and then cut softened butter into the blend. The ratio of dry ingredients to butter is what sets this slightly finer crumb topping apart from a streusel, in case you were curious to know. Some bakers will additionally include chopped nuts (such as walnuts, pecans, or almonds) in the crumb topping, as I did in the Peach Cobbler Coffee Cake, but they're not a necessity.

What is a necessity, however, is that you pile that crumb topping on generously. If you think you have too much topping mixed up in your bowl, rest assured, you do not. Some coffee cake enthusiasts would even claim that the crumb topping should be at least as thick as half the actual cake's height. 

Peach Cobbler Coffee Cake
Credit: Darcy Lenz

A Gooey Cinnamon Ribbon Through the Middle

There will likely be those who argue that this is not a necessary feature for coffee cakes — and those people can absolutely mention that detail whenever they write their own depiction of what a crave-worthy coffee cake looks like.

In all seriousness, yes, of course you can make a perfectly fine coffee cake without including the layer of cinnamon-sugar that you often see running through the heart of these cakes. But it's gonna be a whole lot tastier if you don't skip this element. 

Most commonly, this visually captivating layer entails a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon, and possibly chopped nuts; however, this is also a superb place to incorporate a fun twist. For example, in the case of a Peach Cobbler Coffee Cake, you'd want this brown sugar-cinnamon layer to feature a rich peach filling — something similar to a peach cobbler or pie filling, right?

Right! That's why for this recipe, you'll be stovetop-simmering fresh peach slices with brown sugar and cinnamon (and cornstarch) until you have a thick, luscious, syrupy peach filling. This is obviously a fantastic way to use some of your precious summer stone fruit that changes things up from the usual peach desserts. You'll need about four medium-sized peaches that are ripe, but not so ripe they're disintegrating into juice and pulp beneath your knife. As you're cutting your peeled peaches into thin slices, I'd suggest doubling back and cutting the slices in half widthwise. Doing this will make things a touch easier both when it comes time to spread the peach filling evenly over the cake batter and when you're trying to cut a clean, beautiful slice of the baked final product.

Peach Cobbler Coffee Cake
Credit: Darcy Lenz

An Exquisitely Dense and Tender Texture

I should mention that this dense, tender crumb should be matched with an equally notable moisture level. (After all, it's not called "coffee cake" because you need a swig of coffee with each bite in order to choke it down.) There are a couple of key details you can pick out in the ingredient list of this recipe that reveal how to accomplish the coffee cake's incomparable texture. 

For one, you may notice that the amount of flour called for (4 cups) seems like a lot, especially given the quantities of some of the other key players, like butter and sugar. Four cups of all-purpose flour takes us into pound cake territory, but old-school pound cakes also use just about double the butter, sugar, and eggs that we're calling for in our coffee cake recipe. Meanwhile, our coffee cake will require a greater quantity of rich liquid elements (buttermilk and sour cream) than your typical pound cake would. 

Why am I calling out these contrasts to you? Mostly to explain that a coffee cake's ingredient ratios are uniquely designed to yield a cake that's dense and incredibly moist — thanks to those liquid ingredients coming in strong — but still somewhat spongy. By comparison, a pound cake will end up more intensely dense (just think about the volume of ingredients going in, and consider that most traditional pound cakes don't call for a chemical leavener like baking soda or powder), leaning on the butter, sugar, and eggs to guarantee moisture. In other words, I'm a nerd assuming you are as interested in these sorts of ratios as I am. Apologies if not, we can move to my next point.

The Peach Cobbler Coffee Cake recipe instructs that eggs be at room temperature, and if you keep on reading down into the method, you'll see that you're instructed to mix each egg in one at a time. These are all fairly common details of a cake recipe, but why?

Recipes call for room temperature eggs for much the same reason they call for softened butter. Softened butter is significantly easier to beat with sugar and other ingredients, yes? Well, room temperature eggs (along with any other refrigerated ingredients) are easier to incorporate into a batter, and this in turn makes it easier to form a smooth, stable emulsion. By the same token, incorporating the room temperature eggs one at a time also helps in forming an emulsified batter. 

Yes, "emulsion" is a term you're likely most familiar hearing in reference to homemade mayo or salad dressing, but as long as you enjoy baked goods that aren't greasy with butter seeping out of them or gritty from unincorporated sugar, it very much applies to batters as well. 

All of this may be more than you ever cared to know about coffee cake, or my infatuation with it. But at the end of the day (and this article), my hope is that you're now at least considering baking one over the weekend. 

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