This is one of those instances where you don’t get what you were expecting, but in the end, you’re more than happy with what you got. Dylan and I were headed to a brunch with his medical school friends several weeks ago and were debating what to bring along. He is known for his baked french toast, which is always made with some sort of sweet, tender fruit on the bottom. (Though I’m most definitely a sweet breakfast person, I’ve never been a fan of french toast until his, which is moist and creamy, but not eggy or soggy.) But there are only so many french toasts a person can eat before wanting to mix it up a bit. We debated crepes (too much labor for a big crowd), a frittata (meh), and scones (best right out of the oven and hence not as good for taking to a brunch 35 minutes away).
Flipping though Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe, a cookbook devoted entirely to brunch foods, he came across this bittersweet mocha coffee cake, which we agreed sounded too good to pass up. Now, when I envision a coffee cake (bittersweet mocha or otherwise), I picture something of the more traditional variety, with a large, moist crumb and always with some sort of fabulous sugary, crumbly topping. Isn’t that crumble topping pretty much a requisite of coffee cake? So when Dylan pulled this dark, chocolatey, and decidedly crumb-free cake out of the oven, I’ll admit I was a little shocked. I wouldn’t say disappointed, exactly, (because one tiny taste of a bit that had fallen off revealed that “disappointed” is not a word to be used with this cake) but surprised.
I think most would agree that this is not a traditional coffee cake, but it is dense and chocolatey, with just a hint of mocha flavor. The chocolate chips melted throughout the cake, settling towards the bottom to create a particularly decadent and gooey layer. It didn’t seem out of place as a sort of dessert for the brunch, but with a light glaze on top, I think it could be equally appropriate for a full-on dinner dessert. In the end, nearly the entire cake had been consumed by the hungry med students, always a good sign, and we happily left the remaining chunk with the hosts.
Bittersweet mocha coffee cake (12 or more servings)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1/4 cup milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly spray bottom and center of a standard-sized tube pan or Bundt pan with non-stick spray.
2. In a large bowl, beat the butter for several minutes with an electric mixer at high speed. Add the sugar and beat for several minutes longer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each, and then beat in the vanilla.
3. In a second bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder, slowly mixing them together with a whisk. Combine the coffee and milk in a measuring cup with a spout.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 installments, alternating with the coffee mixture, beginning and ending with the dry (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry). After each addition, use a spoon or rubber spatula to sir from the bottom of the bowl just enough to blend. Fold in the chocolate chips with the last addition of flour. Don’t overmix.
5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, spreading it evenly into place. Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted all the way into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least 30 minutes before removing the cake from the pan. Then invert it onto a plate (if you used a Bundt pan) or pull out the tube and gently lift the cake off and onto a plate (if it’s in a tube pan). Cool for another 10-15 minutes before slicing.