I guess I’ve been a little MIA lately, haven’t I? Sorry about that… Remember that secret I told you about? Well…it’s been keeping me kind of busy. I still can’t tell you what it is yet, but don’t be mad. I’ll share soon enough.
But suffice it to say, this juicy little tidbit has only underscored one of my personality traits: my tendency to “quest.” Try as I may, I can’t help myself. Whether we’re talking about dresses, apartments, recipes, furniture — in my brain, I have a near perfect image of what I want. The problem is, said “image” doesn’t always exist. And so the quest continues.
There is one recipe in particular that I have been questing after since college: Lithuanian Coffee Cake from Claire’s Corner Copia in New Haven, CT. Nearly everyone on campus went gaga for it, and I cannot recall more than a handful of birthdays or parties at which this cake did not appear.
What made it so special? Hard to explain. The cake was moist, tender and über dense. I’m sure the fact that the staff slathered the top with buttercream helped too, but even without any icing, the cake was ridiculously, almost indescribably addictive.
Claire Criscuolo, the owner of Claire’s, has written a few cookbooks, so years ago when I spotted the book containing the recipe for Lithuanian Coffee Cake (or “Lith,” as my friends and I came to call it), I snatched it up. I made the cake, prepared myself for bliss and then…ehhh? Something wasn’t right. The cake was light and airy — nothing like the heavy duty slices we were served at Claire’s. And the cake looked so…unimpressively small.
Shortly after that, I found Claire in her restaurant and asked her what she did differently to make her cake come out so moist and dense. “Just what I say in my book!” she replied. LIES. There’s no way the recipe in her book is the recipe used in the restaurant. Sorry, I’m not buying it.
So for years, I’ve been on a quest to recreate that cake. But none of the recipes I tried were quite right. Most were delicious, but they weren’t The Lith.
Then I came across Sherry Yard’s recipe for her Campton Place Coffee Cake. She describes it as the “densest, moistest coffee cake you will ever eat.” BINGO. With a few tweaks, I could turn it into Claire’s Lithuanian Coffee Cake.
So did I successfully recreate the legendary Lith? I came close — really close, and by far the closest I have come to the real thing. I still can’t put my finger on what is missing in terms of flavor, but it’s very minor. I’ll keep questing for that mystery touch, but in the meantime, enjoy this version. It’s dynamite.
Lithuanian Coffee Cake
Adapted from Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the Yard and Claire’s Corner Copia
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon brewed coffee, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts
1/4 cup moist, plump dark raisins (soak in boiling water if they are too dry)
Center the rack in your oven and preheat to 350ºF. Spray a 10-cup bundt or kugelhupf pan with non-stick spray.
Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl and hand mixer or the work bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the coffee and vanilla and mix to combine.
Add the flour mixture and sour cream in 3 additions each, alternating between the flour and sour cream. The batter will be very thick.
Scoop 1 1/2 cups batter into the prepared pan and spread with a spatula to even out the surface. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the filling. Scoop 2 cups cake batter over the filling and again smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup filling. Scoop 2 cups more of the batter over the top, smooth, and sprinkle with the remaining filling. There will only be a little batter left, but scoop it out evenly over the cake and smooth out the surface so that it is even.
Bake the cake for 30 minutes. Rotate pan from back to front and bake for 20-25 minutes more, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 30 minutes in its pan, then invert on a wire rack and allow it to cool completely.
Yield: 10-12 servings