Last week, Jessica, aka Little Miss Vegetarian, issued a Mystery Box Challenge to her readers. She took suggestions for the five mystery ingredients, and then announced the rules: You had to use three out of the five ingredients, which were peaches, cherries, strawberries, almonds, and cashews. Beyond that, the sky was the limit.
At first I thought, oh, that sounds fun, but maybe I don’t have time.
That, of course, is ridiculous. I make time to bake. And add the element of challenge to it? Game. On.
I’ve been making Blueberry Buckle coffee cake from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook for years now. It’s simple, easy, tasty, and accessible. But it lacks… something. I’m still not sure what it is, but I’m making it one of my projects to jazz up that recipe. I thought of trying it with fresh Bing cherries for this recipe challenge, but then I saw the coffee cake recipe on the opposite page: a fruit-filled coffee cake with streusel topping. This was more up to speed with what I wanted to do. I had just watched Unique Sweets the night before, where they covered a very jazzy kind of coffee cake in L.A. (I think). I ran with the inspiration, and I created Choco-Cherry Nut Coffee Cake, a cherry-filled coffee cake with a chocolate-nut streusel topping.
Truth be told, I liked the coffee cake, but the cherries weren’t my favorite for it. I think blueberries, or possibly even raspberries, would be a better choice of fruit filling – more tang to counter the sweetness of the cake, the depth of the chocolate in the streusel – but all in all, it was very tasty. The cake is lovely, the filling is all melty and soft, and the streusel, with the chocolate and the salty cashews, was dreamy.
This recipe is still very much a work in progress, but those are the fun kinds of recipes, the ones I’m still tweaking, still experimenting with, still feeling the rush of Mad Scientist.
Choco-Cherry Nut Coffee Cake
2 cups pitted cherries (could also try using raspberries or blueberries)
½ teaspoon almond extract (or Amaretto)
Zest from an orange
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup butter, cold
1 beaten egg
½ cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 ¼ cup semisweet chips
2/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup crushed almonds
¼ cup crushed cashews
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tablespoons softened butter
Whole cashews for sprinkling
Toss together ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the 1 ½ cups flour, the sugars, the baking powder, and baking soda. Cut in the ¼ cup butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the mixture and set aside.
In another bowl, combine egg, buttermilk, and extracts. Add the egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Spread half of the batter into an ungreased 8×8 pan. Spread filling over batter. Drop remaining batter in small mounds onto filling, and smooth out. (It will seem like there’s not enough batter, but it will puff up beautifully. Smooth out and make as even as possible, but remember, it’s coffee cake. Ugly is good.)
For streusel: Combine dry ingredients, then add softened butter, stirring with hands or fork to moisten all ingredients. Crumble over the top of the cake, evenly distributing. Sprinkle a handful or two of whole (or halved) cashews over the top.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until golden.