sour cream coffee cake

sour cream coffee cake
A Bakehouse classic with Ashkenazi Jewish Roots

This is a Bakehouse classic and our most popular coffee cake. Rich and moist from the real sour cream made at Guernsey family dairy in Northville, MI, we load it with a distinctive cinnamon-nut swirl made with Indonesian korintje cinnamon, brown sugar and freshly toasted walnuts and then bake it in a traditional bundt pan. Available in two sizes, depending on the crowd you’re feeding, it’s very impressive and extremely delicious. And it lasts. A week or two later, on the counter, it will still be scrumptious and it freezes beautifully, for up to a month. Many Ann Arborites enjoy it regularly and send it to friends and family all over the country as holiday gifts.

One question we get a lot: why is sour cream coffee cake considered Jewish? Yeasted coffee cakes, baked in kugelhopf pans, were somewhat common in European baking generally. As was often the case, Ashkenazi Jewish communities adapted local cuisines and made them their own. Ashkenazi coffee cake, most often made with sour cream, dates back to 17th-century Eastern Europe. Prior to modern-day refrigeration, most milk was consumed in some fermented form. Thus, sour cream, along with buttermilk, became essential elements to traditional Ashkenazi Jewish baking.

Fast forward to 1950 Minnesota, when a group of Jewish women wanted to bring back some of the old Jewish coffee cake recipes. To be successful they needed the right fluted pan with the tube in the center (i.e. kugelhopf), which wasn’t available in the United States. They approached a local pan-making company and asked the owner to create one. He generously obliged, and that first version was the inspiration behind the classic Bundt pans we are now all familiar with, branded as Nordic Ware. The ladies, thinking the European yeasted cakes were too time consuming, transformed them into a more American pound cake style, and the sour cream coffee cake, as we now know it, was born.

In contemporary Jewish homes, coffee cake is often served for breakfast on Shabbat and holidays, and when breaking the fast after Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av. When enjoying coffee cake following Shabbat, some families like to sprinkle on top of the cake the fragrant spices—cinnamon, cloves or cardamom—used in Havdalah, the ceremony or formal prayer marking the end of the Sabbath.
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