Not long after moving to Pittsburgh five (!) years ago, I learned that I need to qualify my parents’ place of residence as Indiana, the state. As in, not the city 60 miles from Pittsburgh. My parents moved to Richmond, Indiana, in 1999, just before my senior year of college. And while Richmond isn’t technically my hometown, it is where my mom is, so that’s close enough for me.
When I arrived for Christmas last week, naturally the first order of discussion was “What are we going to eat this week?” In the midst of planning the menu, I off-handedly said: “And of course we’ll have White Gull Inn coffee cake on Christmas morning.” To which Mom replied (sheepishly, I might add): “I didn’t make it this year.”
This coffee cake has been a Christmas tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. It stems, oddly enough, from summer vacation. My step-dad’s family had a cottage in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, where we stayed for a week every summer when I was young. There were three things I could count on during each trip:
Swedish pancakes at Al Johnsons’ in Sister Bay, which had a green roof (how ahead of the times!) with goats on it.
A bag of candy and chocolate covered Oreos from the Door County Confectionery.
A fancy breakfast at the White Gull Inn, where my stepdad ordered buckwheat pancakes, I hoped for an overflowing bowl of fresh berries, and we always shared the coffee cake.
At some point, my mom purchased the hotel’s cookbook, and the rest was history. It’s the best Christmas morning coffee cake because it reheats so darn well: every time you put it back in the oven, the streusel topping gets just that much more caramelized and crumbly. The cake itself is moist and tangy thanks to the inclusion of sour cream in the batter. And there’s a sweet-tart layer of berries and more cinnamon streusel inside.
Needless to say, we did not attempt Christmas 2008 without coffee cake. But this year, for the first time, I made it myself.
White Gull Inn Coffee Cake
Adapted from the White Gull Inn Cookbook
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
10 ounces frozen wild organic blueberries* or 2 cups fresh
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped almonds, walnuts and/or pecans
Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Liberally butter a 9″x9″ square metal or ceramic cake pan.
In a small bowl, combine sour cream and baking soda. Set aside to react. It might not look like much, but when you break the surface you’ll see lots of little bubbles.
Beat the butter in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating between each addition, then add vanilla extract. Add baking powder. Add one cup of flour, then the sour cream mixture, then the remaining flour, beating just until combined.
In a separate bowl, mix together the topping ingredients.
Spread half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over this base layer, followed by 1/3 of the topping. Spread the other half of the batter into the pan, taking care not to smear the filling. Sprinkle the remaining topping over the cake. Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Serve warm if possible. Reheat as necessary, covered, in a 200-250 degree oven.
If you buy frozen, be sure they are not sweetened. Do not thaw. You could also use raspberries or blackberries.