One of my favorite simple pleasures is a daily cup (or two) of dark, strong espresso roast. So, it delights me that there's a whole category of cake created just to enhance the coffee-drinking experience. But I'm getting ahead of myself. In reality, I avoided these treats for years because I believed fit, healthy people only ate cake on special occasions, like birthdays and graduations.
It wasn't until I started using natural ingredients and new techniques to reboot classic dishes that coffee cake came back into my life. Since the September issue of Clean Eating celebrates all things fall, I knew my recipe makeover had to be apple-themed. Now, I had to come up with a moist, sweet cake that didn't send you all into sugar shock.
Don't sugarcoat it
Coffee cakes in general are deceptive. They often pretend to be wholesome (“Hey, look at us! We're not slathered in buttercream and covered in sprinkles – we're healthy!”), yet the traditional recipes I found were packed with sugar. For example, the comparison recipe has 80 grams per serving, more than three times the amount the average woman should consume in a day. Based on cake makeovers I've done in the past, I knew I could reduce the sugar and still satisfy my sweet tooth. I chose to use Sucanat, not just because it's minimally processed, but because its molasses-like flavor adds more complexity than white sugar ever could.
A great glaze
The other major area of contention when it comes to coffee cakes is the topping. An unadorned cake isn't very enticing, so I wasn't about to skip the frosting. What I wanted was a simple glaze to drizzle over top so that no tools were required. In classic recipes, this type of icing is made by combining a lot of powdered sugar with a bit of milk. Since there's no natural equivalent to processed powdered sugar that will produce a smooth glaze with the traditional method, I had to get creative.
I tried different combinations of cream cheese, Sucanat, maple syrup and more. Finally, I landed on my perfect glaze using just two ingredients. First, I made a simple syrup by dissolving evaporated cane juice in water. Then I beat the syrup with cream cheese in several additions to avoid lumps.
The result was a smooth glaze that looks like the traditional version. This new one, though, is a whole lot tastier, thanks to rich and tangy cream cheese. It's a perfect match for the sweet-tart apples and spicy cinnamon. If you still think you need a special reason to enjoy this cake, how about celebrating a beautiful fall afternoon? Coffee's optional, but highly recommended.
You Save: 413 calories, 17.5 g total fat, 66 g carbs, 236 mg sodium
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- Prep Time
- 6 1/2 tbsp organic unsalted butter, room temperature, divided (TRY: Horizon Organic Unsalted Butter)
- 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 2/3 cup Sucanat
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 large apple such as Fuji, Gala or Braeburn (about 7.5 oz), peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/3 cups)
- 3 tbsp organic evaporated cane juice
- 1/4 cup full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with 1/2 tbsp butter and line base of pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat Sucanat and remaining 6 tbsp butter on medium until mixture is fluffy and begins to stick to sides of bowl, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add 1 egg and beat on medium-low until just incorporated; repeat with other egg. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on lowest speed just until combined. Add one-third of milk and beat on lowest speed just until combined. Repeat with two more additions of flour and two more additions of milk, alternating between the two. Stir in apples by hand.
- Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and edges just begin to pull away from sides of pan, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto a plate and gently peel off parchment. Invert back onto wire rack so cake is right-side up; cool completely.
- Meanwhile, prepare glaze: In a small saucepan on medium, combine cane juice and 3 tbsp water; stir until cane juice dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a heat-proof container and cool slightly. In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer on high, beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy (this could also be done with a stand mixer). Add about one-quarter of cane juice mixture and beat until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add remaining cane juice mixture in three more additions, beating until smooth each time.
- Pour glaze over cooled cake in long, diagonal ribbons, making a crosshatch pattern. (MAKE AHEAD: Cake keeps at room temperature in an airtight container up to 1 day. Make glaze and pour over cake just before serving or up to 2 hours ahead.)