Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli
Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
Today, as a mother and professional chef, I am forever seeking a balance between the two. In this space, I will share personal stories and tips for cooking that will save you time and some that speak to cooking with your kids, friends and family.
But first, I’d like to share a memory from my childhood.
I woke up early one morning and headed for the kitchen. I was starving. I mean stomach-growling -like-a-wolf-in-the-Tundra starving. To an 11-year-old, it seemed serious. I craved something warm. Freshly baked. I just wasn’t quite sure how to get there.
I scanned the shelf where my mom kept her row of cookbooks splattered with grease stains and various cake batters until I found the right one: The Fannie Farmer cookbook. The voice of the recipe was friendly. Welcoming. You can do this, the book urged. Page 495 offered a simple cake — the “quick coffee cake,” to be exact. It seemed like an easy enough list of ingredients and the method was only a few steps.
Courtesy Alex Guarnaschelli
I gathered the ingredients, rummaging in the back of the cupboards for the spices and enjoying the smell of each spice as I opened the little jars. Whoever knew Allspice smelled so deeply like that very inner bite of a cinnamon roll?
I mixed the batter and topped it with the buttery spices. I could have eaten it raw. I watched it bake through the tiny window in the center of the oven door. Can you imagine that first slice? How it tasted? It would probably have been the perfect moment for me to shout out loud “I’m going to be a chef when I grow up!” But I didn’t.
My love affair with food was just beginning and I wasn’t even in a place to understand that I could spend my life cooking. All I knew was that it had taken me a suspended moment of belief to make the batter and bake it. The result seemed magical.
When the cake had cooled slightly, it tasted even better. My mom appeared at the doorway of the kitchen, bleary-eyed and half awake. She sampled a tiny edge and a smile crossed her face. “I believe you can do anything if you put your mind to it. This is delicious.”
Alex Guarnaschelli’s Deluxe Coffee Cake
½ cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped
½ cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp kosher salt
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
4 tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup sour cream
½ cup whole-milk yogurt
1. Make the Topping: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, stir together the walnuts, pecans, flour, granulated and brown sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the butter. The topping should form sandy clumps. Sprinkle the topping onto the baking sheet to break it up into smaller clumps. Refrigerate.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Use butter to thoroughly grease the bottom and the sides of a 9-inch round baking pan
3. Make the cake batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together, on medium-high, scraping down the sides from time to time, for 8 minutes. Lower the speed and add the eggs, one by one, taking care that the first egg is thoroughly integrated before adding the second.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, sour cream and yogurt until smooth. Turn the mixer on low and alternate adding some of the flour mixture with some of the sour cream mixture. When all has been mixed in, give the sides and the bottom of the bowl a good scrape and blend to make sure the batter is thoroughly combined. Transfer the batter to the greased baking pan and tap it lightly on the sides so it falls evenly in the pan and to remove any air bubbles. Liberally sprinkle the cake with all of the topping.
5. Bake the cake: Bake until a cake tester or a small knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 55-60 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing a serving. Once cool, the cake will keep, covered, for up to 3 days.