“It’s different but also the same.”
We were fortunate this past weekend to attend the world premiere of an orchestral piece by a composer from Singapore. My oldest was playing her French horn in the orchestra so my other daughter and my son drove with me to watch the performance.
For the selection, the composer began with an opera by Beethoven and imagined a different way of composing the piece. As the orchestra played his version, speakers placed at the four corners of the the building piped singing from the original opera piece. The conductor invited the audience to experience the “difference” and “sameness” by moving around the room. The conductor also asked the audience to add to the entire experience by downloading different variations of Beethoven’s work onto our phones and to play those, too, as we listened and walked around.
One would imagine this would be cacophonous but it was not, and in fact, the experience was quite pleasing and delightful; and we were glad we had been able to attend and participate.
As I thought about what the composer did – taking something known and creating something different, all the while keeping the essence of the original – I realized that this is precisely what I did when I set about perfecting a healthier and allergy friendly coffee cake. I wanted to create a coffee cake which I could eat but also which was better than traditional coffee cake.
Coffee cake is one of those foods which everyone enjoys but which truly is quite awful for your body, because it’s mostly white flour, butter and sugar. To create a coffee cake which kept the essence of what folks liked about it but which was allergy friendly and healthy was a very tall order.
But I like a challenge, so I created a recipe the other day which hit a home run the first time out….
Revamping Coffee Cake:
1. The butter: With a dairy allergy I obviously wanted to substitute the butter with a vegan version, but I also wanted to cut how much butter is usually in a coffee cake. I thought about what makes coffee cake most appealing and realized it’s really that streusel topping. As such, I didn’t want to get rid of the butter in topping which meant I needed to get rid of it in the cake part.
To substitute for the butter, though, I needed to find a perfect substitute which would mimic what butter does for the flavor and texture of coffee cake. Simply substituting a healthy plant oil wouldn’t work. Neither would using mashed fruit or vegetables. I finally decided to use a combination of tofu sour cream and frozen bananas. The tofu sour cream would add some fat without adding as significant an amount as butter, especially if I used half the amount I might otherwise have by mixing it with bananas. I wanted something which had the texture of butter, though, so I froze the bananas and pureed it with the tofu sour cream which mimicked the texture of soft butter.
2. The flour: Besides having gluten which I can’t have, white flour also adds nothing nutritionally to one’s body. I needed to substitute a gluten free flour, but I also wanted to use flours which protein and fiber. This meant foregoing the usual gluten free blends which use rice flours which are just carbs. I didn’t want to use the heavier blends, either, though, with the garbanzo and fava bean flours because the texture would be compromised.
In the end I made my own blend which was a mixture of 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour, 1/4 cup coconut flour, 1 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1 cup potato starch, and 2 tsp xanthan gum. The oat and sorghum flours have low glycemic indexes with high fiber. The oat and quinoa flour have a good amount of protein, and the quinoa and coconut flours add nutty lightness to the heavier oat and sorghum flours. The potato starch is necessary for binding and adds smoothness to the flour blend.
3. The sugar: Since refined sugar is poison to one’s body, I wanted to get rid of it altogether in the coffee cake. Agave would affect the texture of the coffeecake, and Stevia would affect the flavor. So, I opted to use coconut sugar which has a very low glycemic index and which would not affect the texture of the cake.
4. The eggs: Coffee cake usually utilizes a generous amount of whole eggs. To keep the cake healthier, I used liquid egg whites instead.
5. The cake pan: Since I wanted the cake to be healthier, I wanted to use less streusel topping than regular coffee cake recipes call for, but I still wanted a nice topping to cake ratio. As such, I opted to put my coffee cake batter into a larger 11 x 15 pan instead of the usual 9 x 13. This made for a slightly thinner coffee cake which meant the thinner layer of streusel was perfect.
6. The additions: One of the fun things about coffee cake is that there’s a variety one can purchase or make, so I wanted to experience with flavor. What I found worked well was to drop small dollops of Polaner’s All Fruit on top of the batter before I sprinkled on the streusel topping. The all fruit would melt while cooking and spread but then re-solidify with the streusel when cooling to mix the flavors.
7. The streusel: To make the streusel topping I decided to use garbanzo bean flour because it would add protein and fiber. Also, it is a heavier, denser flour which would make for a thicker streusel topping. I blended the flour with coconut sugar and added some cinnamon and nutmeg for flavoring. For the butter, I substituted a vegan butter which worked really well.
Allergy Friendly Coffee Cake
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
1 cup coconut sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup vegan butter
3 cups Paula’s flour blend**
2 cups coconut sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegan tofu sour cream
2 frozen bananas (medium 5-6 inch in length)
1/2 cup soy milk mixed with 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup liquid egg whites
1/2 cup Polaner All Fruit
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 11 x 15 pan with favorite method or line with parchment paper.
2. Combine the garbanzo bean flour with the coconut sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Using a pastry knife cut the vegan butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form. Set the streusel topping aside.
3. Mix the gluten free flour blend with the coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
4. In a food processor or blender, blend the tofu sour cream with the frozen bananas until thick and creamy. You should have 1 1/4 cup yield to use for the recipe.
5. Mix the sour cream-banana mixture with the soy milk mixed with lemon juice. Blend well, and then add the liquid egg whites.
6. Quickly mix the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
7. Drop small dollops of the Polaner All Fruit onto the cake batter so they’re evenly spaced on the surface. You won’t cover the entire surface of the cake.
8. Evenly distribute the streusel topping over the cake batter.
9. Bake in the preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. The cake will puff and be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.
10. The cake is delicious warm. It’s also good at room temperature after it’s cooled a little bit.
** Paula’s coffee cake gluten free flour blend: 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour, 1/4 cup coconut flour, 1 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1 cup potato starch, and 2 tsp xanthan gum. You’ll only use 3 cups of this which will leave you with some leftover flour which you can use for something else.