Richard's best friend's family owns a maple syrup farm in New Hampshire and when we received a giant box of it last week, I spent a good amount of time trying to narrow down what I wanted to make first with the syrup. Pancakes seemed the obvious but I wanted to try something a bit different. I also had some beautifully glossy, deep red fresh cranberries on hand and I felt that it was my civic duty to find a recipe that combined the two. After all, what sort of New Englander would I be if I let a fall season slip by without making a maple syrup and cranberry dessert?
I settled on this recipe by the almighty queen of pastry, Joanne Chang. The recipe originally called for pecans but I only had almonds on hand so I used those instead. I also made mine in a round pie pan, as opposed to the suggested loaf pan. Other than that, I stuck to the recipe and before I knew it, my apartment was smelling of baked sweet maple and tangy cranberries.
The cake itself was soft, yet had a lot of great body to it, courtesy of the chopped almonds and fresh cranberries. The sweet and tangy cake was balanced by the crackly syrup glaze that was rich with maple flavor. While this cake is called a breakfast cake, it's a little too sweet for me to take on first thing in morning but paired with a hot cup of coffee in the afternoon, it's the perfect snack for a windy, late fall day.
Cranberry-Maple Breakfast Cake
Recipe by Joanne Chang
For the maple pecans:
3 tbsp. maple syrup
½ c. pecan halves, toasted and chopped
For the cake batter:
1 1/3 c. cake flour
¾ c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
6 tbsp. (¾ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 6–8 pieces
1/3 c. nonfat buttermilk at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 c. fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
For the maple glaze:
½ c. confectioners’ sugar
2–3 tbsp. maple syrup
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, or line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper.
To make the maple pecans:
In a small saucepan, combine the 3 tablespoons maple syrup and pecans over medium heat and stir for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the syrup is completely absorbed by the nuts.
Remove the pan from the heat, scrape the pecans onto a plate, and let cool completely. (If you leave the pecans in the saucepan, they will stick to the pan.) Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and butter on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is completely incorporated into the dry ingredients. The mixture will look like coarse meal. (If you use a handheld mixer, the same step will take 5 to 6 minutes.)
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and cup maple syrup until thoroughly mixed. Add about half of the buttermilk mixture to the butter-flour mixture and beat on medium-high speed for about 1 minute, or until the mixture is light, fluffy, and pale. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the buttermilk mixture is incorporated. On low speed, add the remaining buttermilk mixture and beat for about 30 seconds, then stop the mixer and scrape again. Turn the mixer to medium speed and mix for another 30 seconds.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the cranberries and the maple pecans. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and springs back when you press it in the middle. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
To make the maple glaze:
While the cake is cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and enough of the maple syrup to make a thick, spreadable glaze.
When the cake has cooled for at least 30 minutes, pop it out of the pan and place it on the rack. Spread or spoon the glaze over the top of the still-warm cake, letting the glaze dribble down the sides. The cake can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes one 9-inch loaf.