Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pear Walnut Sourdough Coffee Cake

Pear Walnut Sourdough Coffee Cake

Chopped pears and walnuts flavor this simple sourdough coffee cake.

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My sourdough starter is a toddler now, and moving into a big kid bed back onto the kitchen counter. When the starter lives on the counter, I feed it every few days and take out a cup or so with each feeding.

In the past year I've used that cup of starter to make countless loaves of Multigrain Sourdough Bread, monthly batches of sourdough waffles using this King Arthur Flour recipe, and the occasional treat:  this sourdough coffee cake.

During the summer, though, my kitchen is too warm to leave the starter out--it gets funky fast--so it lives in the fridge.  Out of sight, out of mind. I can't tell you how many times I realized we would need bread ready to eat before I'd have time to wake up the starter and bake a loaf--so off to the store we'd go--walking, for exercise but still. Blerg. I'm glad the weather is turning so the kitchen is cooling down. It's great for the Strategic Winter Squash Reserve, great for canning tomatoes, and great for the sourdough starter. Remind me of this fabulousness when there's frost on the inside of the kitchen windows, please?

While the recipe title says pear, I've also made this with chopped apples. Apparently the type of fruit doesn't even matter, because my son looked over my shoulder at the post title as I sat writing in the orthodontist's office--the free samples at Costco resulted in a lost retainer--and remarked "there was fruit in the coffee cake?" I try and try to nourish the family with wholesome food, and while it does get shoveled in the pie holes perhaps the subtle nuances in flavor get missed.

Note: here's the inspiring recipe for this coffee cake. I added fruit, used no sugar in the batter, changed up the spices, and pumped up the topping with oats because I love throwing my oats around. I also tried the method of starting it the night before--using unfed starter straight out of the fridge. This works fine in my kitchen. I've also let it rise in my oven on the bread proof setting until the top is gently puffed.

For more recipes using pears, please see my Pear Recipes Collection. It's part of the Visual Recipe Index by Ingredient, a resource for folks like me eating from the farm share, the farmer's market, the garden, the neighbor's garden, and great deals on ugly produce at the grocery store.

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Pillowtop mattress-like, to me.
letting a batch rise in the oven on Bread Proof setting

Overnight Pear (or Apple) Walnut Sourdough Coffee Cake (serves 9)

Ingredients for coffee cake

  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup finely chopped pear (or apple)
  • 4 ¼ ounces by weight (1 cup) unbleached all purpose flour
  • optional, ¼ to ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • about ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Ingredients for topping

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup oats
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons (1 ounce) butter
  • optional: ½ teaspoon cardamom, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


  1. The night before: in a large bowl, mix coffee cake ingredients until blended. 
  2. Pour into buttered 9 inch square pan (I used my PC ceramic baker but suspect a metal pan will bake faster).  
  3. Let rise on the counter until it looks like a pillow top mattress (see Note above).  
  4. In the morning, or when you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  5. In a small bowl, combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over top of coffee cake. 
  6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. 
  7. Serve warm with a bit of butter. Reheats fine in the microwave.

This post is shared on Fresh Foods Wednesday, What's Cookin' WednesdayClever Chicks Blog HopMotivation Mondays, Tasty Tuesdays


  1. This looks wonderful Kirsten. I love coffee cake and it looks so moist.

    1. Carrie,
      I enjoy a little something sweet with my tea, mid morning, and coffeecake manages to satisfy that need.

  2. Pls delete if you get this twice. I am also up early baking but mine is a savory green chile cheese dish. Love coffee cakes but taking a break from sweets for now. I couldn't find my baking dish which is the same as yours this morning.

    1. Tammy,
      Did you look on the top of the cabinets for your baking dish? I have a tall spouse, so I tend to look up high whenever something has gone missing from where I think it's usual spot should be.
      For years our microwave was on top of the fridge--then I took a stand that the kids needed to learn to use it, so it relocated to the top of the small freezer. Now my stand mixer lives on top of the fridge.

  3. Oh yessssssss.... I love a good coffee cake. And the sourdough, pears and apples guarantee I'd inhale the shit out of this. In fact, I refuse to make coffee cake when the bf isn't home because it will all be gone - all of it - within a couple of hours. It's one of those things I just can't control. Like pooping.

    1. Kristy,
      That's a smart move--if I'm alone and have food that tempts me I'll just keep nipping away at it. I take stuff to work to keep it out of my mouth!

  4. Your son makes me laugh, although I can imagine a lost retainer would not be fun. I know how expensive those puppies can be. This looks and sounds delicious, and I really like the idea of using pears, even if their flavor is subtle. Go ahead and throw your oats around.

    1. Meghan,
      $150, and 2 weeks later guess what? He found the lost one. It had slipped out of the pocket and into the lining of his basketball shorts. They'd been through the wash and everything, then he wore them again, rolled on his side while lying in bed and . . . . 'hey mom, I found my retainer'!

  5. Replies
    1. Martial,
      It sure is yummy!
      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Hi Kirsten. I made your coffee cake last night/this morning. My husband noticed there was no sugar.listed in the coffee cake ingredients. Is there supposed to be sugar?

    1. Lisa,
      My handwritten notes are long gone for this recipe, so I'm going to remake it and figure out what I did.
      I know that the finely chopped fruit will provide some sweetness and moisture in place of sugar, but if I'd deliberately left out the sugar called for in the inspiring recipe I would have thought my 2014 self would have mentioned that in the notes. And I didn't mention it. Which makes me wonder if I inadvertently left the sugar out of the ingredient list.

      So my short answer is . . . I can't remember! My longer answer is--let me wake up my starter and bake another batch (I'll use a peach since I've got plenty on hand) and I'll report back.

      Thanks for asking--I appreciate it (and my kids will appreciate another coffee cake)!

    2. Wonderful, thanks. The texture, everything was fine, just not sweet. Wondered if it was supposed to be. I clicked on the link & went back to what was, I think, the original recipe. There was sugar in that recipe. Thanks for responding.

    3. Lisa,
      I resurrected my sourdough starter from the back of the fridge and made this cake a couple of times. (I used peach and pecan, great combo--may be blog-worthy I'm not sure.)
      Prepared the way I wrote it above you're absolutely right. The cake is NOT sweet. However, eaten with the topping the consensus from my taste testers was that the whole thing worked well together. The topping's sweetness makes up for the cake's lack of sweetness.
      If you'd prefer to use less topping I'd recommend adding ¼ to ⅓ cup sugar to the cake batter when you're mixing up all of the ingredients, and I will adjust the recipe above to reflect that suggestion.
      Thank you!

  7. Sorry if you get this twice. I had never made a sourdough cake before and was doubtful whether it would rise properly, but it turned out very light and moist. Will definitely make again

  8. This cake is a perfect fall treat. The toasted walnuts with the sweet crumb highlight the amazing properties of the sourdough! What would happen if I double the amount of pear in the recipe?

    1. Hi Lovely Liv!

      I suspect if you double the amount of pear that the cake will be too wet, won't rise well and would bake up gummy, but I haven't tried it.



  9. Hi, I'm going to try this recipe. It sounds delicious. As a side note...why are you using a microwave? It sounds like you're working hard to keep your family healthy then mutating their food. Living without a microwave isn't that hard and it's much healthier. God bless!