I never mean to end up there, but when I'm drifting through the local paper and the obituary page flutters open, I cannot resist a quick read. It's not a morbid fascination with death that draws me in, but all that life shingled up and down the page. I wind my way through those neatly packed and packaged tributes, windows into the lives that one day were, and the next were not. Lives squared off, it's a tidy patchwork, save for the stray golden threads that occasionally catch my eye.
And so it was that I made the acquaintance of one Yvonee Isle Neal who, at the age of 91, passed away in Dublin, Ohio, on February 7, 2009. "She was a Good Neighbor, and she had very Good Neighbors," her obituary gently professed. I have come to expect nothing less from a lifelong resident of Central Ohio. Here on the mainland, it seems, a capitally Good Neighbor is the thing to be. Some say that the proof is in the pudding, but around here it's in the doughy sweets and yeasty treats that scoot from house to house. In the week and a half since I've been home, no fewer than two batches of cookies, a plateful of muffins, and a box of artisan chocolates have stumbled across our doorstep. Our scones and biscuits have, in turn, waltzed their way down the street, around the block, and into the kitchens of our good, nay, very Good Neighbors.
Today I bring you a neighborhood favorite that slowly but surely has been making its rounds.
Beneath the crackly, golden crust lies a rich and tender crumb. This velvety cake holds its form, but with the slightest push of a spoon, it gives way. Soft, pillowy bites laced with toasty pecans and crumbly sugar pull away from downy slices.
This recipe's winsome genealogy tells its own meandering tale: It came to me from Janet, who first sampled the cake at her book club. She scored the recipe from friend and fellow-reader, Mary, who got it from Carol who, when her mother passed away, received the cake (and then the recipe) from Joyce, our neighbor two doors down. For her part, Joyce insists that the recipe is not her own, but her friend Cini's. And that's as far back as I traced this delightful ancestry. Take it from me, this cake is worth your time and appetite. Or take it from Cini, Joyce, Carol, Mary, and Janet. I guess it turns out, dear ones, that it's not fences but sour cream cakes that make good neighbors!
Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Adapted from Joyce White's recipe, given to her by Cini
1 c. brown sugar (the original recipe calls for dark, but light works as well)
2 c. toasted, choppped pecans
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 stick butter
1 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. sour cream (Joyce uses fat free; I used the real stuff)
1 t. vanilla
Heat oven to 350. Grease bottom and sides of 8 or 9 inch springform pan. I only had a 10 inch pan at my disposal, and it also did the trick.
Cream the butter and white sugar, and beat until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Sift the dry ingredients together. Add a portion of the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mix together the topping.
Sprinkle 1/3 of the brown sugar mixture on the bottom of the pan. Pour in half of the batter, and top with another 1/3 of the brown sugar mixture. Add the rest of the batter, and finish with the remaining 1/3 of the sugar mixture.
Bake for 50 minutes. Test with cake tester for doneness.