There’s a new cake in town, and its name is Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake. I’m going to pause right there for a moment so you can take that in: Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake. Whole. Wheat. Cinnamon. Snacking. Cake. WholeWheatCinnamonSnackingCake. What a name, eh? Don’t you just want to sing it? You think I’m kidding, but seriously, think fiddle, or maybe banjo, get Pony Boy going in your head, finesse the final cadence a little, and toss in the name of this cake for the last lyric: Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, whoa!... Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake. Do you hear it? Yes? No? Are you, as I fear, backing slowly away from your computer screen and the girl who sings cake names? Oh dear.
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake has been following me around now for almost a month. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to tell you about it. I’ve never needed any help figuring out that some cakes are meant for snacking (“and that’s just what I’ll do…” Oh lord. Send help.), but it made my day to stumble upon a cake that comes right out and says it. A cake with a built-in directive. I like that. Its middle name is “Snacking,” for heaven’s sake! That alone sold me on this recipe, not least because, lately, that’s my middle name, too.
As of last week, I’m officially in my third trimester, which means that my growing belly is now quite intent on squeezing my stomach out of its prime real estate. That leaves me with limited options – precisely two, by my count – for packing away those all-important calories in a manner that does not immediately set my chest and throat on fire. The first: long, leisurely, pause-and-digest-as-you-go meals that laze on for two or three hours and involve, say, a wild mushroom salad that tastes of the forest and makes your body go all quiet and still between bites. It helps to take these meals with friends, so that you have several extra mouths at the ready when you need help cleaning your plate. I’m very fond of this strategy. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly compatible with the everyday life I find myself living most days of the week. Hence, the second option, my fallback position, which is to give up altogether on the traditional notion of “meals” and, instead, to eat more or less constantly, a handful of walnuts here, a few spoonfuls of yogurt there, throughout the day. In other words, I have become a diehard snacker, thoroughly committed to the art and practice of snacking. So when a cake like Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake announces itself, I switch on the oven, grease up a pan, and get right down to business.
I discovered this cake one morning at breakfast, while paging through Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I mentioned this book last week – it’s the same one that brought us those lemon curd squares with rosemary – and I’ve been looking forward to telling you more about it, despite the fact that it came out a while ago, now. You’ve probably already read all kinds of nice things about Melissa Clark, her recipes, and her writing, but I can’t help but add my voice to the chorus. What I appreciate most is how she invites you not only into her kitchen, but into her workshop of a brain. She tells you what went wrong and what went right (and what went wrong that turned out so very right!) on her way to the recipe you’re about to prepare. She explains what she was aiming for and what was on her mind when she, for example, replaces the corn syrup with honey and lemon in one recipe (she was inspired by a Luden’s cough drop), or nudges tarte Tatin over into cake territory. Reading this cookbook makes me feel bold and creative in the kitchen, willing to make a mess of things and see where it takes me. Above all, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite reminds me to be on the lookout for inspiration at all times. Because, as Melissa Clark shows us, it’s everywhere.
This cake is actually a variation on another cake from Clark’s book, something called Chocolate Chip Pecan Loaf Cake, which Clark says is “almost like a big, soft chocolate chip cookie in sliceable form.” I keep meaning to try the original, but every time I open my book to the recipe, I get distracted by this snacking cake and make it instead. That a humble snacking cake trumps a recipe rumored to produce a big, soft chocolate chip cookie in sliceable form just about says it all.
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake is yet another specimen that lives at the intersection of quick bread and pound cake. It’s rich like a pound cake, but not heavy like one which, I’m guessing, might have something to do with the fact that you melt the butter and then fold it into the well-whisked batter (as opposed to creaming room-temperature butter and beating it in). The word that keeps popping into my mind when I think about the texture of this cake is “hearty.” That sounds like some kind of euphemism for describing a cake that’s heavy or overly dense (it’s not fat, it’s big boned!), but that’s not how I mean it at all. With almost a one-to-one ratio of white to whole wheat flour and the mellow, earthy flavor of a full cup of brown sugar, it is hearty. And yet, despite all of that whole wheat flour, there’s a lightness to it, too. More like a bread is light than a cake is light, but a lightness just the same.
The caramel-like flavor resembles nothing more closely than a Biscoff cookie. Remember those? The cracker-like cookies in flat, red packets that Delta flight attendants hand out? I’m not sure I would have recognized it if I hadn’t just flown back to Boston on a Delta flight a few days before I discovered this cake, but there it was: that magic combination of vanilla, cinnamon, and brown sugar that tricks you into thinking that there must be something else in there (oats? nuts?), something more complicated going on, when in both cookie and cake, there's nothing of the kind. Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake. It’s supple, and warm, and everything good. And as it bakes, a mahogany lip of a crust creeps up along the perimeter of the loaf. I should warn you right now that I will fight you for an end piece with its crisp, perfect edges.
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake, people. You’ve got to try this one.
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite
I like to eat this cake plain, or with a thin layer of raspberry jam, but you can dress it up if you want, maybe with some fresh berries and loosely whipped cream.
1 c. brown sugar (the original recipe calls for light brown; it’s great with dark brown, too)
2/3 c. plain yogurt or buttermilk (I’ve only tried it with buttermilk)
1 T. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1 c. all-purpose flour
¾ c. whole wheat flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 c. unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over the lowest possible flame. Meanwhile:
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, buttermilk (or yogurt), vanilla, and cinnamon. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition.
In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until smooth.
Use a spatula to fold the melted butter into the batter in 3 additions. The batter will look very slick and oily at first, and you might wonder whether you’ve made a mistake somewhere along the way. Keep folding. It will be okay.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, until the cake is a deep golden brown, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in its pan for 5 minutes. Then, run a knife around the perimeter of the loaf, and turn it out onto a wire rack to cool to room temperature.