As everyone has switched over into Christmas mode, I’m still holding on to all things fall. My coffee remains pumpkin spice flavored and my taste buds crave anything with apple. This led me to buy a really big bag of apples at the market, simply because they are in season and dirt cheap. The day after this purchase, while enjoying my morning coffee, I pondered what I could make with said big bag of apples. It was then that I remembered coffee cake, which is an entire category of cake devoted solely to enhancing the coffee drinking experience. My two favorite flavors of fall happen to be pumpkin and apple, so what better way to celebrate the last days of the season than by pairing them together in coffee and its accompanying cake.
Now you may be wondering how someone who promotes living a fit, healthy lifestyle can still drink coffee and eat cake. Well…I’ll let you in on a little secret….YOU STILL CAN! Sure I use almond milk instead of cream and sugar and my sweets recipes are so altered I would make my old pastry chef professors cry, BUT I still get to enjoy what I love while being fit, which is what this journey is all about. For me, there is no point of being fit if you can’t enjoy life and for the longest time I honestly thought I could enjoy neither. I used to think coffee and desserts were only allowed for special occasions or circumstances. Thankfully, I eventually learned that these foods CAN still be in my life, so long as they are made with all natural ingredients and use special prep techniques to better fit my nutrition plan. So with that same knowledge in tow, I set out to make a moist, sweet cake that was far healthier than traditional coffee cake recipes.
When I began my journey to reboot coffee cake, the first thing I realized is how deceptive this treat really is. Most people view coffee cake as the better cake option, probably because, you know, it’s not slathered in rich, buttercream icing and decorated with sugary sprinkles. Yet, as shocking as it may seem, coffee cakes are actually PACKED with sugar. Most traditional recipes average around 80 grams of sugar per serving, which is more than 3 times the amount of added sugar the average person should be consuming in a day. Yikes. Thankfully, I’m well aware that you can heavily cut back on added sugar & still end up with a satisfyingly sweet treat, therefore that is where I started. To begin the sugar deload, I first replaced traditionally used granulated sugar with Sucanat. My go to sugar is almost always Sucanat, not only because it’s minimally processed, but because it has a rich, molasses-like flavor. This flavor allows me to use less sugar while adding more complexity than granulated sugar ever would. So with the sugar problem addressed, the next problem I needed to solve was the topping.
The most common type of coffee cake topping is a simple two ingredient glaze made of powdered sugar and milk, which gets drizzled on top once cooled. As easy as this icing is to make, finding a healthier alternative wouldn’t be. Since there is no natural equivalent for processed powdered sugar, I needed an alternative. With no other natural sugars able to provide the same smooth glaze, I was honestly very tempted to just skip it. But as much as I wanted to, I knew I couldn’t just skip out on the topping altogether because an unadorned cake is plain and makes for a rather boring presentation. After a bit of trial and error, I remembered something that we used A LOT in culinary school…simple syrup. Just as its name suggests, simple syrup is created by dissolving sugar in water. Instead of the typical white, granulated sugar, I heated evaporated cane juice in the water for a cleaner syrup. I then beat the syrup into cream cheese for a smooth glaze that looks just like the original, but is a whole lot healthier and tastier. The rich and tangy cream cheese in the glaze is a perfect compliment to the sweet and tart apples and spicy cinnamon. Enjoy it for breakfast or to celebrate a beautiful fall afternoon. Coffee can be optional!
Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake
- 1¼ cups Whole-Wheat Pastry Flour
- 1½ tsp. Ground Cinnamon
- 1¼ tsp. Baking Powder
- ½ tsp. Sea Salt
- ¼ tsp. Baking Soda
- 2/3 cup Sucanat
- 6 tbsp. Unsalted Butter; room temperature
- 2 large Eggs; room temperature
- 1/2 cup Whole Milk; room temperature
- 1¼ cups peeled & chopped Apple (about 2 Apples)
- 3 tbsp. Organic Cane Sugar
- 3 tbsp. Water
- ¼ cup Cream Cheese (full fat); room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8-x-8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray (select a brand that uses no propellents). Line base of pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set bowl aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the Sucanat with the butter on medium speed until mixture is fluffy and begins to stick to the sides of the bowl (about 1 minute). Add one egg and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated. Repeat with second egg.
- With machine on low speed, add one third of flour mixture and mix until just combined. Add one third of milk and again beat until just combined. Repeat process twice more, alternating between flour and milk additions. Remove bowl from machine and stir in apples by hand.
- Tranfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top over with a spatula. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the edges begin to pull away from the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto a plate and gently peel off parchment. Invert cake back onto wire rack and cool completely.
- While cake cools, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, combine cane sugar and 3 tbsp. water. Stir until sugar dissolves, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a heat-proof container to cool slightly. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, until smooth and fluffy, using an electric mixer on high speed. Add one quarter of the sugar mixture and beat until smooth. Add remaining sugar mixture in three more additions, beating until smooth between each addition.
- Pour glaze over cooled cake in long, diagonal stripes to make a crosshatch pattern. Serve immediately. Cake can be stored at room temperature for 1 day or in the refrigerator for 3 days.