A well-known pastry chef once told me that she loves to use nectarines in pie recipes and other desserts where you might more commonly see peaches. She even admitted that she had even passed off a combination of nectarines and peaches as a straight peach dessert before. She did this because she discovered that people are far, far more likely to order a peach dessert off the menu than a nectarine one, and she felt it was a shame that nectarines were not getting the love they deserve. I, too, enjoy baking with nectarines and this Nectarine and Walnut Coffee Cake is just one great way to bring them into your baking.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with peaches, but that nectarines are far less appreciated when it comes to baked goods and their complex sweet and floral flavor deserves to make it into the spotlight now and again! Nectarines are very similar to peaches and other stone fruits when it comes to baking with them. They are easiest to use when they are still slightly firm and the skin can be left on in a recipe like this one because it is so thin. For this recipe, you’ll need about 3 large nectarines to make enough diced fruit for the cake. I prefer to dice them up in 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces so that they are not too big and get a nice distribution in the cake.
The cake batter itself is a very simple buttermilk and vanilla batter. I made it using pastry flour – which has a lower protein content than all purpose flour – to ensure that the cake had a very tender crumb to it. If you don’t have pastry flour, you can use a combination of half cake flour and half all purpose to get the same results. The diced nectarines are folded into the batter, then the batter is layered with a brown sugar and walnut streusel mixture as it is spread out in the pan.
I have found that the streusel on this cake will sink down into the cake a bit, so don’t be surprised if your cake appears to “fall” slightly after baking in places that have a lot of streusel. This happens because this particular streusel has a high sugar-to-flour ratio, and that relatively heavy sugar loves to sink into the cake when it is piled on. The sweeter streusel works very well with this cake, however, because the cake itself is not overly sweet. Even though there is a bit of streusel running through the center of the cake, the pockets formed on top – filled with sugar and crunchy walnuts, are a delicious touch when you’re eating a slice.
Due to the fact it contains fresh fruit, this cake is best if it is eaten within a day or two of baking. But, if you’re anything like me when it comes to coffee cake, it probably won’t last all that long.
Nectarine and Walnut Coffee Cake
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 cups pastry flour (or half cake flour/half all purpose)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups diced, fresh nectarines (approx 3 nectarines)
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 10-inch round tube pan.
Prepare the topping: In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Cut butter into small chunks and rub into sugar mixture with your fingertips, making sure no pieces larger than a pea remain. Mixture should resemble wet sand.
Stir in nuts. Set aside.
Prepare the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. With the mixer on low, blend in half of the flour mixture, followed by the buttermilk. Blend in remaining flour mixture, stirring only until the batter just comes together and no streaks of dry ingredients remain. Fold in diced nectarines.
Pour half of batter into prepared pan and spread, with a spatula, into a even layer. Sprinkle evenly with about half of the topping mixture.
Drop remaining batter into the pan in dollops, mostly covering the layer of brown sugar (it is ok if not all spots are covered, as batter will spread as it bakes). Sprinkle evenly with remaining topping.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and cake springs back when lightly pressed.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack before slicing.