Pumpkin Swirl Coffee Cake

With the cooler temperatures and warmer colors, I find myself yearning for a couple of hours to curl up with a blanket, a cup of coffee, and a book of short stories by the bay windows. Or on a park bench.

Let’s be real. It will be at least another week before I have a couple of free hours.

Luckily, I had an hour to myself on a quick flight from Chicago to write this.

My favorite short story is a dark American tale by Flannery O’Connor. In A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery writes about the Misfit, and the unfortunate family that crosses paths with a serial killer somewhere in the rolling hills of Tennessee.

Despite the thriller undertones and the sadness you feel for each despicable character, the story always makes me wander through the mistakes I’ve made, and how they’ve affected those I care for, or those I should care for more. It always sparks some dark self examination that I would otherwise forget. As a single twenty something who doesn’t date enough, I sometimes find myself wondering if I misjudge character, or worse, if I misjudge my own.

The truth is, a good man is really, really, hard to find. Ask any woman that you truly respect — whether she has one, two or none, I’m sure she’ll agree.

An overdue reunion with someone who knew me long before I even knew myself helped confirm the necessity of leaving home, and the necessity of giving yourself the option of never looking back. We hesitantly caught each other up with those who were once important to us in our respective high school and college circles, and more easily about those who still are important. And the difference we would subtract between those we love and those we can no longer stand up for can be vastly oversimplified to what seems so hard to come by: self-respect.

Even through high school, when the levels of a teenage girl’s respect are generalized at an all-time low, she was one who, like all of us, needed reassurance, but unlike many, never compromised her self-respect. Seeing her for the first time in years, in the element so familiar to both of us — but thousands of miles from the last brief rendezvous — gave me the words that I’ve been so desperately seeking. And, although this is possibly the lesser of the reminders of why I love her so, she helped remind me to not let perceptions get in the way of good judgment.

So here I am, curled up in a new bed with an old comforter. I have not attempted to clean my room since before that 200 mile race, which was two weeks ago now — but don’t worry, the laundry has been conquered, so all hope is not lost. But there are days. We all have them. When we just can’t get ourselves to clean up the mess we’ve made.

Instead, I’m still savoring the steak she crafted. I’m still indulging in the conversation, the advice, and the comfort that never left. A conversation that can be somber, satisfying, and interspersed with giggles — that was something I desperately needed.

So, as 2012 winds down, I’m reminded of how thankful I am. To have a family that loves me, to have health that permits indulgence, and to have found friends like the ones I love so dearly. And more than anything, I am thankful to have found my voice. Looking back is not an option.

Pumpkin Swirl Coffee Cake, adapted from Saveur

For the crumb topping:  
1.5 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

For the cake:
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
2/3 cup milk

For the swirl:
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. salt


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

To create the crumb topping, whisk your dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Then, add the cubes of butter, and really get in with your hands to crumb everything together — you should end up with a dry cookie dough consistency. And don’t even attempt to do this with anything but your hands. My friend Randall tried to use a fork, and ended up tossing it. It’s more fun to delve your fingers into a bowl of sugar and butter anyway.

Once the crumb is complete, set aside.

In a stand mixer, whip the 8 tablespoons of butter you have softened for the cake. Once it is light and whipped, add in the sugar and beat on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Whisk until even and lump-free. Combine with the ingredients in your stand mixer, and beat on low with a dough hook until everything is smoothly mixed. Then, slowly add 2/3 cup milk.

At that point, add the pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice, and either mix with a spatula or let the dough hook do a little more mixing. You don’t want to mix the swirl all the way in — after all, we want it to swirl with the dough itself.

Grease a 9×4-ish inch pan, or line with parchment paper. Transfer all of the dough to the pan, and then just dump all the crumb topping on there.  There’s a lot, but with crumb topping… I mean, the more the merrier.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until you can stick a toothpick in the center of the cake and have it come out clean.