“Sometimes a Great Notion” Blackberry Hazelnut Coffee-Cake

by Cara Nicoletti on July 25, 2013

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I spent this past week in Portland, Oregon, watching Emily, my very best friend in the whole world get married. It was one of the best weeks of my life, full of friends and belly-laughter, dancing, happy-cries, hangovers, and the cleanest air I’ve ever breathed.

Also there were doughnuts. Oh God, there were so many doughnuts.

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I met Emily in our junior year of college. I was so fed up and lonesome and exhausted with New York that I had submitted transfer applications to as many schools as I could think of, and was weeks away from leaving and never looking back. Meeting Emily changed the course of my life for a million happy reasons—most importantly, she convinced me to stay in New York, and years later to create this blog.

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Four years ago, Emily and her husband (husband!), Ante and I started a book club. Every time we finished a book they would come over to my apartment and I would cook them a meal from the book so that we could eat while we were discussing. These book club dinners eventually turned into a literary supper-club, which then turned in to this very blog. At our final book club meeting we discussed Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion and spooned thick stew over tall, butter-studded biscuits. They told me stories about Oregon, where they both grew up, and promised that it was just as heavenly as Kesey made it sound (and that they wouldn’t go back for at least a few more years).

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Despite having heard countless tales of how incredible Oregon is over the years, I was still completely blown away by it. The people are friendly and the coffee is strong. People don’t feel the need to tell you what they’re really trying to do while telling you about their bakery job, and there is always the cleanest kiss of a breeze. I thought of Sometimes a Great Notion the whole time I was there, and of my two friends who had no idea what they would become to each other when they sat on my couch four years ago, eating biscuits and bashfully holding hands under a pillow. It was, as Leeland Stamper would have said, the “blessfullest” week.

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The day had started blessful, with the filbert-and blackberry-filled coffee cake Viv had baked for breakfast, and had seemed to get better as it went along; the air that greeted them in the yard was cold and sour with the smell of apples turning to vinegar beneath the trees; the sky was clear but it threatened none of the previous week’s stinging heat; the tide was coming in perfect and carried them up river at top speed…

I’ve written about Sometimes a Great Notion before but I couldn’t get this passage out of my head all week, and even through the haze of Ken’s artisan croissants and voodoo donuts and Mirror Pond ales I couldn’t get Viv’s blackberry and filbert-studded coffee cake out of my head, either.

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Sometimes a Great Notion Blackberry, Hazelnut Coffee-Cake
Makes 1 9-inch cake

Berries:
12 ounces blackberries (or any berry, really)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch

Crumble:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 oz) butter, melted
1 ¾ cup cake flour
1/3 cup roasted salted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

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Batter:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons good vanilla
1 cup cake flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into six pieces. Plus 1 tablespoon for greasing pan

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Directions:
Pre-heat your oven to 325F and butter a square 9” cake pan (Coffee cakes are traditionally square but I used my cast-iron skillet because I love the crispness it gives to the edges of cakes—use whichever you prefer!). Roughly chop your blackberries in half or thirds (this helps make them lighter so they don’t weigh the batter down when they’re sitting on top). Whisk lemon juice, cornstarch and sugar together, toss blackberries in mixture until coated and set aside.

Make your crumbs by melting the butter and whisking brown sugar and white sugar in until dissolved. Whisk in spices and then mix in flour with a spatula until a solid, smooth dough forms. Set that aside.

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For the cake batter, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and sour cream together. Place your flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and baking powder in a bowl fitted with a paddle and give them a quick stir to mix them all together. With the paddle running, add the softened butter and ¼ cup of sour cream mixture and beat until flour is completely moistened. Bump up the speed and add the rest of the sour cream mixture, beating until you have a smooth batter (scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary). Pour all but about ½ a cup of the batter into your greased cake pan and spoon blackberries evenly on top. Cover the blackberries with small spoonfuls the remaining batter. Break crumble-dough into marble-sized pieces and sprinkle all over the batter. Cover in crushed hazelnuts and bake 45 minutes-1 hour or until a cake-test comes out clean.

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Leave a Comment

india July 25, 2013 at 11:44 am

i can’t tell you how emotional this makes me. this is the definition of emotional eating for me. i want to stuff this all over my face and have all my friends lick it off. thank god for emily and meeting you and keeping you here so i was able to spoon with you so many nights so many years ago. you’re a star, really and truly. friends make food taste better. i love you.

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Elizabeth Aquino July 25, 2013 at 12:01 pm

This looks divine — and thanks, too, for the heads-up on the Kesey. I’ve never read it and might add it to the stack of books I need to –

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Deb July 25, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Not even jet lag and post wedding party exhaustion can stop you!!!! I’m making this ASAP!

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Beckie@Cubicle57 July 25, 2013 at 1:01 pm

This is so wonderful. So happy to have been touched by the periphery of this beautiful friendship and story!!! <3 All the love!

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Gemma July 25, 2013 at 1:13 pm

This is amazing, I feel emotional! I need to visit Oregon ASAP. I also need to make this ASAP.
Congratulations Emily and Ante!

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Brettski July 25, 2013 at 2:17 pm

What a great story and a delicious cake!

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Dee July 25, 2013 at 2:19 pm

amazing! i’ve always wanted to visit oregon. and i am off to add sometimes a great notion to my want to reads on goodreads. thank you!

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Noodle July 25, 2013 at 2:37 pm

One of my all time favorite books, Cara ( as you know). You really did justice to the recipes. Now Wag it and Shag it, Bub, and write some more!

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Sam July 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm

The first time that I read Sometimes A Great Notion I was 15 years old and staying with my grandparents in Pacific Northwest logging country. They could have been characters in that book. My grandma always with a hint of blackberry stains on her earthly fingers.

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Seymour Salett July 25, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Cara,
All I can about this blog/recipe is YUM!!
Seymour

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Michelle July 25, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Wonderful. Just wonderful.

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welpshucks July 29, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Lovely recipe and story, Cara. And congratulations to the newlyweds! I remember hearing about those supper clubs way back in the think coffee days and being so jealous and never having the nerve to invite myself. Glad we finally became friends; though, I must say, I would not mind having more supper club dinners (and less creepy spa days). :))))

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