Merks Coffee Cake
When my parents got married, my mom told my dad that she wanted to be in charge of holidays and traditions. This was no bluff on her part, her family had many traditions, and are how we still celebrate the holidays.
Since my mom was little, the Fellner family had the same breakfast every Christmas morning. Orange juice, a halved grapefruit, breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs and Merks Coffeecake. This is the Christmas breakfast I grew up with, and one I hope to always eat on the morning of December 25th. In a family that never eats breakfast sausage, this was perhaps the only time I ever ate this salty delicacy at home. I savored my two links every Christmas morning after creating sugar mountains on top of my grapefruit and drinking the sugar juice that remained.
Merks was a family secret, the coffeecake that all revered. I didnt like it as a kid, and now I wonder where my sanity had gone. I came to like it not at Christmas-time, but during the summer of 2003. As a summer job, I started a small baking company, Loulous Baked Goods. I had a stand at the local Farmers Market, between a produce stand and a wild-fish purveyor. We squeezed in at 6 in the morning every week, hoping to sell all the brownies, banana bread loaves, peanut butter cookies and slices of Merks, on my moms suggestion. My packaging wasnt pretty, I hadnt learned anything about that, yet, but the Merks sold faster than any other treat.
My 15-year-old wisdom told me that if more than just my family members loved Merks, then I might too. I tried a slice. It was heaven: sweet butter cake swirled with brown sugar and more butter, studded with toasted walnuts, and topped with more streusel. After those two years of weekly summer batches of Merks, Ive relegated this coffeecake to Christmas again. Its too decadent for year-round enjoyment. (Although if I didnt top it with butter, it would be significantly less so.)
According to my mom, my grandmother cut this recipe out of a Bay Area paper when they lived in Palo Alto in the 1950s. No amount of internet-sleuthing has revealed its origins, but most importantly, I love that my family has been eating this for Christmas breakfast for 50 years.
Merks Coffee Cake
10-12 cup Bundt Pan, I use this Nordic Ware pan.
For the Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream
For the Streusel:
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup toasted chopped walnuts
Make the Merks:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with cooking spray, or grease with butter and dust with flour, tapping out any excess.
In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and shortening until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and mix to combine. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each. Add dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour.
In a medium bowl, combine the ingredients for the streusel until well mixed.
Pour 1/2 of the batter into the bundt pan. Top with 1/2 the streusel mixture, then pour the remaining batter and top with remaining streusel.
Bake for 50 minutes until golden brown. You can also test by inserting a cake tester halfway between the center and outside of the pan, but keep in mind that the streusel could stick to the skewer and make the cake seem unready.
Cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, invert onto a serving plate, and serve.