Continental coffeecake: a taste of Tuscany

Don’t you love it when you actually make up a recipe—all by yourself—and it WORKS?

That’s just what happened to me a couple of years ago, when I enjoyed a simple fruit-nut bread at a local Italian bakery. The bread itself wasn’t sweet at all; but it was packed with dried fruit, gilded with a light/crunchy sugar topping, and the entire package was simply out of this world.

Now, the place I discovered this bread wasn’t the typical American-Italian bakery with which you might be familiar. You know, the kind with light-as-air, crackly-crusted—but flavor-neutral—loaves stacked by the counter. The over-the-top pastries, everything seemingly filled with custard or topped with whipped cream or crowned with a fat swirl of butter icing. Maybe a sheet pan of thick-crust pizza behind the counter, if you’re lucky.

Don’t misunderstand; there’s nothing wrong with your typical American-Italian bakery. It’s just different than an Italian-Italian bakery.

Which is the type of bakery that inspired this coffeecake. Picture this: golden loaves stacked in a basket, their creamy interior riddled with holes, courtesy of a starter and a long, slow rise. In a glass case, thin fruit tarts, plain to look at but bursting with fresh flavor. Several flavors of gelato chalked on the daily menu.

And, atop the glass case, a Tuscan-style bread stuffed with dried fruit and nuts. No, not citron and dried peel and the kind of years-old dried fruit that makes your mouth go “Uh, why?” But fresh, moist dried fruit, and nuts. With a hint of crisp sugar on top.

I saw it; I had to have it. Bought a slice; took a bite; thought I’d died and gone to heaven. That soft-chewy, creamy interior… the golden raisins and dates and toasted walnuts… and that crackly sugar crust on top…

Came back to the test kitchen and, miracle of miracles, re-created it. On the first try.

The Italian bakery has since morphed into an osteria/wine bar. I don’t know if they still sell bread. But what I think of as “my Tuscan coffeecake” has become one of my favorite treats: both because it makes me roll my eyes heavenward with every bite; and because I challenged myself to figure it out—and did.

And, since you’re a baker, you know how wonderful that feels.

Let’s make Tuscan-style coffeecake: Coffeecake Stars, in their holiday incarnation. For a one-pan version of this recipe, see our Tuscan Coffeecake recipe.

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First, let’s put together our overnight starter. As with many starters, it’s just about equal parts flour and water, by weight. Add a pinch of yeast, cover, and let rest overnight.

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Next day, the yeast has done its work very nicely. The starter should be bubbly all over, with those same kind of fragile bubbles you see on the uncooked side of pancakes as they fry.

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Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients. Here’s a tip: Take the water you’ll be adding, and swish it around in the starter container before pouring it into the bowl with the rest of the dough ingredients. Don’t want any of that good starter to go to waste.

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Mix till the ingredients come together.

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Then knead till soft and smooth. Note that this dough never really completely forms a ball. That’s fine; it’s supposed to be soft.

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Scrape the dough into a lightly greased bowl. Cover, and let rise for 1 hour.

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It probably won’t double in bulk. That’s OK; it just needs to get a little puffy.

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Now you’re going to knead in the dates, raisins, and walnuts. Can you use pineapple, papaya, and pine nuts? Sure, you wild and crazy thing, go for it! Kind of subverts the elegant Continental feel, but who among us doesn’t feel free to amend recipes to our own taste at will?

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Put the fruit and nuts on top of the dough in the bowl.

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Wet or oil your fingers, and knead the fruit/nuts into the dough, using the sides of the bowl to help keep everything together.

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A sticky minute or so later, here it is.

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Next, divide the dough in half, and press each half into the pan of your choice. An 8″ round cake pan works well; I’ve happened to pick one of our bakeable paper star pans. They’re pretty, and they make it easy to give a baked gift without worrying about getting your pan back afterwards.

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Press the dough to the edges of the pan—in this case, into the points of the star.

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Like this.

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Here are the two coffeecakes; I’ve placed them on a baking sheet for support as they rise and bake.

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Let them rise, covered, until they’re nice and puffy.

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Just before baking, GENTLY poke any emerging raisins down into the dough, to keep them from burning.

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Mix sugar, vanilla, and water. It’ll look paste-like at first.

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But after a couple of minutes, the sugar dissolves and it becomes drizzlable.

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Drizzle the vanilla glaze over the cakes.

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No need to brush it over the surface; a casual drizzle is just fine.

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Bake the cakes till they’re light golden brown, and their internal temperature reaches 190°F.

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One for you—one for your mom. Or your best friend. Or your boss?

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Look at that lovely, moist, golden interior. Stuffed with fruit and nuts. And I tell you, that crackly vanilla glaze on top is the perfect finishing touch. Salud!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Coffeecake Stars.

Hey, I just realized something – tomorrow (November 15) is the 1-year anniversary of this blog. Well, time flies when you’re having fun! Thanks, all, for chiming in here—

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Macrina Bakery, Seattle, Budapest Coffeecake: made with eggs, low-fat yogurt, sugar, and vanilla baked with a swirled layer of cocoa, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. Slice: $2.85. Whole loaf: $28.50.

Bake at home: Coffeecake Stars, two 2-pound cakes, $4.37 per cake.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Kathy

    I noticed what looks like a “Beater Blade” or something similar in the photos with the Kitchen Aid mixer in them. Are you testing blades that scrape the bowl and, if so, how are the tests going? This looks like a wonderful recipe; I’ve been cruising your site looking at the “giveaway” pans. I think I have found the perfect recipe, pans and now even bags for Christmas gift-giving!

    Hi Kathy,
    We are going to be carrying the silicone beater blades soon. They really do help cut down on the scraping of the bowls. They have blades for Kitchen Aids and for Vikings. Keep your eyes peeled!

    Happy Baking!
    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  2. Merav

    Oh gosh…that looks AMAZING! I’m definitely making it for my family over Thanksgiving or winter break when I’m home from college! :)
    I also can’t wait to see your panettone recipe!

    Reply
  3. Jackie

    It looks great !!!!! I just bought a bunch of the give a way pan. I wasn’t sure what to put in the start pan.
    If giving as a gift how far ahead can this bread be made ?
    Also I want to thank KA for this blog. It’s such a great tool. I have learned so much from it.
    Jackie

    Jackie, best to make it close to when you’re giving it. Although this is a bread that stays fresh for quite awhile, due to its starter, I think it’s best to make it within a few days of giving. You can freeze, but frozen bread is never as good as fresh… PJH

    Reply
  4. skeptic

    Have you ever made a whole wheat version? I think it would be doable, the dough doesn’t seem to have too much sugar and butter.

    I haven’t tried it – I think using white whole wheat would be fine. It would be different, but if you like the denser texture ww gives, it would be just as tasty, since fruit is the main flavor-driver here. PJH

    Reply
  5. Mary

    This looks amazing. I am thinking I could soak the fruit and nuts in rum or brandy the night before before baking. What do you think?

    Yum, sounds good – just be sure they’re well-drained, or they’ll be very difficult (slimy) to knead in. PJH

    Reply
  6. Judd Friedman

    Looks great…do you think I could sub the yeast for a sour dough starter? Would am ounce of starer in the first mix be enough?
    Thanks!

    Hi Judd – I’d use a cup of sourdough starter in place of the overnight starter, and go from there. Let us know how it works- PJH

    Reply
  7. erik

    I have the same question as Kathy – I also noticed the attachment on your stand mixer – I’ve seen these ‘bowl scraping’ mixing blades before, but wasn’t sure how well they would work. It would seem the rubber (maybe silicone?) edge would wear out or break easily. What are your thoughts on these? The bread looks fantastic, by the way.

    Erik, I use the new silicone beater blade probably every day, and have been for a couple of months. No telling how long it’ll last with everyday use, but so far, so good. It does scrape the bowl a bit better, but that’s not really why I like it best; I just never liked that feeling of bare metal beating up my doughs. Also, you can’t use the silicone blades for everything – they don’t recommend them for very stiff dough, or rock-hard butter. They’re more for cookie/cake/muffin/meatloaf-type uses. We’ll be carrying them soon, if you’re interested. PJH

    Reply
  8. Sally

    I was JUST going to say it looks like panetone – but from your reply, I see not exactly…

    could you tell me the difference? My husband is a panetone-lover and I would love to surprise him either with the real thing, or this coffe cake

    is the “crumb” part too different from the traditional panetone?

    Basically different fruits – dates/raisins/nuts instead of peel/citron, or as I use, golden raisins/apricots. And panettone often has a hint of citrus, while this one is vanilla. As I said, panettone will be posted here week after next, but in the meantime, the recipe I use is American-Style Panettone – take a look. – PJH

    Reply
  9. Kay

    Thinking outside the pan…

    Any chance this could be made as a free shape? I’d like to do a rough braided loaf.

    Absolutely, no problem at all. I’d just make one big braid or two little ones. Go for it! – PJH

    Reply
  10. Sue E. Conrad

    Oh, yum………..and oh, rats!! Yum because it looks absolutely delicioso, and rats because I’ll have to file it away until we sell our boat and move back on land so my oven can handle more than a 9 x 13″ pan. Dates and raisins are keepers, but I’ll be substituting toasted pine nuts for the walnuts (hubby can’t eat the latter). Thanks again for yet another divine recipe!!

    Reply
  11. Mike T.

    I noticed that you knead in the fruit, what would happen if you tossed it into the mixer during kneading and it was in the dough while rising? Is that a No-No?

    Well, kind of, Mike. The fruit releases its sugar as you knead, and that slows down the yeast. So you could do it, but you’d need to build in more time for both rises. I prefer just to knead in the fruit once the dough has had its first rise “unimpeded,” as it were. PJH

    Reply
  12. marjorie

    Can I use my bread machine in the Fruit and Nut program to make this bread?

    I don’t know, Marjorie – give it a try. You should still make the overnight starter, and go from there. The texture will be different in the bread machine, but as I said, you can’t score the winning goal unless you take the shot (as they say up here in hockey-land..) PJH

    Reply
  13. breadchick

    I was looking for something to make this weekend using the last of my mixed dried fruit and nuts before breaking into the new stuff for the holidays!

    Well, there you have it – perfect! Remember to make the starter tonight… PJH

    Reply
  14. Amber

    This looks lovely! You’ve inspired my non-family holiday gift ideas. My question – is there some reason that the starter cannot be made in the bowl to my KitchenAid? I’d love to save the clean-up. Thanks!

    Absolutely, Amber, go for it; the only reason I don’t do that is because I’m always needing my bowl for something else… PJH

    Reply
  15. desperatelyseekingpanettone

    I am looking forward to your panettone recipe. Our son is peanut/treenut allergic which prevents us from purchasing this holiday treat. Panettone is a holiday must – it has been part of my husband’s holiday tradition since he was a child. I have tried to make it for the past 4-5 years for the holidays but it never turns out quite right. Often it is too dry. I asked my husband’s aunt in Italy for a recipe. Although she makes just about everything, she said that panettone is the one thing she buys because it is difficult to make correctly. Looking forward to your panettone recipe and any tips you may have!

    First tip: Using an overnight starter makes a huge difference in how long it keeps; it stays moister, longer… PJH

    Reply
  16. Chitra

    I tried this over the weekend and it did not quite turn out like the picture. It did not rise much and did not have all those “holes” inside. It was more dense. Tasty, but not quite like in the picture. What do you think went wrong? I followed all the instructions. My yeast is from KAF. The started didn’t look as wet and liquid-y as in the picture. Another question — can we add the nuts and fruits with the flour when we are mixing the dough? It was quite an effort pushing them in and I wasn’t sure if we should handle the dough so much.

    Chitra, this is always the hardest problem to diagnose – “Why didn’t my bread rise?” My first guess is how you measured the flour. Too much flour = dense, dry bread. and your clue is that the starter looked dry… Please read our tip on measuring flour, and see if you did it that way. A cup of KA AP flour should weigh 4 1/4 ounces, if you’re weighing. As for kneading the fruit and nuts in with the dough initially, the sugar will leach out of the fruits into the dough, and make it rise more slowly. If you’re willing to wait a lot longer, sure, go ahead and knead it in. Hope you try this again – PJH

    Reply
  17. Brenda D in Fla

    I made this today, all I can say is Oh my gosh !! My entire family loves it!!! I did change the fruits to walnuts ,apricots, dried cherries, and golden raisins. It is soo much better then my local bakery’s breakfast bread Thank You!! Oh the glaze really just makes it absolutely perfect.
    One question it looked as if the fruits were distributed upon baking , but upon cutting it has large pockets of bread and large pockets of concentrated fruit/nut. What did I do wrong or any tip for next time as I will make it next week :-)
    Thank You for another awesome recipe!!! This is right up there with The Perfect 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Loaf and Homemade Whole-Grain Pancake Mix. Brenda

    Congratulations, Brenda! You just have to figure a way to knead the fruit in more evenly. Do you have a mixer or bread machine? Either will do a good job for you. Or try flattening the dough, spreading with fruit, then just kind of squeezing/mashing it into a ball. However you can figure to spread that fruit around… PJH

    Reply
  18. Deirdre

    I have a question for this recipe and others — when it says to sit overnight how long is that? I usually presume that is 8 hours but realize it could be flexible — how flexible it is. Could it be anywhere from 6 to 12? Often mixing in the morning for use later in the day fits in better with my schedule than mixing something the night before and using in the morning.

    Thanks.

    Deirdre, kitchens vary. The more yeast things you bake, the shorter amount of time “overnight” can be, as there’s a lot of ambient yeast in the air, and it helps the starter grow. My overnight is usually about 4 p.m. till 7 a.m., which fits my work schedule – so that’s 15 hours. The ideal goal is a starter that has domes fully, but hasn’t yet sunk; this is pretty subtle. If your starter has obviously fallen, then go ahead and use it, but next time give it a shorter rise. If it isn’t very bubbly, then you haven’t given it long enough. If you want to hasten the schedule, use 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon yeast instead of a pinch. Experiment – you’ll figure out what’s just right for your kitchen and your schedule. PJH

    Reply
  19. Carol in Colorado

    Just finished baking this wonderful coffeecake. Couldn’t wait till it cooled and already had a slice. The recipe was easy to follow and the coffeecake is delicious. The crunchy sugary topping adds a great touch. I’m wondering if you have tried freezing one of the loaves and how it does?
    Thanks for a great recipe. This should freeze well for about 3 months. Mary @ King Arthur Flour

    Reply
  20. Sam in Colorado

    I remembered making this coffee cake a year or so ago and was happy to re-visit it. I started the bigga on a Saturday morning planing to finish it that night. It wasn’t until the next morning that I actually did make it and was worried that the sponge was done. It seemed to have needed the full 24 hours to grow. I used your Artisian bread trick of pouring water around the edge of the sponge to release it from it’s bowl. That worked wonderfully. I used two small brioche tins to cook it in and your Fioria de Sicilia for the flavoring. Gave them both as hostess gifts that evening. Big hit! I’m always so happy when one of your recipes works in Colorado.

    Reply
  21. Linda

    I made the coffeecake using my sourdough starter and it came out excellent. Imight not have even needed the little bit of yeast called for in the second part of the recipe. It rose a lot faster then I thought it would. It did not taste yeasty though. I did add gluten to the KA flour. The fruits I used were currents, dates, raisins and walnuts. I did took the temp and it was a little higher then you mentioned in the recipe. The cake seems to dry out faster then expected but people liked it and is a good use for the sourdough stater. Thanks
    Hi Linda, Glad you enjoyed the cake. It sounds like it overbaked just a little bit, so that would make it dry out faster, but again, glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    Reply
  22. Regina

    This was delicious! I made the one pan version in a 9″ round pan and loved it. It’s decadent without being sweet. I was surprised at how much it rose! It was quite a large cake. Thanks for the recipe. I enjoy the blog here :)

    Reply
  23. Buffy

    Tuscan coffeecake is absolutely, unequivocally, my favorite toasting bread.
    I make it for my home pretty often, but will only make and give away two loaves a year.
    I notice that my friends aren’t shy with hints to be on THAT short list.

    For many reasons, I appreciate the staff and products of KAF.
    This might be a good time to tell you that because I’m not eligible for free shipping offers, a friend in the midwest handles my KAF orders.

    Reply
  24. Audrey

    I finally made this today and it is GREAT!! I overcooked it a tad (about 10*F)because I had to pick my daughter up from school and it’s still moist inside!!!

    Reply
  25. Dick Dearden

    Just wanted to let you know the Tuscan Coffee Cake is excellent. I made it to take to my daughters house for Thanksgiving….but it was half gone the night before!
    It works much better than the original recipe that was a one step procedure. I pan-proofed it in the refrigerator (I was not ready to bake it right away), and it came out perfect. After a couple of days, it works well if sliced and slipped into the toaster for a few minutes.
    Enjoy your blog, enjoy your sense of humor and certainly enjoy your recipes and hints.
    Thanks from a retired chef (and sous chef at Hanover Inn many years ago).

    Well, thank you very much, Dick. High praise from a chef – and I like the Hanover Inn connection. What a lot of changes there, huh? Glad the coffeecake worked out well for you. PJH

    Reply
  26. Kathleen

    Would this recipe work for individually baked small loaves? I would like to give some as gifts, and thought to use the wooden paper lined loaf pans.

    I did make one as the full loaf and it was wonderful!

    Yes, it definitely would. Susan, my fellow blogger, just made individual roll-sized cakes. Good idea! PJH

    Reply
  27. dwgentry

    So – this is a post from the past, though I read about it in Facebook October 24, 2010.

    I’m always looking for ways to do most of the work the day before, and then the last baking step early in the morning. If I wanted to do that with this recipe, would I stop just before the sugar drizzle, cover and put it in the frig, then drizzle and bake in the morning?

    …Doug Gentry

    Hello Doug- Yes, I think you could do exactly what you described. Let us know how it turns out! kelsey@KAF

    Reply
  28. sandylee6

    I can’t wait to bake these !! I have the star pans and this recipe divides dough in half to make two stars. The recipe link makes one loaf and bakes for 35 min. How long should I bake the divided loaves ?? (to 190 degrees but est time?) and do I stick with 350 degrees?

    thanks in advance.

    Yes, stick to 350°F. Start checking at 20 to 25 minutes, OK? PJH

    Reply

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