A Sonoran Desert Coffee Cake

Recently, Mark and I were in the downtown Tucson store of Whole Foods. This is not a store where we normally shop, for the main reason that it is off our beaten path. We have great stores in our direct route between work and home - Trader Joe's, Caravan (Middle Eastern market), the India Dukaan and Albertson's. Pretty much everything we need, we find in one of our regular spots.

I can't remember what took us to Whole Foods that day, but we were so glad we went. It was their once-a-month day to show off local vendors selling Arizona-made products. This gave me the idea to create a recipe using items created by our local artisans or grown by local farmers. You needn't worry if you aren't in Arizona, though - most of these vendors ship or you can make substitutions using your local ingredients. Now, see how easy this will be? 

My first foray into this realm will be my Sonoran Desert Coffee Cake, made with mesquite flour (from the velvet mesquite), Cheri's Cactus Marmalade and Arizona-grown pecans – all three products form our beautiful Sonoran Desert.

The mesquite flour comes from Skeleton Creek in Aravaipa Canyon just north of Tucson on the other side of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  They have mesquite flours in varying grades of fineness, flavor and finishes.  For this recipe I chose the all-purpose velvet mesquite flour, as they were out of the XXX superfine velvet mesquite flour.  No worries, though as this flour produced a cake with fine crumb, as you can see it in the photos! 

For the marmalade, we chose the cactus marmalade from Cheri's Desert Harvest.  She is one of our go-to artisans for host and hostess gifts when traveling, with a product line runs the gamut from her jams, jellies and marmalades to a variety of syrups for pancakes, margaritas and dessert mixes. She also has a great selection of cactus candy jellies - like square gumdrops with REAL flavor! 

I once took a box of cactus candies to my Aunt Rae for her 88th birthday. I knew they would be weird for this aging Vermonter but I wanted her to try something new - something from our new desert home. Fearing that she would politely say thank you and "save them for a special occasion," I suggested she open them right away and try one. Her first was the prickly pear jelly. She ate two!  After dinner she tried the margarita-flavored ones (she liked limes anyway, so that was easy) but she was balking at the mesquite bean flavored ones. First, they are brown and second, they are from a seedpod. It just sounded too odd for her. I suggested she think of them as having a cinnamon-honey flavor and she caved. AND, she liked it.

The cactus marmalade used in today's recipe is made with prickly pear juice and locally grown lemons to produce a magenta-colored, tart-sweet preserve, and can be used in so many ways - glazes and baked goods come first to mind, but plain on toast works, too!

Pecans are a native American nut and Arizona is the fourth largest grower in the United States.  Depending on the area from which they come, they can be small or large (up to 3 inches!) and today’s are a good size with sweet flavor.

So, remembering the time I brought Aunt Rae the candies, I thought of her coffee cake, as well.  My Sonoran Desert Coffee Cake is inspired by her basic coffee cake recipe – a cake that she would serve to Mark and me on cold, late-November mornings while we were visiting for Thanksgiving.  I thought it would be a fitting tribute to her if I could use that recipe and make it my own using the mesquite flour, Cheri's marmalade and some pecans grown nearby.

So here you are - a Sonoran Desert Coffee Cake from Aunt Rae's kitchen to my kitchen to yours!

- David

Sonoran Desert Coffee Cake 

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ cups flour
½ cup mesquite flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1½ teaspoon Penzeys lemon extract
1 8-ounce jar Cheri’s Cactus Marmalade
1 cup chopped Arizona pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.  Add baking powder, baking soda, flour, mesquite flour, salt, sour cream and lemon extract.  Blend well.  Spread batter into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan.  Put the cactus marmalade into a bowl and stir to loosen.  Using a wet soup spoon, make a “moat” in the center of the batter and fill with marmalade.  Sprinkle with nuts and bake for 55 minutes.  Let cake cool 10-15 minutes and remove from pan.

Notes: if you cannot find mesquite flour, you can substitute whole-wheat flour or all-purpose white flour.  Sour cream can be used in place of Greek yogurt, almond or vanilla extract in place of the lemon, any flavor marmalade or thick preserve for the cactus marmalade, and pistachios, almonds or walnuts for the pecans.

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