Mornings have always been my favorite time of the day – sitting down enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee and a freshly baked treat as the sun streams across the kitchen table is the perfect way to start the day. I have and cherish both of Patty Pinner’s memoir cookbooks, Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories and Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie, and was excited to see that she had a new cookbook coming out that focused on breakfast and brunch recipes. Patty, a fellow native of Michigan, collected wonderful soul food recipes and stories in her two previous cookbooks, and “Sweet Mornings” is no exception. Each of the 125 recipes is peppered with memories of friends, family and neighbors in Michigan, visiting family in Tennessee, and the larger-than-life personalities of the strong women that surrounded her: neighbors with flashy tastes in dresses, mink coats, and handbags who could turn out sumptuous feasts, others who gave sound advice to young wives, strong matriarchs who expressed their love through sugar and butter, and the world viewed through the more innocent lens of childhood.
No matter your favorite breakfast vice (biscuits, quick breads, pancakes, muffins, bars, waffles, cinnamon rolls, French toast), all are amply represented in the 125 recipes. I loved that some fall into the quick and easy category (including a handful that use pie filling or pudding mix, such as the pistachio coffee cake and Ava Joy’s Lemon Streusel), while others like the orange-filled rolls are perfect for more leisurely mornings. Although most of the book is devoted to baked goods, you’ll also find more substantial brunch offerings including chicken and waffles, chicken salad, hash browns, steak and eggs.
I inherited several recipes from my Polish grandmother, who was a talented baker; one of my favorites is her sour cream coffeecake, so I was thrilled to see nearly two dozen variations in “Sweet Mornings” ranging from the traditional (old-fashioned sour cream, which is closest to what my babcia made) to coffeecakes punched up with citrus (Lemon Drizzle and Ava Joy’s Lemon Streusel), chocolate, fruit-filled, and more. I tried the Mama’s Strawberry Coffee Cake first as strawberries are in season here in Japan; for this recipe, I used the smallest, sweetest strawberries I could find. Two cups of strawberries may sound like a lot – indeed, I had trouble chopping my strawberries into uniform pieces as they were so ripe, they fairly dissolved into puddles of juicy sweetness as I cut, but the final result is a layer of no-fuss strawberry jam. The layer of strawberries was a delightful variation and one I look forward to making frequently as it freezes well. One note about the recipe below is that I had to modify the instructions; the ingredient amounts for the butter in the batter and the topping are reversed (the instructions call for you to cream 2 Tbsp melted butter with the sugar, but from years of baking experience I knew to reverse the amounts and cream the one stick softened butter with the sugar, reserving the melted butter for the streusel topping).
Mama’s Strawberry Coffee Cake (recipe adapted from “Sweet Mornings”)
(Makes 1 9-inch square coffee cake)
Nonstick cooking spray, for greasing (I use Baker’s Joy)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup half-and-half, room temperature
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup chopped walnuts
2 Tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish with the cooking spray and set aside.
2. To make the batter: In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, break up the butter by mixing on low speed for 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to prevent large lumps from forming. As the mixer is running, reduce the speed to low and add the egg, making sure that it is thoroughly incorporated into the mixture. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined. (Do not overbeat.) Turn off the mixer.
4. Set the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and the half-and-half to the bowl of the mixer in alternating thirds, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Continue beating until the mixture is just moistened. (Do not overbeat).
5. To make the topping: in a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar, walnuts, butter and cinnamon, and using your hands, stir until well blended (I found I needed a little extra melted butter to get the consistency I was looking for).
6. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish and arrange the strawberries evenly on top of the batter. Evenly sprinkle the topping on top of the strawberries. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the baking dish on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
7. Turn out the cake, slice and transfer to a serving platter. Serve at room temperature.
The second coffee cake I tried was the Apricot Coffee Bread. I love all things dried apricot, and this coffee bread (really more of a pound cake) was no exception. Rich with butter and sour cream, the cake is studded with beautiful cubes of apricot and toasted pecans. Be sure to chop your apricots into small uniform pieces for best appearance. Again, I found I had to make a small adjustment to the recipe as it does not specify when to add the flour mixture to the batter; after adding the eggs and sour cream, you’re instructed to stir in apricots and pecans and bake. I decided to add the flour in three additions on low speed after incorporating the sour cream (which I had first mixed with vanilla bean paste), then stirred in the apricots and pecans by hand rather than mixer. The amount of streusel seems like a lot, but this is a large cake, so use the whole amount; I found I had to take the cake out a couple of times during baking to sprinkle more topping around the edges of the pan where plain batter was pushing up. The topping also browned quickly towards the last 20 minutes of baking, so I covered with foil to prevent it from overbrowning.
One consideration is that you are instructed to bake in a tube or Bundt pan, but the bread has a topping, meaning that you will have to invert the bread onto a plate, flip, and put right-side-up to cool to keep the topping crunchy (the bread is equally beautiful if you leave it topping-side-down like a traditional Bundt; that way, the apricots look like bits of stained glass). The instructions also call to dust with powdered sugar, so if you prefer to make it as a traditional Bundt, you can skip the topping and dust the finished bread with powdered sugar instead. As I collect Bundt pans (hence my moniker of “Bundt Lust"), I used my 10-15 cup anniversary Bundt and this cake nearly came to the top, so use a sizeable pan.
Apricot Coffee Bread (adapted from “Sweet Mornings”)
Makes 1 10-inch tube or Bundt bread
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into small pieces
Nonstick cooking spray, for greasing
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature (warm cold eggs by placing in a bowl of warm water)
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup dried apricots, chopped into small pieces
½ cup chopped pecans (I toasted them first)
Confectioners’ sugar (for garnish)
1. To make the topping: In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon and stir until well combined. Using your fingers, a pastry blender, or the tines of a fork, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles small crumbs. Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan with Baker’s Joy and set aside.
3. To make the batter: In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: the lour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, break up the butter by mixing on low speed for 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed or 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom owt the bowl to prevent lumps from forming. As the mixer is running, reduce the speed to low and slowly add the eggs, 1 at a time; after you add each egg, scrape down the sides of the bowl and resume eating on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the sour cream and anilla extract (I used vanilla bean paste) and beat at low speed for 30 seconds. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract and beat at low speed for 2 to 3 seconds, until just incorporated.
5. Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing on low just until incorporated. Turn off the mixer.
6. Add the apricots and pecans to the batter and stir just until distributed.
7. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and evenly sprinkle the top of the batter with the topping. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.
8. Using a silicone spatula, separate the bread from the pan and invert onto the wire rack to cool completely (I let mine cool in the pan; if you decide to turn it out, put a piece of foil under the rack to catch any topping that falls off).
9. Transfer to a serving platter and dust with the confectioners’’ sugar. Slice and sere at room temperature.
Other recipes that reminded me of my grandmother’s European baked goods included Aunt Zaida’s Almond Coffee Ring and old-fashioned rice pudding squares, a breakfast staple in my house. My grandma used to make a superb nutmeg-topped rice pudding that I later added dried cherries to in place of raisins and as an adult, I use Arborio rice, which Patty also recommends. These familiar dishes transported me back to my childhood when I used to “bake” (read: taste!) alongside my grandmother in her small Michigan kitchen.
Next, I made a half recipe of the cherry granola. Growing up in Michigan, I love all things cherry; Patty’s granola is a festive combination of cherries, pecans, coconut, cinnamon, nutmeg and tart cherries. I substituted maple sugar for the brown sugar as I love maple (the recipe also calls for ¼ cup maple syrup). It’s the perfect way to start your morning off with a pop of color when you don’t have the time or energy for a “fancy” breakfast involving lots of cooking. Be sure to keep a close eye on your granola as it bakes as the nuts and coconut are prone to turn from toasted to burned very quickly! There is no comparison between store-bought granola and homemade; I love that you can customize it with nuts and fruits you like, as well as monitor the oil and sugar content (not so with storebought). Kept in an airtight container, it keeps very well and also makes a beautiful gift when packaged in a decorative jar!
Verdict: this is a must-have for all bakers; there is enough variety to keep you happily baking for ages and you’re sure to find new ideas to update classic treats, classic soul food (fried green tomatoes, chicken and waffles), and “Sweet Mornings” is just as valuable for the many wonderful stories and larger-than-life characters that bring the recipes to vibrant life (baking along to classic 1960s Motown and soul optional but highly recommended!).
Thank you to Agate for the review copy and permission to reprint recipes!