Hand Cakes

Really, that’s what these are, whole coffee cakes in convenient, eminently approachable handheld form.  They even come complete with a creamy toffee topping, and a crunchy-sweet ribbon of toffee, almonds and butter crumb lacing throughout.  As coffee cake, they’re perfect for an uplifting breakfast, a sweet way to start the day.  As muffins, they’re ideal for snacking or a dessert at any other time.  Though they probably won’t last past breakfast.

That’s their ultimate fate, to be devoured in an instant.  They started, though, with a recipe Fine Cooking highlighted in its August/September 2019 issue.  Though they were pictured as part of a larger breakfast spread, these Toffee Coffee Cake Muffins work well throughout the day.  Though, again, their odds of surviving that long in a hungry household are distant at best.

The secret here, as with so many other things, is butter.  Not so much in the quantity of butter used, though it is generous, but in its manner of joining the party.  You see, it’s cubed when cold, then it’s mixed right into the batter.  This means the butter still is solid when it goes into the oven, ensuring it melts as the muffin bakes, letting that creamy goodness slowly ooze into the surrounding crumb.  Almost as though a dab of butter is applied just as these emerge from baking.

As you can see in the photo, this inspired another application of the creamy stuff, which obligingly melted when introduced to the still-piping muffins.  Really, though, this was merely gild on the famous lily.  While tasty, the extra butter just added to what already is the muffins’ strength.  Coal to Newcastle, and all.

No, better to appreciate these as, and to savor them like, perfect little self-contained worlds.  There’s creaminess, yes, but also warming sweetness.  The soft cake punctuated with a ribbon and crown of golden crunchiness.  Whole coffee cakes which you’ll consume in two or three bites.  Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum!


Toffee Coffee Cake Muffins

  • 2 cups flour (*1)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup toffee bits, plus more for topping
  • 1/3 cup raw almonds, toasted and chopped
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (*2)
  • butter for serving, optional (*3)

Position the rack to the center of the oven, then preheat to 350°.  Populate a 12-bay muffin tin with liners.

Detach the bowl from a stand mixer, and add the flour, salt, sugars and butter.  Using your hands, work the butter into the dry ingredients just until it has a broadly pebbled appearance.  Don’t overwork it, as you don’t want to melt the butter too much (the intro contains reasons for this).

Take 1/3 cup of the mixture and put it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Add the cup of toffee bits and the toasted almonds and mix well.  Reattach the bowl to the mixer and fit the appliance with the paddle attachment.

Add the eggs, buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda and extracts to the mixing bowl.  Beat at medium-high speed until the batter is smooth, about 3 minutes.

Fill each muffin liner about 1/3 of the way with batter, then sprinkle with about a tablespoon-and-a-half of the toffee-nut mixture.  Add enough batter to completely cover the toffee-nut mixture and to fill the cupcake liners about 1/4-inch from the top.  Sprinkle each muffin with some of the extra toffee bits.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the muffins just begin to deepen in color around the distant edges.  Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove the individual muffins, allowing them to cool by themselves far another 20 minutes.  Serve warm, with butter if desired.


1 – The original recipe calls for cake flour, but this isn’t necessary.  Cake flour does tend to produce a denser texture, though these muffins are fine on their own.  Using cake flour will produce a flat top, or even a sunken surface, such as in the magazine photo.  All due modesty aside, I think the slightly domed top (pictured above) looks better.

2 –  Instead, I used a teaspoon of Disaronno.  Why?  It does add a nice taste, insofar as a mere teaspoon will have any effect, but it also uses up a little of the bottles on the back kitchen shelf.  My personal tastes run more toward beer and wine, meaning hard liquor remains untouched unless I make an excuse.  Even a teaspoon’s-worth of amaretto here, a tablespoon of rum there, will do.

3 – This is an option you probably won’t need to exercise, as these are buttery enough without stockpiling it.






6 thoughts on “Hand Cakes

    1. Thanks, Rachel! It’s a mechanical function, really, as cold butter promotes an airier, fluffier structure than does its warm counterpart. In some cases the cook wants precisely the opposite to happen, but that’s exactly what we’re after this week..

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you for giving me a hand by sharing this Hand Cake recipe! My hands are slender, so I’ll probably need a hundred of them just for me ALONE (!) I’ll be waiting…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ready for the handoff, then? Hands down, you’ll need to have more dessert plates on hand than anyone else, if you’re going to handle all those muffins. It’s best to eat them while watching “Fast Times…,” particularly those parts with Mr. Hand,

      As an aside, that’s a handsome pastry plate collection, Tamara!

      Liked by 1 person

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