Cake with coffee, or coffee cake?

When I began entering the Minnesota State Fair baking contests a few years ago I came to the realization that I don't know the definition of coffee cake. Is it any cake served with coffee or does it require coffee as an ingredient? A simple smallish cake as opposed to a massive stack of frosted multi-tiers? Does shape matter?

I searched my stash of cookbooks determined to find an answer. Instead, I came across hundreds of recipes with a variety of ingredients, technical know-how, shapes and sizes, and not nearly enough time to bake (or eat) them all.

Ask google to define coffee cake and you'll receive a limited answer: "a cake, often cinnamon-flavored, with a drizzled white icing or crumb topping, and usually eaten with coffee." Only a handful of recipes I've got for coffee cake call for cinnamon, and even fewer have icing or crumbed topping.

Wiki was slightly more helpful:
Coffee cake is a common cake or sweet bread available in many countries. The term "coffee cake" can refer to any of the following:
A class of cakes intended to be eaten alongside coffee (for example, as part of a breakfast meal) or that may be eaten during a "coffee break" or offered to guests as a gesture of hospitality on or around a coffee table. Under this definition, a coffee cake does not necessarily contain coffee. They are typically single layer cakes that may be square or rectangular like a Stollen or loaf-shaped rectangular cakes, or they may be ring shaped, as a bundt. Coffee cakes may be flavored with cinnamon or other spices, seeds, nuts and fruits. These cakes sometimes have a crumbly or crumb topping called streusel and/or a light glaze drizzle. Some similarity to teacakes may be found, though teacakes can be individually sized baked items served with tea.
Using Wiki's interpretation, I've decided to define coffee cake as pretty much anything goes. That doesn't help much when it comes to narrowing the field as I prepare for the coming State Fair competition. When the field is wide open, who knows what flavors and textures will capture the judges' approval?

This was a clean-the-cupboards kind of baking weekend. I reached for some stray leftovers taking up room in the fridge and found a way to drop them into cake... er, I mean, coffee cake. If you aren't lucky enough to have a fresh supply of quark, substitute cream cheese (or make your own!).

Almond Lingonberry-Quark Coffee Cake 
9 servings
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened 
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 ounces almond paste (half of a 7 ounce tube)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup lingonberry preserves
1/3 cup quark or cream cheese
Heat oven to 350. Line 8-inch square pan with foil, leaving 1 inch of foil overhanging at 2 opposite sides of pan; spray foil with cooking spray.
In large bowl beat butter, sugar, and almond paste with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in almond extract and eggs until well blended. On low speed beat in flour, baking powder, and salt just until blended. 
Spread batter in pan. Divide lingonberries and quark equally across cake, pushing a few teaspoons of each into nine sections of the cake so that when cut into 9 squares each piece will have a bite of berries and cheese. 

Bake 45 minutes or until tooth-pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack, about 1 hour. Use foil to lift cake out of pan; cut into squares. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Almond Coffee Cake recipe.


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