Route 1 meanders through the Big Sur region of California, segmented into various state parks and state reserves. You pass a half-mile of densely wooded hills, sunlight blocked by the sequoiadendron giganteum, the coastal redwoods. A nondescript National Park kiosk heralds a change in scenery. The next half-mile is marked by motels, signs promising lower cabin rates and tent sites “right on the river!”
The coastline is untouched, then marred by swirls of pay-per-day trails, covered by cars and maps and picnic tables. The beaches are wide expanses of space, where the peaked ridges of the Santa Lucia mountain range descend into the crash of the Pacific Ocean’s surf, roiling at the mountain’s feet. The boundaries of Big Sur, the product of this stunning meeting of mountains and sea, are fluidly defined.
Its micro-regions leave no doubt as to their borders: the names of each park appear and reappear, inscribed on the redwoods. Carmel River State Beach, Point Lobos State Reserve, Garrapta State Park, Point Sur Lightstation Historic State Park, North Gamboa Vista Point, Andrew Molera State Park. They each shout out their permanent claim, pinning down the ocean waves to their coast, and then fade as you drive on. Broken up into dozens of zones on the map, the parks blend together, smoothed by water and toughed by rock, into an jagged harmony of space.
I'd drive that stretch of land every day if I could. In lieu of being there, I'm trying to capture that warm weather, beachy, zen-like calm in a cake -- and this is my best shot.
Coconut Chai Coffee Cake
Adapted from Aida Mollencamp
For the streusel
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves naval orange, cut into small segments
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the cake
2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup yogurt (Greek is best)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9" springform cake pan (I lined the bottom with parchment as well which never hurts!). Combine all the streusel ingredients in a small bowl and mix with your fingers or a fork until lumpy, and set aside (best to keep it in the fridge until you're ready for it).
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a stand mixer (or by hand), mix together the sugar and butter until creamy and pale in color. Add the yogurt and mix in. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until mixed in. Add the vanilla and mix briefly. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time, and mix the batter until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan, and then crumble the streusel topping evenly over the batter. Press the topping gently into the batter with your fingers (not much! just so it sticks nicely).
Bake for 50-55 minutes (I took it out at 50 because, to be honest, I almost always prefer baked goods on the more moist, less baked side). Let it cool and then eat!