A couple of days ago I finished reading Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. It was a book club selection, picked after we’d read a series of rather heavy and extraordinary books – When A Crocodile Eats the Sun, Infidel, and What Is the What. Nothing like putting an end to our wrenching and wild Africa streak with a journey down into the Valley, where the three heroines get tossedtormentedtackledtwisted on the seas of life. I was expecting a quick, beachy read. I wasn’t expecting a depressing read. Valley of the Dolls was both.
Life wasn’t easy for women in 1950s America. At least, it wasn’t easy in the Valley. There they were expected to be perfect – talented, glamorous and sexy, all the time. And they never ate. Seriously, the heroines in the Valley seemed to be starving all the time. They sipped champagne, chain-smoked cigarettes, popped dozens of “dolls”, sometimes guzzled whiskey, but they barely ate a thing.
She took another long swallow of her drink. She wasn’t sleepy. She was just getting drunk. And hungry. God, she was starving! She wished she hadn’t sent that tray down. There was caviar in the refrigerator. No…she mustn’t. Damn Ted for teaching her to like it! But the costumes were tight as it was. The booze was doing it. Geez, she never ate a thing, and now, if she ate on top of all the booze…
Last weekend, Whit and I made coffee cake for breakfast. It was just the kind of thing I envisioned a 1950s housewife would whip up on Sunday morning. (She slips her manicured hand into an oven mit, opens the oven door, and a warmcinnamonsugar scent envelops the room. “Darling, breakfast is ready!”) And just the thing that a heroine from the Valley, on her desperate quest for fame and fortune, was missing out on. If only she could have tasted a warm slice of this coffee cake! I’m convinced she would have abandoned the glitter and gutter of show business all together.
It’s such a lovely concept – a cake for breakfast and coffee’s perfect mate. We adapted the recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties! cookbook. Ina calls it Sour Cream Coffee Cake, but we swapped the sour cream for lowfat plain yogurt, which lends to a lighter crumb. It’s topped with a cinnamonsugar streusel and drizzled with a maple sugar glaze. Good enough to make any Doll put down her glass of champagne and put out her cigarette, devour a warm slice and shout, “It’s simply divine, darling! May I have another?”
Valley of the Dolls Coffee Cake
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups plain yogurt (not nonfat)
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the streusel:
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, optional
For the glaze:
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. (We didn’t have tube pan, so we used a 10-inch springform pan.)
Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and yogurt. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.
For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the walnuts, if desired.
Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.
Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. (Caution: Waiting is the hardest part.) Carefully transfer the cake, streusel side up, onto a serving plate. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon.