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There's a reason why coffee cake was given its name. Although it's good any time of day with its usual cinnamony topping, it's particularly good first thing in the morning with your coffee.

Traditional cakes — those topped with sugary buttercream frosting or an icing made of cream cheese — might be a little too sweet hitting your tastebuds after a good night's sleep. Coffee cake's slight reduction of sugar pairs so well with a hot cup of coffee, it's hard to stop with just one piece. That's why coffee cake made in a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish is so much better. There's plenty to go around, enough that, chances are, there will be a second piece waiting for you.

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Anne Braly

My family has a reunion every year — a weekend filled with lots of laughter and lots of food. And the way we organize it is to let one branch of the family be in charge for one meal. For my limb of the family tree — that would be me, my children, my sister and her children — it's breakfast for about 25 people. At our most-recent reunion, I made half a dozen quiches, three loaves of banana bread and a huge coffee cake. Guess which dish was the first to go? I had several requests for the coffee cake recipe, but since I'd found a recipe and then tweaked it, I couldn't come up with the exact amounts of every ingredient until I got home and made it again, carefully measuring the ingredients as I went along.

It's hard to describe the deliciousness of this coffee cake. It's moist, crunchy — absolutely spectacular. As the cake bakes, the batter rises and wraps around the topping — and there's lots of it — as it melts down into the cake. The result is a cake that will put an early-morning smile on your face. And I'm sure that you, too, will have people asking you for the recipe.

The only thing I don't like about this recipe is that it calls for using egg whites but not the egg yolks. I hate waste, so I simply saved them to make a Key lime pie.

A word of advice: Keep your eye on the cake in the oven as the minutes count down. You don't want the edges to get too dark. Bake just until the cake batter doesn't jiggle too much. Let it cool a little before cutting, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Coffee Cake

3 cups flour, sifted

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 egg whites, beaten till stiff

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened

2 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups half-and-half (or a mixture of heavy cream and half-and-half or evaporated milk)

1/2-3/4 cup sour cream

Topping:

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened

3/4 cup flour

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 1/2 cups pecans or walnuts (or a mixture of both), chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat egg whites, and set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add flour mixture and half-and-half alternately until combined. Mix in sour cream. Don't overbeat. Fold in beaten egg whites with a rubber spatula. Spread in a well-greased 9- by 13-inch baking pan.w

In a separate bowl, combine topping ingredients with a pastry cutter until crumbly. Sprinkle all over the top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until no longer jiggly.

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Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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