Do you have a Coffee Cake habit?

Posted on March 13, 2012


Do you drink coffee every morning at 7am on the dot? Is it worse that I eat a slice coffee cake with as much regularity…perhaps even more often than I drink a cup of coffee?

In the past few weeks, I have been hearing a lot about the new book The Power of Habit, written by New York Times investigative reported Charles Duhigg, which focuses on habit formation and transformation.

My coffee cake habit played out happily in the week following my first experience using a tube pan (in practice for an upcoming Angel food cake occasion!).

That coffee cake gave me such a good reason to get out of bed. I would wake up, send my husband (whose morning habit tends to be to not eat coffee cake or any kind of breakfast whatsoever for that matter) out the door, and without anyone left in the kitchen to judge me, I would slice into the crunchy almond sugar coating on that coffee cake straight away. Sometimes I would brew a pot of coffee for my breakfast’s namesake, but really, all I needed was cake for breakfast to help the sun rise and get my day started.

Cake for breakfast! Perhaps this is a bad habit…

The foundation of Duhigg’s exploration of habit formation is largely behavioral. He sets out with an explanation of the “trigger, behavior, reward” habit loop; a trigger cues the automatic start of a learned behavior through which you achieve some kind of reward.

Habits are a way of reducing the amount of work that your brain needs to do. Learning a habit means that you don’t have to think so hard just to get simple tasks done, and you don’t have to relearn how to do something every time you set out to do it. In this way, some habits are good.

For those that are bad, however, Duhigg suggests focusing on understanding your habit loops in order to change them. What is your cue, your behavior, your reward? Maybe you can eliminate the cue, or replace the bad behavior with a good one, or perhaps find a new reward.

However, as noted by psychologist Dr. Timothy Wilson in his response to Duhigg’s work, it’s helpful to remember not all habits can be explained simply from the behavioral perspective. Some habits are governed by social norms, others are affected by your perception of yourself and of others’ expectations of you, and still others, such as an addiction, are too severe to be simply unlearned.

So if you are thinking about your eating habits, what do you think can be changed about them? I have talked a lot about making some drastic changes to the ingredients I will allow in my body, the way I seasonally source my food, and the quality of the produce I buy.

But what about every day little changes? What about tackling everyday bad eating habits? Some of the habits I am thinking about are eating late, having seconds even if I’m not hungry, mindless emotional eating, and eating out boredom.

In order to examine these habits, I have kept a food diary for the past week. I recorded what and how much I ate, and at what time of day. I think this will help me to target some simple eating habits that I might be able to get set on a new loop. We’ll see how I do in another week!

And so what about the case of cake for breakfast? Well, I can at least say that the habit disappeared when the cake did.

I followed a recipe from my favorite go-to cookbook for this coffee cake. The original recipe uses one 16 ounce container of sour cream, however, I was out at the time of baking, so I substituted 3/4 cup vanilla yogurt and 1 1/4 cup milk. The cake is moist, the cinnamon nut layer perfectly crunchy!

At first, I thought the batter didn’t seem like enough. I got in three, what I thought were thin layers, but then the cake rose up beautifully in the tube pan. I think next time I might add some chopped dates to the cinnamon nut filling to help that filling go further!

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake
adapted from The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook

For the filling:
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cups almonds, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cake:
1 3/4 cups white sugar
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup yogurt
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 to 10 inch tube pan with removable bottom.

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, almonds, and cinnamon. In a separate medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another small bowl, combine yogurt and milk.

In a large bowl, beat butter and white sugar until light. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Then, alternately add flour mixture and yogurt mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, until batter is smooth.

Spoon 1/3 of batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle about 1/3 nut mixture evenly over batter, then top with 1/3 more batter. Sprinkly about another 1/3 of the nut mixture, then the remaining 1/3 of batter, and cover the top of the cake with the remaining 1/3 nut mixture.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack about 10 minutes. Use a thin spatula to separate cake from sides and center tube.

Lift tube to separate cake from pan side.

Invert cake onto a plate, then slide spatula under cake to separate from bottom of pan.

Turn cake, with nut mixture side up, onto a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 16 servings.