How to win friends and influence people
(with baking)

While I can’t be certain it’s true, I like to think that I’m at my best when I’m busy. The economist in me might say that being busy really highlights the scarce nature of time and forces one to become increasingly efficient in order to get everything done. Or maybe that’s just me speaking, period. At any rate, I find that I am often able to accomplish more than usual during periods of extreme activity, seeking out and filling those little moments during the day that I had previously mistaken for leisure.

But this brings me to my real point. Today kick-started what is perhaps my busiest period at work each year. (At least, I’m sensing a trend; it’s only my second go at it.) To mark the event and to start filling my schedule with items that are clearly less pressing (but somehow equally worthy of my attention, in my mind), I decided to bake a Cinna-Nut Coffee Cake to bring to work and share with my colleagues.

I’m pleased to share with you that the old adage that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach has much broader application. In fact, it applies almost equally, without regard for gender, age, class, ethnicity or religion. So, whether you’re the new shmoe in the office or the old shmuck with his/her office door always closed, bringing food – baked goods in particular – to work is your chance to break out.

A few pointers for the novice office baker:

  1. Avoid raisins. There’s no quicker way to ruin a baked good in most people’s minds. Trust me, it’s not worth trying to convince them otherwise.

  2. Check for nut allergies or avoid nuts altogether. No sense jeopardizing lives unnecessarily just so you can increase your office popularity.

  3. Forget low fat. There are no points to be gained for being the person who brings the wholesome, dry cookies. This is not the Work Edition of Weight Watchers.

  4. Be random. If you start bringing food every Monday, or every time there is a birthday in the office, you are going to create expectations (and disappointment when you fail to meet those expectations every time).

Here’s a popular recipe to get you started on the path to winning friends and influencing people (with baking).

Cinna-Nut Coffee Cake
(aka Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake)


2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon


2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place nuts on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until fragrant, flipping them once or twice along the way. Remove from oven and let cool while you mix up the rest of the topping.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Chop nuts coarsely and then add them to the dry mixture. Add the butter. Using a pastry blender or fork, mix until crumbly. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan. (I used a silicone Bundt pan, but still greased and floured it.)

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-low speed until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between. Add the vanilla and mix.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix lightly. Add 1/2 of the sour cream and mix lightly. Repeat until all ingredients are gone. Mix just until the batter is blended and almost smooth. The batter will be fairly thick; more like muffin batter than cake batter.

Scoop half of the batter into the pan and smooth using a spatula. Sprinkle 1/2 of the topping on the batter. Cover with the remaining batter, followed by the rest of the topping.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (The original recipe called for 40-45 minutes, but I found that it took about 55 minutes in my silicone pan.) Transfer to a wire rack to let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out of the pan to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month. (If your office is anything like mine, it will be gone in an hour, two tops.)

Source: Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking, p. 97.