A few years ago, my Honey Girl and I had a conversation about the sad state of coffee cake. Coffee cake, we mused, is one of those things that we order and bake with high hopes, but it always seems to be a disappointment. It is either too sweet or too plain and often dry. And the topping is so frequently sandy and, strangely, either salty or tasteless. We set a mission for ourselves to find a truly spectacular coffee cake. We ate every coffee cake we could get our greedy hands on around the Twin Cities—alas, no winners—and we baked about 18 mediocre cakes at home. Then we found this recipe. It is the best coffee cake we have ever had, and we’ll never stray from it. It is everything coffee cake should be: simple, homey, and simply delicious. It is moist, has a lovely crumb, is sweet but not overpowering, can be whipped up by hand in a single bowl, and has a perfect crumb topping, too. It’s the coffee cake of our dreams.
Coffee Cake Tips
When measuring flour, “spooned in and leveled” simply means that you run a fork through your container of flour to lighten the flour, then scoop spoonfuls of flour into your measuring cup until it is more than full, and run the flat blade of a knife across the top to create a level cupful. If you scoop the flour directly into the cup when this method of measuring is called for, you will add too much flour to the recipe and it will be dry, tough, or both.
When you add the butter to the dry ingredients, just keep pinching them together with your thumb and fingertips. Move your hands throughout the bowl until the mixture is evenly mixed and resembles small crumbs.
Scant means just a little less than. Tepid means lukewarm.
Ms. Walter’s directions for removing the cake from the pan are excellent, but we prefer to just pop off the outer rim of the springform pan and use a wide spatula to lift the cake from its base onto a serving plate.
Carole Walter’s Butter Crumb Coffee Cake
From Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Bun, Muffins, and More by Carole Walter
Yield: one 10-inch coffee cake
1 recipe Carole’s favorite streusel
2 c. sifted all purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
¾ c. granulated sugar
1 T. baking powder
½ t. salt
½ c. unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, at room temperature
1 large egg
2/3 c. milk
1 t. pure vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Prepare a large recipe of Carole’s favorite streusel. Set aside.
- Position the rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom with baking parchment, and then butter the parchment. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and work with your fingertips until fine crumbs are formed.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the liquid. Using a wooden spoon, gradually push the crumbs into the liquid, beginning with the crumbs in the center of the bowl and gradually working toward the edge of the bowl. Beat for about 1 minute, or until the batter is smooth. (Note: the batter will be thick.)
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the back of a large soupspoon or an offset spatula. Take a handful of the streusel crumbs and squeeze gently to form a large clump. Then break the clump apart, and sprinkle the crumbs onto the batter. Repeat until all of the streusel mixture has been used. Lightly press the streusel onto the batter.
- Set the pan on a 12-inch strip of aluminum foil and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let stand on a cooling rack for 20 to 25 minutes, then remove the outer ring. Place a 12-inch piece of aluminum foil directly on the top of the cake, cupping it around the side to hold the topping in place. Cover with a cooling rack, invert the cake, and carefully lift off the bottom of the pan and peel off the parchment paper. Cover with another rack, invert again, remove the aluminum foil, and cool right side up. Just before serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Storage: Store under a glass cake dome or tightly covered with aluminum foil for up to 5 days. This cake may be frozen.
Carole’s Favorite Streusel
2/3 c. (10 2/3 T.) unsalted butter
1 ½ c. all purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
¾ c. sugar
¾ t. ground cinnamon
½ t. baking powder
scant ½ t. salt
¼ c. finely chopped walnuts (optional) (We omit this ingredient.)
- Place the butter in a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat until almost melted; remove from the heat and cool to tepid.
- Whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and nuts if using. Add to the butter and stir with a fork until blended and mixture begins to form crumbs. Gently squeeze the mixture with your hand to form larger clumps, then break them apart with your fingertips. Before using, let the streusel stand for 10 to 15 minutes.