Coffee cake is one of life’s little pleasures. Simple, humble, sweet but not overly cloying, it manages to be hearty and delicate at the same time. With just a handful of ingredients it comes together in minutes and requires no skill, making it a great beginner recipe for you and the kids to try together.
Coffee cake may be the easiest cake you’ll ever bake, but I’ve never had anyone turn up their nose at it. Perfect with a hot cup of the eponymous beverage in the morning, or with afternoon tea or as a midnight snack snuck out of the fridge, it is the perfect little cake for all seasons. Of course there are many recipes for coffee cake; since the basic ingredients are straightforward you can doll it up however you like. Lemon and ginger, blueberry, cherry, apples spiced with cardamom, pecans, blueberry almond…it’s all good. But don’t think you have to get all inventive here. Like I said, the beauty of the classic coffee cake is its simplicity, no need to gild the lilly.
Some recipes call for yeast to be used as the leavening agent, which will result in a bread-like crumb. Most versions rely on baking powder or soda, which give it a more cake like texture. While you can bake it in a bundt or angel food cake pan, I prefer a plain square cake pan, which gives you good old -fashioned square pieces that have the advantage of fitting nicely into a lunchbox. And when it comes to icing, less is more. A simple crumble topping of cinnamon and brown sugar is hard to beat.
Perhaps the most important ingredient of a good coffee cake is sour cream. Not only does it add richness and flavor, and makes the cake soft and moist; sour cream does to coffee cake what buttermilk does to biscuits:
“Buttermilk is made by culturing low or non-fat milk, sour cream is made by culturing cream. The cultures are what we are after, they act as emulsifiers, making your cake come together more perfectly and adds to tenderness. Depending on what you are using it also adds flavor depending in the strain of cultures used in the fermentation process. Buttermilk has almost no fat. Sour cream has a lot of fat.
Sour cream is produced from light cream. The starter cultures contains Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, which is the same as buttermilk (only buttermilk is made from low fat milk). But, sour cream also has Streptococcus and Lactobacillus (which buttermilk does not have), which makes it coagulate and naturally lowers the pH..”-from cakecentral.com
Years ago my husband used to coach rowing at a private school in Vancouver, and he still waxes fondly about coming into the school cafeteria every day from a cold and wet early morning practice; the ladies in the kitchen would be just taking the trays out of the oven, and the whole room was filled with the clamour of starving students and the heavenly aroma of percolating coffee and cake. Luckily he got the recipe.
Old Fashioned Coffee Cake
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ cups flour
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ cup currants (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8×8 pan. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until combined. Mix in sour cream. Sift baking powder and flour together and blend into batter. In a separate bowl mix the brown sugar and cinnamon (and currants, if using) together. Add half the cake batter to the pan. Sprinkle half of the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the batter. Top with the other half of the batter and sprinkle the remaining brown sugar/cinnamon mix over the top. Bake in oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into centre of cake comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and let it cool on a wire rack until room temperature.