I’ve learned a lot about “atmospheric rivers” in the last couple days, as the rain poured down and our kids’ school flooded, along with so many other homes and roads and businesses. Water is an incredible force of nature, and rivers in the sky are no joke. But when you’re unexpectedly at home with wind and rain beating against the windows, with people you love dealing with flooding and evacuations while your city tells you to stay home and stay safe (man, we’ve heard that a lot in the past couple years, hey?) life is calling for cozy comfort food.
Coffee cake is one of those cozy, simple foods that just always tastes good. I’ve always thought my lemon rhubarb coffee cake was kind of the best coffee cake around, but then this recipe came along. That coffee cake is fantastic, but THIS coffee cake is next level. When I read Deb’s description of this cake in the Smitten Kitchen Every Day cookbook it hit me that it was everything I’d always wanted coffee cake to be, even if I didn’t yet know what I was missing.
The crumb level is decadent and ridiculous, obviously – there’s more butter and sugar in the topping than in the cake itself, as it should be.
And all that topping magically stays exactly where it’s supposed to – on the cake, and then on your fork, and then in your mouth. Not on your carpet, not on your chest, not even left behind on your plate!
To get that incredible crumb layer in a way that none is lost in the cutting or transferring of slices, the cake is actually baked upside down – wads of crumbs in first, cake batter on top, so they jam together into a tight-knit happy crumb-cake family that looks a bit weird and flat when you flip it out of the pan but provides a perfect stage for a shower of icing sugar.
But what really intrigued me was that the base rises due to yeast, not the usual baking soda or baking powder. That unique yeasty flavour pairs perfectly with the tang of the sour cream in the batter, and while the added rise time definitely takes a step away from the usual quick stir-and-dump of most coffee cakes, it’s absolutely worth it.
It cuts into the neatest of squares, and the crunch on top stayed crunchy even after 3 days wrapped on the counter at room temperature. A small square is all you need to pair perfectly with your cup of coffee (or tea or wine, as the case may be), but it can also be dressed up with a dollop of whipped cream and some berries.
Confidently unassuming, and perfectly delicious. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
- ½ cup melted butter
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup milk
- 1½ cups sour cream
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp instant yeast (not regular active dry yeast)
- 2⅔ cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- CRUMB LAYER:
- 1 cup melted butter
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ⅛ cup icing sugar (powdered sugar)
- Combine all cake ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir until fully combined, then stir for another two minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place for 1 hour, until slightly puffy.
- Meanwhile, make the crumb layer: Mix the melted butter, both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add two cups of flour and the baking powder and stir until combined, then add the last cup of flour and stir until it is fully incorporated - it will be thick and stiff! Press the mixture down into the bottom of the bowl and set aside until needed.
- After the cake batter has risen, lightly grease a 9x13" pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Use your hands to sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Press it down lightly and then pour the batter evenly over top. Gently smooth it out with a spatula, cover again with plastic wrap (not letting it touch the batter) and let rise another 30 minutes.
- Toward the end of the 30 minutes, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 42-45 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert onto a cooling rack or serving platter. Dust thoroughly with the icing sugar.
*Adapted from Deb Perelman’s “Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites” (2017)