Coffee cake is one of those things. It’s comforting and familiar and perfect for breakfast. This one, made from a recipe from the 1930s, has a dense crumb and an irresistible buttery cinnamon sugar topping.
No, it’s not that impossibly fluffy and almost-dessert-sweet coffee cake from the grocery store. But it doesn’t want to be. It’s a totally different coffee cake — one that stands up to the fork without squishing into oblivion and that can be eaten by hand without crumbling all over. And it’s really great with a hot, steaming cup of coffee.
It is coffee cake after all.
Making this, I wasn’t sure if the vintage sensibilities would make it a winner for us. But it was. Hugely.
I whipped it up for a brunch with friends last weekend where the cake quickly vanished. Seriously, not a trace was left behind. Good sign, right? And it was so good that I baked another just for our family.
Back to the brunch for a second. Though I adore brunch, I don’t have people over (or go out) for it nearly enough. So I was thrilled to have a little one at my house. The brunch menu was simple — bagels and lox with all the fixings, scrambled eggs, berry and pineapple fruit salad and this coffee cake. In the course of conversation, I shared that this was a vintage recipe — something dug out of my great collection of early 20th century cookery books, pamphlets and recipe cards.
This recipe comes from the third edition of All About Home Baking, published in 1936 (the original was published in 1933) by the General Foods Corporation, a now-defunct company whose products (Calumut baking powder, Post cereals, Maxwell House Coffee and General Foods International Coffees, to name a few) live on. I bought this hardcover book off eBay a while back.
My friend asked about my interest in vintage recipes, which really got me thinking about why I have been so into pre-1960s cookery. I made this conscious decision to reclaim lost cooking techniques because I feel like as the reliance on prepared, prepackage and shortcut based cooking has grown, we’ve lost some of the skill and technique that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers used in the kitchen. To them, making a quick coffee cake for breakfast or brunch or whatever was just that. It was simple, uncomplicated and easy.
And when I find a winner — like this coffee cake — I love to share it.
All told, this recipe for Cinnamon Sugar Coffee Cake takes about 30 minutes to make — maybe 40, if you include the cooling time. And most of that time is totally hands off (making the dough for the cake takes maybe 5 minutes). Be warned, instead of a batter this really makes a crumbly dough. Don’t worry if it doesn’t form a ball — you just need all the ingredients to have come together before you press it into a pan with floured hands.
And don’t change a thing about the buttery cinnamon-sugar topping. It’s the best part. (Aren’t topping always the best part?)
You can do this. Dust off that cake pan this weekend and give it a try.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 tbsp butter
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/2 tbsp melted butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-inch cake pan all over the inside with a little butter.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or two knives.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk until light and frothy.
- Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir well until all combined. The dough will be somewhat stiff, but keep stirring until everything is incorporated.
- Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Using floured hands, gently pat it down into one even layer.
- Brush the top of the coffee cake with melted butter. Then, stir together the sugar, flour and cinnamon for the topping. Sprinkle all over the top of the coffee cake.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly. Let cool for five minutes in the pan. Then, gently loosen the sides with a butter knife. Turn out onto a plate and then turn back onto a serving plate.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of four cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to a tween and a teen, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.