Super Crumb Coffee Cake

When I set out to create my ideal sour cream coffee cake recipe, I was not surprised when I found the base of it in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. The batter is thick, rich, and sweet just as it should be. The sour cream lends an unmistakable flavour to the cake, and using the reverse creaming method consistently results in a moist crumb. For the crumble I turned to my own recipe with a higher yield, and because it adds body I bake the cake in a large tube pan with a center that acts as a heating core. Many types of fruits and berries would be delicious thinly layered in the middle, but ones that I have had success with in the past include fresh cherries, blueberries, apples, and stone fruit.

Tips for success:

1. Ensure that the sour cream, eggs, and butter are all at room temperature so that the batter does not curdle.
2. Check that the cake is finished by pushing a little crumble aside with your finger tip and tapping the top of the cake very lightly. If the cake springs back and your finger does not leave a dimple, it indicates that it is fully baked.
3. Pat the fruit dry after washing and arrange it in a thin and even layer. Too much fruit will produce excess moisture and prevent the cake from rising properly.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
with Fruit

Crumble Recipe

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (188g)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (4 oz)

Method

Melt the butter and let it cool slightly.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt and whisk to combine.

Drizzle the butter over the dry ingredients and quickly toss with a fork to form large and small clumps, until no dry spots remain.

Dump the crumble onto a small baking tray, and use your fingers to squeeze together any sandy crumbs.

Place in the freezer for a minimum of 20 minutes.

Cake Batter Recipe

Adapted from “Sour Cream Coffee Cake”, from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible

2 cups cake and pastry flour (200g)
1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
2/3 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature (160g)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 oz), room temperature (65°-68° F)
1 1/2 small nectarines, or 1 large, sliced 1/4 inch thick
or fruit of choice

Method

Make the crumb topping. Let it chill in the freezer while you prepare the cake batter.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 9 inch tube pan with a removable bottom.

Remove the butter from the fridge and cut it into 3/4 inch thick cubes. Allow the butter to warm to room temperature, between 65° and 68° F, while you prepare the other ingredients. If you do not have a digital candy thermometer, use your finger to test the temperature by pushing firmly on a cube of butter. When the butter is ready it will be pliable but still cool to the touch, and your finger will make a smooth indent with no cracks. If the butter is too warm it will feel very soft and offer no resistance to pressure, and it must be returned to the fridge.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and whisk to combine. Transfer the ingredients to the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, 1/4 of the sour cream, and the vanilla extract.

When the butter is the correct constancy, add it to the bowl with the dry ingredients. Add the remaining sour cream. Mix on the lowest speed for 30-60 seconds until the ingredients are completely moistened. Increase the speed to medium (speed 3 on Kitchen Aid) for 90 seconds. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the egg mixture in 3 parts, beating for 20 seconds on medium speed and scraping the bowl between additions. In the final 20 seconds of beating, increase to speed to 4 to ensure that the cake is fully aerated as most of its rise comes from the air that is incorporated during this process.

Using a large spoon, distribute 2/3 of the batter in the tube pan and spread it evenly with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle one half of the crumble over the cake batter, and arrange the nectarine slices atop the crumbs so that they are touching but not overlapping. Use the spoon to dollop the remaining batter over the fruit, and carefully spread as even as possible. Top with the remaining crumble.

Place the cake pan in the preheated oven, directly on the middle rack to allow for air circulation. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the centre springs back when lightly touched. Cover with a foil tent after 45 minutes to prevent overbrowning. Let the cake cool completely in the pan before removing and serving.

The cake will keep for up to 4 days well wrapped and covered, and actually improves in flavour and texture by the second day.

Mastering the Basics: Let’s Get Ready to Crumble

Humble crumble, one of the baker’s quickest and most versatile toppings for many different kinds of muffins, cakes, and pies. Yet like anything else in the baking world, sometimes the simplest steps can go disappointingly awry. A buttery crumb topping can easily melt into a cake when it hits the heat of an oven, and instead of a crunchy top layer the result is a compromised or soggy texture in the final product. The solution is to freeze the crumble, and use it right from the freezer, so that the crumbs have time to bake and form structure before the butter melts. It is the same concept that helps sugar cookies and pie crusts hold their shape during baking: freeze that butter.

Basic crumble is a simple combination of flour, sugar, salt, and butter. To keep it interesting, spices may be added, most often cinnamon because of its versatility, as well as ground nuts or oats.

There are various means of incorporating the butter into the flour/sugar blend when making crumble. Some methods include working in cold cubed butter, stirring in melted butter, and even creaming the butter and sugar together first before adding a measure of flour. In our experience, the quickest and crunchiest crumb results from melted butter and the help of a freezer. Plus, you have the choice of browning the butter beforehand for additional flavour and bonus chef points.

Follow this recipe for perfect, crunchy crumble every time.

Baker’s Note: If you decide use brown butter you will need to begin with at least 5 ½ ounces, as the butter will reduce by roughly 25% during the browning process. Measure out 1/2 cup of the liquid brown butter and continue with the recipe as directed.

1 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour (188g)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
4 oz unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Whisk together the flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Use your fingers to break up any large chunks of brown sugar.
  2. Melt the butter, whisk in the vanilla extract and let cool slightly.
  3. Stir the butter into the flour mixture one tablespoon at a time to disperse evenly. Pour the butter over dry spots in the bowl and use a fork to toss, until all the liquid is absorbed and you have a nice blend of large and small clumps.
  4. Spread out on a large tray to avoid clumping, and freeze for at least 30 minutes. Spoon the frozen crumble into a large plastic freezer bag and store until ready to use.

This recipe makes enough topping to easily cover a dozen muffins or a large pie, with some left over for another use. We scattered the crumble atop a giant butternut squash coffee cake, which was fudgy, flavourful, and almost ready to be unveiled.