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Christmas morning cup of coffee calls for crumb cake

I wish I was the kind of mom who had homemade cinnamon rolls ready to pop into the oven on Christmas morning.

But I’m the kind of mom who can barely muster the enthusiasm to bake a half-batch of holiday cookies that don’t need decorating. Forget futzing around with yeast dough that needs rising and rolling.

Sweets just aren’t my thing, except where breakfast is concerned. I definitely crave a touch of sweetness to counter the bitterness of my all-too-essential morning coffee. On Christmas morning, in particular.

That’s likely why someone invented coffeecake. I’ve never been too keen, however, on the plain, rather dry crumb and overly sugared streusel topping of my mom’s classic recipe. I’m fairly certain she’s made it all these decades with Bisquick to Betty Crocker’s specifications. But who I am to judge?

I’m someone who usually eats such a small slice of cake that I want my efforts in making it to be equally minimal. But I’m encouraged by this recipe from the Los Angeles Times and recipe developer Ben Mims’ assertion that it only gets better days after baking.

If I’m not baking during the 24-hour countdown to Christmas, I feel fairly confident about pulling it off. And if I’m not manning the oven on Christmas, there’s more time for enjoying my coffee.

A springform pan is best, says Mims, because you can remove the sides and slide the cake out without disturbing the crumbs on top. If you have only a plain cake pan, though, that will work too; just make sure it's at least 3 inches tall on the sides so the crumbs and batter don't spill while baking.

Brown Butter-Cinnamon Crumb Cake

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing

2 tablespoons high-quality ground cinnamon

4 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for pan

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/3 cup sour cream

1 cup whole milk

Powdered sugar, for garnish (optional)

Make the crumb topping: Put 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter in a medium skillet and place over medium-high heat. Once butter melts, continue cooking, whisking occasionally, until butter foams and then starts to smell nutty, for 3 to 5 minutes. As soon as you see light brown flecks on bottom of skillet (these are milk solids caramelizing), remove pan from heat and use a heatproof rubber spatula to scrape butter and all browned bits on bottom of pan into a medium bowl. Whisk in the cinnamon until smooth, then place bowl in freezer for 10 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times while it chills, to cool butter until no longer warm.

Remove butter from freezer and add 2 cups of the flour, followed by the brown sugar, 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons the salt. Using your hands, mix and knead mixture until it forms a clumpy dough. Transfer bowl to freezer and keep crumble topping cold while you prep cake batter.

Heat oven to 325 F. Grease a 9-inch round springform pan with some butter and line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Grease paper, then coat inside with flour, tapping out excess. Place pan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 2 cups flour, the baking powder, baking soda and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. In a large bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, remaining 1 cup granulated sugar and the vanilla; beat with a wooden spoon or a hand mixer until creamy and fluffy, for about 1 minute. Add 1 egg, beat until it absorbs into batter, then add second egg and beat until smooth. Beat in the sour cream.

Add one-third of dry ingredients followed by half of the milk to batter, then stir with a whisk until almost combined. Add half of remaining dry ingredients followed by remaining milk, then stir again until almost combined. Add remaining dry ingredients, then stir with a rubber spatula until batter just comes together and there are no patches of flour visible.

Scrape batter into prepared baking pan and smooth top. Using your fingers, break up chilled topping into crumbles — some the size of whole walnuts and some the size of peas — as you sprinkle it evenly over batter. Try not to pile all the crumbs in center but evenly cover surface so batter doesn't get squeezed out.

Place pan in preheated oven and bake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, for about 1 hour and 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer cake to a wire rack and let cool completely before unmolding. Dust top with the powdered sugar, if you like, and cut into wedges to serve.

Tribune News Service photo