With all due respect, when it comes to coffee cake, nobody’s in it for the actual cake—it’s all about the crumbly, buttery cinnamon streusel on top. So why not maximize the streusel-to-cake ratio? I’m talking equal parts crumb and cake.
Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen learned a smart hack from Gina’s Pastry Shop in New Jersey, the bakery she worked at in high school, that allows you to double or even triple the usual amount of streusel topping. All it takes is thinking in reverse. Crumble the mixture of brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon at the bottom of a pan, spread the cake batter over it, bake, and then flip the whole thing over—revealing a perfectly smooth, golden crown of cinnamony streusel.
- Generously butter a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet, and line the bottom with a round of parchment. Preheat your oven to 350ºF with a rack in the center.
- Make the streusel: melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. While it melts, thoroughly combine the dry ingredients in a bowl with your hands, breaking up any big clumps of brown sugar that you find. When the butter has melted, move the saucepan to a heatproof table or countertop before adding the dry ingredients. (This step can get messy; trust me when I say you don't want to clean streusel off your range.) Carefully stir until all of the flour has been absorbed, then press the streusel into the bottom of the saucepan with your knuckles or the back of a spoon to form a dense, compact layer. Set aside while you make the batter.
Make the batter: Sift the dry ingredients directly into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix with your hands until homogeneous. (If you're using a hand mixer, sift them into a large mixing bowl instead.) Add the butter and mix on low speed for two to three minutes, until it's totally incorporated into the dry ingredients. When the mixture looks like moistened cornmeal and forms small clumps at the edge of the bowl, it's done.
This order of operations feels wrong, but it's so right. Creaming the butter and the dry ingredients-or "reverse creaming"-coats the starches with fat so they combine with the wet ingredients evenly and quickly. There's no need to beat in eggs one by one or gradually add flour; you just cream, add the liquids, and go.
- Whisk the eggs, yogurt, mayonnaise, and vanilla extract in a bowl or measuring cup until homogeneous, then pour half of the mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed to incorporate, add the rest of the wet ingredients, and mix again, scraping the sides of the bowl if needed to keep everything together.
- When the wet and dry ingredients are thoroughly combined and the batter looks smooth, increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for two to three minutes, until the batter is pale, fluffy, and very thick. This step works in plenty of air and develops just enough gluten to give the cake some structure.
- To assemble the cake, use a butter knife to very gently break up the compacted streusel into roughly 1-inch chunks. Sprinkle them evenly over the bottom of your prepared skillet and fill in the gaps with whatever crumbs are left over. Dollop about a third of the batter over the crumbs and spread all the way to the edges of the pan with an offset spatula or spoon. Don't worry if some crumbs make their way into this layer of batter. If using, drop the jam over the batter in spoonfuls, leaving at least an inch of space between the jam and the sides of the skillet-any escaped jam will fuse to the skillet during baking, which makes it tough to get the cake out in one piece.
- Use a fork, toothpick, or thin-bladed knife to swirl the jam around the center of the cake-again, avoiding the edges of the skillet-then scoop the rest of the batter over the top and smooth it out.
- Bake the cake for an hour, then test for doneness. If it's still wobbly and wet in the middle, bake in 10-minute increments until the center of the cake is firm and springy and a toothpick or tester comes out clean. It's possible that the top will brown before the cake cooks through; if this happens, lay a sheet of foil on top of the cake to prevent it from burning.
- Cool the cake in the skillet on a rack completely, then place a large plate over the surface of the cake and invert so the streusel is on top. Dust with powdered sugar if you like, and serve with coffee or tea.
A.A. Newton is a Philadelphia-based writer, photographer, and recipe developer.