This Coffee Cake Does Not Have Crumbs, Is Still Great

December 13, 2015

It's okay to not be excited about coffee cake: It usually doesn't give you much to work with.

At its worst, it's sliced, plastic-wrapped, and placed within arm's reach of the checkout line at the rest stop convenient store. Even if it's labeled "World's Best Coffee Cake!," do not fall for it: It will be dry; it will be flavorless. I have been fooled before.

At its best, it's toppling over with crumbs. When I asked Kenzi Wilbur how she felt about coffee cake, her response was: "I'm completely ambivalent. I like the top part?" She, too, is only in it for the crumb topping.

Shop the Story

But one layer cannot an entire cake make.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Leave it to The Queen of Cake herself, Maida Heatter, to give us a giant bundt of a coffee cake that doesn't need to hide behind a crumb layer nor a multi-inch shellac of cream cheese.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Maida Heatter's 62nd Street Lemon Cake is the best thing ever--especially the option she offers with both lemon zest and lime juice. It's divine! Also great for breakfast.”
— Merrilee E.

The cake is dense enough that you can break the slices apart with your fingers (important for: faster eating, fewer utensils, snacking straight from the fridge), and it's tangy and smooth thanks to the 2 cups of sour cream.

Here, the streusel topping typically found on top of coffee cake has migrated inwards, in tiger stripes of brown sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, raisins, and nuts that alleviate any batter boredom. It's less messy, it's less precarious, and it offers a reality show-style BIG REVEAL upon first slice.

There's our hero, second from left. Photo by Bobbi Lin

The cake is drizzled with a simple icing made from confectioners' sugar and hot milk, because even the best-looking bundt benefits from a little decoration (and a touch of added sweetness).

So, before you dismiss coffee cake entirely, serve this one at your holiday breakfast, then enjoy a piece with your afternoon coffee and later, with your post-dinner nightcap.

It'll have you rethinking whether you really need that crumb layer after all.

What's the next Maida Heatter dessert I should try? Tell me in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mick
  • Kate Graham
    Kate Graham
  • Rachel Lyman
    Rachel Lyman
  • Catherine
  • Christopher Bromsey
    Christopher Bromsey
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


mick January 2, 2016
We had this cake on New Year's Day for breakfast with whipped cream on top.
This cake isn't just tasty, it also looks good when it is sliced.
Thank you for the nice recipe!
Kate G. December 24, 2015
Making this for Christmas breakfast -- modified to toasted pecans and rum soaked apricots.
Best Maida Heatter recipe is definitely the whiskey soaked chocolate bundt cake!
Rachel L. December 22, 2015
any way you can do this in rectangular 9x13 pan? I don't have a bundt pan
Catherine December 20, 2015
I adore coffee cakes and have several that I make regularly. My favorite is a buttermilk peanut butter and jelly cake with peanut butter streusel topping that I've adapted to various nut butter and fruit combos. This one looks delicious, but I'd never turn down anything with streusel, inside or on top. :)
Christopher B. December 13, 2015
I've been making this for years, since Maida's Best Dessert Book Ever came out in 1990. She calls it Hungarian Coffee Cake. It's one of the best!
naj December 13, 2015
Maida Heather's Triple Threat Cheesecake is my family's absolute favorite dessert. At daughter's 25th birthday, it was part of breakfast (and dessert)! Thx for the Coffee Cake recipe!
Sarah J. December 13, 2015
Oh! What is the triple of the triple threat?
naj December 13, 2015
I found it in Maida's "All American Desserts". The recipe calls for three types of chocolate: unsweet, semi-sweet and cocoa melded together with butter, cream and sugar to make a thick sauce that is drizzled in layers between the cheesecake batter. It's gorgeous and takes a bit of time, but freezes well and stays good in the fridge for quite a while. Also wonderful is the Devils Food Chocolate Sauce, last page. Many yummy recipes in that book with quite a few cake recipes. Pages are falling out of mine...lots of use.
Sarah J. December 14, 2015
That's the sign of a great book!
Merrilee E. December 13, 2015
Maida Heatter's 62nd Street Lemon Cake is the best thing ever--especially the option she offers with both lemon zest and lime juice. It's divine! Also great for breakfast.
Sarah J. December 13, 2015
Thanks for the tip! I think this one's it: Maybe that'll be a project for next weekend.
Merrilee E. December 13, 2015
That's the one! Sorry, I left out the "East." You can tell that I've not been in NYC for a while!
amysarah December 13, 2015
"This Coffee Cake Does Not Have a Crumbs, Is Still Great"...shouldn't that headline read: "...Does Not Have Crumbs, Is Still..." or possibly "...Does Not Have the Crumbs, Is Still..."? " Unless that syntax ("a Crumbs") is newfangled lingo that goes right over my head - which is entirely possible.
Sarah J. December 13, 2015
Not new lingo, just a small error! Thanks for catching. :)