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This Coffee Cake Does Not Have Crumbs, Is Still Great

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.
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.

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Maida Heatter's Budapest Coffee Cake

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Makes one giant bundt

For the nut filling:

  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons raisins, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped

For the cake batter and the icing:

  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons hot milk

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