By the 1950s the United States was a nation of habitual coffee drinkers, thanks to post—World War II promotional campaigns by the Pan-American Coffee Bureau and others. These showed Hollywood stars, often in formal dress, enjoying a ritual that was adopted from industrial-era mills: the coffee break. Plain cakes such as pound cakes, marble cakes, and crumb cakes were renamed coffee cakes, and became instant classics of our American baking repertoire. Unadorned except perhaps for a drizzle of icing, a slice of coffee cake is easily eaten out of hand; I learned to love both baking and eating them early on because of their ease of preparation and their simple and straightforward flavors and textures. —Nick Malgieri, author ofBread(Kyle Books, 2012)
FOR THE CRUMB TOPPING 1½ cups flour ¾ cup sugar 1 tsp. ground cinnamon ½ tsp. baking powder ½ tsp. kosher salt 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
FOR THE CAKE 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan 2 cups flour, plus more for pan 1 tbsp. baking powder ½ tsp. kosher salt ¾ cup sugar 1 tsp. vanilla extract 1 egg ⅔ cup milk
1. Make the crumb topping: Whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; add butter, and rub into flour mixture with your fingers until large clumps form. Stir in walnuts, and refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8″ x 8″ baking pan; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl on medium-high speed of a hand mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg; beat until smooth. Alternately add dry ingredients and milk in 3 batches, beginning and ending with dry ingredients; beat until combined. Pour into pan; smooth top. Break topping up into large clumps; sprinkle evenly over batter. Bake until topping is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 40 minutes.