Coffee cake is the best accompaniment to a cup of strong coffee, but its reputation takes hits from the heavy, leaden, cellophane-wrapped specimens at the supermarket or, conversely, the homemade yeasted cakes that require you get up at dawn to prepare them by brunch time.
Our crumb coffee cake, on the other hand, is quick to prepare and doesn’t require a mixer or food processor. In fact, mixing by hand actually avoids one of the biggest risks: overmixing. Mixing the batter too aggressively or for too long encourages gluten development. Gluten is what accounts for structure in baked goods, so, as the basic baking rule goes: The more gluten that develops, the tougher the cake’s texture. And as anyone who’s eaten one knows, a dense, heavy coffee cake isn’t worth getting out of bed for.
STEP #1. Use your fingers: Combine the streusel ingredients by hand until they have the consistency of wet sand. No need to drag out a mixer or food processor here— using your fingers does the job quickly and actually produces a topping with bigger and crunchier crumbs, which is nice on this cake.
STEP #2. Use a large bowl: Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl until combined. You are going to assemble the cake batter for both coffee cakes right in the bowl, so you will need a plenty of room.
STEP #3. Fold gently: Whisk the wet ingredients together, then using a rubber spatula, gently fold them into the flour mixture until just combined. Don’t overmix the batter, or the cakes will turn out tough and dense.
STEP #4. Divide the batter evenly: Divide the batter evenly: Using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter evenly into two greased 9-inch cake pans. Don’t try to substitute one large cake pan for the two smaller pans because the cake will bake very unevenly.
STEP #5 Sprinkle with streusel: The batter is pretty thick, so make sure to smooth the top of the cakes to prevent them from looking bumpy. Then, sprinkle the streusel evenly over the top of the smoothed cakes.
STEP #6. Use a toothpick to test doneness: Bake the cakes in a 350-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. To test for doneness, stick a toothpick into the center of each cake—it should come out with just a few crumbs attached. If the toothpick comes out clean, your cake is overbaked and will be dry and crumbly.