A couple of months ago, I raided my mom’s recipe box looking for a couple of family recipes, and I stumbled upon an old Los Angeles Times clipping from the Culinary SOS column. Someone had written-in asking for the coffeecake recipe that was served in the Los Angeles junior and senior high school cafeterias since 1959. That grabbed my attention. I was a city school student in suburban Los Angeles in the 70’s and 80’s, and I searched my memory to see if I could remember such a coffeecake. I did have a vague recollection of some sort of coffeecake, but I needed to taste it to see if that would trigger my memory.
The cake was really yummy and easy to make, but it didn’t make me remember anything specifically. There was a familiarity about it. But with the amount of time that has passed since junior high and high school, I’m sure my memory and taste buds have been skewed by the numerous variations of sour cream coffee cakes that I have either made or tried. My memories about boys I had a crush on, or how my class made our cooking teacher cry are more prevalent than the coffee cake. My priorities were different back then.
Speaking of priorities, photographing every step of this recipe wasn’t a priority as you may have noticed. I figured that since we’re friends, I didn’t need to show you every step in a basic coffee cake recipe such as this. I hope you don’t mind. Drop me a comment if you do.
One thing worth mentioning is that even though we had fully-functioning cafeterias with cooks on site back in the day, this coffee cake would have been a highlight even then. Aside from the occasional pizza or hotdog day, public school cafeteria food wasn’t so great back then either. Neither were the bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread and Twinkies that I washed down with a good drink from the garden hose!
1959 City School Sour Cream Coffeecake
As good as this coffeecake is the day it is made, I think it is even better the next day when the cake has rested a bit.
1-1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream
All ingredients should be at room temperature. In a bowl, mix together flours, soda and baking powder. Set aside
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add half of the dry ingredients mixing just until blended (read: don’t over mix). Blend in sour cream, then add remaining dry ingredients. Blend just until incorporated.
Gently spread fluffy batter into a well greased 9×13″ pan. Sprinkle with topping and bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees F. Check cake with a toothpick. It should be clean.
Alternatively, you can make this cake in a well-greased 10-inch tube pan. Gently spread half of the batter into the pan. Sprinkle with half of the topping and spread with remaining batter. Sprinkle with remaining topping. Suggested baking time for this pan is 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees (unconfirmed). The recipe claims to serve 8 with this type of pan, which seems like a large portion of cake per serving.
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup cold butter (half a stick)*
In a medium sized bowl, mix together flour, sugar, salt and nuts. Add butter in small pieces all at once (scatter the pieces over the dry mixture to keep them from sticking together). Then go in with your hands, the best tools for this process. Mix, rubbing the pieces of butter between your fingers, just until the mixture becomes crumbly. Don’t over mix.
* Update – I changed this from room temperature butter to cold butter. Room temperature butter shouldn’t be so soft or leave an oily mark on the counter. It should still be able to hold its shape and will leave an indentation when pressed. Using cold butter will allow your topping to be more crumbly and it won’t melt into your cake. You may have to work the butter a little more initially, but it will bring you better results in the end.