School lunches these days aren’t typically anything to write home about, although there are plenty of chefs, parents, students and other activists out there trying to change school lunches to be healthier, fresher and tastier. But school lunches weren’t always something to dread. In fact, they used to be downright tasty – even in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the biggest school district in California and the second largest in the country. I can’t say that I remember them being particularly good back when I was a student, but judging from this Sour Cream Coffee Cake that was served in Los Angeles schools back in 1959, I am positive that it was at some point in time.
This coffee cake is excellent. A great balance of moist vanilla cake and sweet brown sugar and walnut filling. The recipe is easy to make, beautiful to serve and more than satisfying to eat – and it probably goes just as well with a carton of milk as it does with my coffee. The cake is baked in a tube pan, and gets a layer of filling in between layers of cake, as well as a generous portion of the filling mixture on top. The recipe has been published a couple of times, and this version was printed in the LA Times several years back along with several other classic LAUSD recipes.
The cake uses a blend of cake flour and all purpose flour, to give it a light and soft texture. I definitely recommend using the two types of flour (if you have pastry flour, you can substitute that for both flours) or use less all purpose flour to substitute for cake flour (see this post for details). The filling doesn’t have any spices added to it, so it gives you a excellent butter and brown sugar flavor in the finished cake. You can, however, spice it up by adding cinnamon or any other spice you like to the filling mixture. The filling also includes a fair amount of walnuts, which have a rich, buttery texture that works well in the coffee cake. Pecans would make a good alternative if you want something besides walnuts.
LAUSD Sour Cream Coffee Cake
(a.k.a. LA Schools Sour Cream Coffee Cake; from LAUSD Food Service, 1959)
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream (low fat is fine)
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 10-inch round tube pan.
Prepare the topping: In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar and salt. Cut butter into small chunks and rub into sugar mixture with your fingertips, making sure no pieces larger than a pea remain. Mixture should be crumbly, with some small pieces of butter visible.
Stir in nuts. Set aside.
Prepare the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. With the mixer on low, blend in half of the flour mixture, followed by the sour cream. Blend in remaining flour mixture, stirring only until the batter just comes together and no streaks of dry ingredients remain.
Pour half of batter into prepared pan and spread, with a spatula, into a even layer. Sprinkle evenly with half of the topping mixture.
Drop remaining batter into the pan in dollops, mostly covering the layer of brown sugar (it is ok if not all spots are covered, as batter will spread as it bakes). Sprinkle evenly with remaining topping.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and cake springs back when lightly pressed.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack before slicing.
(or 12-16, if you opt for the original serving size!)