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.