Excerpted from BAKING WITH DORIE: Sweet, Salty, & Simple © 2021 by Dorie Greenspan.
Whenever I serve this cake, someone compares it to a favorite bakery or boxed cake from their childhood. That’s not what I’d set out to do when I first made the cake, but it’s been my goal ever since because I, too, have good memories of a store-bought cake like this one. The cake is tight-grained but tender. It’s made with ricotta, which is part of why it’s tender and part of why its flavor is so distinctive.
I like to sprinkle berries over the batter as a middle layer—they add color, another taste, and a nice surprise—and then go heavy on the crumbs, so heavy that there are almost equal parts cake and crumbs, sweet, crunchy crumbs. The secret to the crumbs’ crunch is the cornmeal.
A word on the fruit: You can use blueberries, raspberries and/or blackberries, but avoid strawberries—they’re a little too watery and their vibrancy diminishes in the oven.
A word on the crumbs: You can make the crumbs by hand— work all the ingredients together between your fingertips—or use a mixer. A stand mixer with the paddle attachment is fastest and easiest.
Plan ahead: While the crumb topping is good to go after an hour in the fridge, it’s better after 2 or 3 or more hours, so see if you can build this chill time into your schedule. Colder crumbs hold their shape better. To save time, you can pinch the crumbs into nuggets and freeze them for 30 minutes or more.
Crumb-Topped Ricotta Coffee Cake
Excerpted from BAKING WITH DORIE: Sweet, Salty, & Simple © 2021 by Dorie Greenspan. Photography © 2021 by Mark Weinberg. Reproduced by permission of Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
- For the crumbs
- 3/4 cup (102 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
- 1/2 cup (100 g) packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (57 g) cornmeal
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces; 100 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- For the cake
- 1 1/2 cups (204 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3/4 cup (187 grams) ricotta, drained if necessary
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons; 4 ounces; 113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups (about 250 to 335 g) berries
To make the crumbs:
Put all of the ingredients except the butter and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (see headnote for other options) and mix on low just to combine. Add the pieces of cold butter, toss them around until they’re coated and then beat on medium-low until the ingredients form moist clumps. Squeeze some, and the crumbs should hold together. Getting to this stage can take a few minutes, so don’t rush it. Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.
Remove the bowl from the mixer stand, reach in and grab a spoonful or two of the mixture at a time between your fingers and squeeze, so that you get little balls of crumbs. Cover (in the bowl or in another container) and chill until needed. If you can give the crumbs at least an hour, that would be great; 2 to 3 hours or more (or 30 minutes or more in the freezer) would be ideal. (You can make the crumbs up to 3 days ahead; keep tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.)
To make the cake:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan, or use bakers’ spray.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda together.
Working in a large bowl, whisk the sugar and salt together. Add the ricotta and whisk to blend well. One by one, add the eggs, whisk until each is incorporated. Whisk in the melted butter. When the mixture is blended, switch to a flexible spatula and gently fold and stir in the dry ingredients until you’ve got a heavy, smooth batter. Scrape the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly and taking care to nudge some into the corners. Scatter the fruit over the batter.
Remove the crumbs from the refrigerator (or freezer) and top the cake with them, grabbing a little of the mixture each time and squeezing it so that you end up with a really bumpy layer.
Bake the cake for about 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, whatever fruit you can see is bubbling up through the crumbs and, most important, a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and let rest for 3 minutes, then run a table knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Let the cake settle for about 10 minutes and then unmold it onto the rack; invert and cool right side up. The cake is ready to enjoy when it is only just warm or after it has reached room temperature.
I usually cut the cake into 16 squares, but cut for your crowd.
Wrapped well, the cake will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature or for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost, still wrapped, at room temperature.