My trips down memory lane frequently take me to the Jersey shore. I shared a recipe for Spiced Rum Banana Ice Cream last year that highlighted a lot of the nostalgia I experience whilst daydreaming of East Coast summers past, and the Coffee Cake Donuts I’m sharing today are thusly inspired.
Beach Haven. A little town on Long Beach Island where my family used to vacation almost every summer. We would rent a house a few blocks from the ocean and spend late mornings trekking across the hot asphalt to the sand where we would set up camp and do several rotations of swimming and napping before heading back to the house for refreshments.
On our last LBI trip, we discovered a little deli on one of our beach-bound walks. Bowker’s. In all my summers spent on LBI, I’d never seen or heard of this place! It was a colorful and inviting surf-themed beach shack with scribbled out chalkboard menus boasting an enticing list of sandwiches and ice cream flavors. We popped in one hot afternoon out of pure curiosity, determined to test drive the deli. Inside, we found a little convenience store stocked with the basics: canned soup, pancake mix, marshmallows, first aid kits, bug spray and a small fridge full of milk and eggs. They had large fans going to combat the heat, but the high temps worked to their advantage as we quickly gravitated towards the ice cream case and deli counter.
We placed our sandwich orders with the friendly guy behind the register and waited, browsing the colorful tubs of frozen sweetness through panes of smudged glass. At the end of the ice cream row, I spotted a couple of empty trays that looked like they were once home to something cakey and crumbly. Intrigued, I asked ‘friendly guy’ what baked goodies had sold out by 11AM that day, and he told me. Coffee cake (aka crumb cake). I learned that this wasn’t your average, run-of-the-mill coffee cake. This was world-class coffee cake. Obviously, I needed some.
I got up early the next morning and headed to Bowker’s. To my delight, there, in the big tray…were two ginormous pieces of the most cakey, buttery, majestically crumb-heavy coffee cake I’d ever seen. I ordered one and tasted it on the spot. Yes. Buttery, moist and delicious with a perfect crumb to cake ratio (50/50, none of that 20/80 nonsense). This was nothing like any of the coffee cakes I’d had before — the boxed kinds from the grocery store, or the kinds I’d had at other bakeries. Those were always too dry, or the cake was good and the crumble was weird, or the crumble was good and the cake was like styrofoam. No. This was, hands down, the best coffee cake ever. The following morning, we ordered a whole tray. It weighed about 20 pounds.
Now that I’m living in Kentucky and summer trips to LBI don’t happen as often, I haven’t had access to that life-altering Bowker’s coffee cake. So naturally, I’ve recreated it in donut form. Since I don’t own an oven large enough to house a mothership-sized sheet pan like the one they use at Bowker’s, I decided a donut would be the next best thing. This is a coffee cake recipe for those who love everything rich, sweet, buttery, cakey and crumbly. There’s only one requirement: have it with coffee.
If you’re near New Jersey, please visit Bowker’s and try the coffee cake so you can experience what I did. If you’re too far away, find a local bakery that does coffee cake and tell me what you think! Either way, make these donuts and enjoy! Let’s get the coffee cake love rolling!
[Recipe at the bottom!]
Coffee Cake Donuts
Yields 12 donuts
For the Crumb
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups cake flour
For the Cake
1 1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Spray two 6-cavity donut pans with cooking spray (I use these Norpro pans because the cavities are nice and deep compared to others I’ve tried!)
First, make the crumb. In a large bowl, combine the sugars, cinnamon and salt. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and stir until fully incorporated. Stir in the cake flour until a smooth dough forms and set the bowl aside.
In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Using a hand mixer, add in the butter and beat until the mixture resembles moist crumbs.
In a small bowl, combine the egg, egg yolks, vanilla extract and buttermilk. Mix until smooth, and then add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until the batter is light and fluffy.
Spoon the batter into the donut molds. Make sure each cavity is only about 1/3 full. It’s better to under-fill each one, and then go back and add more with any excess batter.
Evenly distribute the crumb dough over the top of each donut. Be careful not to press the crumbs into the batter, just give them a generous sprinkling. Pile on that crumb!
Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into one of the donuts comes out clean. If your oven bakes unevenly, rotate the pans halfway through. If you want the crumbs to brown, move your trays to the top rack under the broiler when there’s about 5 minutes left on the clock. Watch them carefully if you do this because they can easily burn!
When you remove your trays from the oven, let them cool for about 5 minutes before turning them out onto a cooling rack and placing them crumb-side up. Once the donuts have cooled, dust them with powdered sugar, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!