Every cook needs to know how to make a killer sour cream coffee cake, and this is that one recipe. It bakes up moist and buttery and looks impressive to boot. I have yet to serve this cake and be greeted with anything but raves—and crumb-filled plates thrust my way, with requests for another wedge. As delectable as it is, this cake is not difficult. It hinges on three important techniques (see below), and it needs no icing. It also lends itself to variation, which means you get the bonus of adding three cakes to your repertoire with this one classic recipe.
The sugar secret
It may seem silly that I call for three types of sugar in this recipe (superfine, granulated, and light brown), but there is a reason for each. Superfine is used in the batter, which is dense and doesn’t get hot enough in the center during baking to dissolve the larger crystals in granulated sugar. Superfine ensures a fine crumb and lighter texture. You don’t have to buy a special package of it, though—make your own by spinning granulated sugar in a food processor until it is as fine as sand. Granulated sugar adds a nice texture to the topping and filling, and the molasses in the brown sugar adds depth of flavor.
The right pan
Key to this cake’s success is the pan it’s baked in. You need a shiny aluminum tube pan (also known as an angel food cake pan). Don’t use a Bundt or a fluted pan, because they have rounded bottoms and are meant for cakes that will be served inverted. Dark nonstick tube pans are not a good choice for a cake like this; because it bakes for more than an hour, overbrowning or burning may result. If that is all you have, reduce the oven temperature by 25ºF.