Cinnamon Flop: Great coffee cake, funny name

Cinnamon Flop: Great coffee cake, funny name

For years we’ve enjoyed a light fragrant breakfast cake called “cinnamon flop” from a recipe of my wife’s grandmother (“Nanny”), which was given to us by my mother-in-law. No one we’ve met had heard of this breakfast goodie outside of the family. The “flop” is white and airy, has a tender cinnamon topping and irregular deep pockets rich in spice and butter. It’s unique for having no egg and relatively little butter or shortening, and uses the old-fashioned hand mixing style of alternating dry and wet ingredients. An electric mixer makes the coffee cake tough, and adding egg (obviously we tried both) gives an uninteresting cakey texture that misses the delicate unique tenderness of real cinnamon flop. I had assumed that it came from the Great Depression and was an economical survivor of that time of deprivation, and wondered if it was limited to the family. Or was it maybe something from Boston, where my wife’s grandmother grew up.

But noooo. Some research turned up a number of other “cinnamon flops,” and they typically had the tell-tale no egg, the alternating mixing of wet and dry ingredients, and bits of butter pushed through the topping into the cake. Some recipes call for much more sugar than does “ours.” But most interesting were several attributions of cinnamon flop to the Amish and the “Pennsylvania Dutch”. In fact, my wife’s grandmother lived her married life in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. So that ethnic origin of the family’s spice-scented coffee cake is quite plausible (and certainly consistent with the cinnamon and brown sugar). The recipe was probably learned in Pennsylvania by Nanny. 
My grandson Jonah has become quite adept at making this coffee cake, as he has popovers. He increased the recipe's originally stingy amount of butter that is pushed into the batter just before baking, to good effect. I have converted to his method.

Cinnamon Flop Nanny
Cinnamon Flop made 
by my grandson Jonah

1/4 cup butter (originally “butter the size of an egg”)
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour plus 2 tablespoons for the topping
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (originally 1 teaspoon)
4 tablespoons cold butter (1/2 stick)

Set oven at 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish or pan. In a bowl, using a wooden spoon mix 1/4 cup butter with the sugar until creamy. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add one-third of that to the butter-sugar mixture and stir it in. Then add 1/2 the milk and mix it in, just until evenly wet. Add and briefly mix in another third of the dry ingredients, then briefly the other half of the milk. Finish by briefly stirring in the last portion of the dry ingredients, just until moistened. Do not over mix it or the cake will be tough. Spread into the buttered dish. Mix together the 2 extra tablespoons flour, the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the batter. Cut the cold butter into little slivers and stick them down here and there part way through the topping into the batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the center springs back when touched. Serve fresh and warm.
Jonah and his Cinnamon Flop on the porch

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