Crumbly Coffee Cake from Modena

Preparation info

  • Serves


    • Difficulty


Appears in

In Nonna's Kitchen

In Nonna's Kitchen

By Carol Field

Published 1997

  • About

Italians indulge their fierce love of sweets in any number of ways—notice how many spoonfuls of sugar they heap into tiny cups of espresso—but they also have a real passion for simple homemade cakes like bensone, a traditional dessert that crumbles in the fingers and melts in the mouth. This simple S-shaped cake is not overly sweet, but it is easy to make and easy to eat.



  • 3 scant cups (14 ounces) all-purpose or pastry flour, plus extra for kneading
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ cup (5 ounces) sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 7 tablespoons ( ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for the baking sheets


    Preheat the oven to 350°F. You will need two 13 x 17-inch baking sheets and two pieces of parchment paper.

    Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar together into a large ceramic or glass bowl. Stir in the grated lemon zest. Scatter the pieces of butter over the top and rub them in with your hands a bit at a time until the mixture has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Mix together the eggs, milk, and vanilla, make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour them in, mixing gently until a dough is formed. Knead the dough lightly in the bowl, adding sprinkles of flour as needed, and mix until it is smooth and very soft. You can make the dough and refrigerate it up to 24 hours before baking.

    Divide the dough into two equal pieces on a lightly floured work surface. Roll each into a cylinder that is about 2 inches wide and 18 inches long. Flatten the surface and neaten the edges. Set a piece of parchment paper on each of the baking sheets, warm them for about 1 minute in the oven, and then rub a tablespoon of butter on each piece of parchment. Set a log of dough on the center of each baking sheet, twist it into an S shape, and use a sharp knife to make three parallel cuts on the top of the dough. Finish by brushing the surface of each one first with the milk and then sprinkling the turbinado sugar over the top.

    Set the baking sheets on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top of the bensone is golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake. Transfer to a rack. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature with a sweet wine, such as Lambrusco Amabile or Moscato d’Asti, or with coffee as a mid-afternoon merenda.