Nothing complements a strong cup of hot coffee quite like a slice of warm, cinnamon-y coffee cake. Our coffee cake recipe creates a gorgeously layered cake with ribbons of warm cinnamon-sugar and crunchy walnuts throughout. It’s the perfect recipe to throw together for a brunch or morning nosh—and who can say no to cake for breakfast?
What is coffee cake?
Coffee cake is a type of sweet bread. It has one layer of a muffin-like cake that’s swirled with ribbons of cinnamon-sugar and sometimes finished with a thick and crumbly streusel topping. It’s a buttery, spongy and crumbly cake that pairs excellently with—you guessed it!—a great cup of coffee.
Does coffee cake have coffee in it?
No, coffee cake does not have coffee in it! Weird, right? So why the name? Most people speculate that American coffee cake was adapted from the German cinnamon cake “Kaffeekuchen” which is typically served during “Kaffeeklatsch,” a social gathering centered over coffee. Breaking for coffee and a sweet treat (like cake) is common in European culture. This type of cake was made for and eaten during a coffee hour, and it eventually became popular in America, where it was renamed to “coffee cake.”
Coffee Cake Recipe Ingredients
- Butter: Forgot to soften your butter before starting? It’s imperative for this recipe, so learn how to soften butter quickly.
- Sugar: Mind the “divided” note in the ingredient list! You’ll need 2 cups sugar in the actual cake, and 3/4 cup sugar for the cinnamon-sugar swirl.
- Eggs: Make sure your eggs are at room temperature. Cold eggs hitting softened butter would re-solidify the butter, making it curdle and lump. This would not bode well for the outcome of your cake.
- Sour cream: Sour cream makes the coffee cake tender and moist. Feel free to use strained (Greek-style) yogurt as a substitute for sour cream if that’s all you have. Just make sure it’s full-fat yogurt!
- Cinnamon: There are lots of types of cinnamon you can use for this recipe. Go with your favorite. Ceylon cinnamon is sweeter and delicate, while cassia varieties (like Saigon or Korintje) are a bit spicier with a more pronounced cinnamon taste.
- Walnuts: Walnuts add a lovely subtle crunch and nutty taste that pairs excellently with the cinnamon.
Step 1: Beat the wet ingredients
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to cream the butter and 2 cups of the sugar together until light and fluffy, five to seven minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
Step 2: Add the dry ingredients and sour cream
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry mixture alternately with the sour cream, beating just enough after each addition to keep the batter smooth.
Editor’s Tip: Do your best not to overmix during this step. Overmixing will result in a tough, dense coffee cake!
Step 3: Assemble the coffee cake
Spoon one-third of the batter into a greased 10-inch tube pan. In a small bowl, stir together the cinnamon, nuts and remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Sprinkle one-third of the mixture over the batter in the pan. Repeat this layering two more times.
Step 4: Bake
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 to 65 minutes. Cool the coffee cake at room temperature for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Add a little spice: An extra sprinkling of spicy cardamom, warm nutmeg or zippy ginger with the cinnamon would amp up the autumnal vibes in this coffee cake. Swapping in pumpkin pie spice works, too!
- Zest in citrus: A bit of orange zest would be remarkable in this coffee cake recipe. Sweet orange plays beautifully with cozy cinnamon. Gently grate off some orange peel, and add it during Step 1. Just make sure you don’t get the pith in—way too bitter!
- Swap out the walnuts: Omit the walnuts completely, or swap them out for almonds or pecans.
- Finish with a glaze: Whip up a quick vanilla glaze, and drizzle it over this coffee cake for an extra something-sweet.
How to Store Coffee Cake
To store, allow the coffee cake to cool completely to room temperature. Place the cake in an airtight container, or wrap it in storage wrap. It can be left at room temperature for up to two days or be stored in the fridge for up to five days.
Can you freeze coffee cake?
Yes, you can freeze coffee cake! To freeze the entire cake, let it cool, then wrap in the pan tightly with a few layers of storage wrap and a final layer of aluminum foil. To freeze individual slices, place them in an airtight container. Coffee cake can be kept in the freezer for up to three months.
To thaw, place the coffee cake in the fridge overnight. Reawaken its cinnamon-y goodness by warming the cake in a 250° oven until heated through. Individual slices can be gently warmed in the microwave.
Coffee Cake Recipe Tips
Why is my cake dry?
If your coffee cake is dry, it might have been overbaked. Always check for doneness at the low end of the recommended bake time. It’s also important that you know how to measure flour the right way. Before measuring, stir the flour with a spoon or whisk. Spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup until heaping, and level with the flat side of a knife.
Why does my coffee cake fall apart when I cut it?
Batter that was improperly mixed or was undermixed can cause a cake to be crumbly. Careful mixing will evenly distribute the ingredients throughout the batter. Frequently scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula will ensure that all the ingredients are combined. But be careful not to overmix, which can cause the cake to be tough. You just want to stir until everything is combined.
What should I serve with coffee cake?
Coffee cake tastes great with a hot cup of joe! Serve your slices with one of our homemade coffee shop drinks. Not a fan of coffee? A hearty English Breakfast tea or a floral and citrusy Earl Grey tea pairs excellently with a slice of coffee cake.