Coffee cake is one of those magical cakes that gets away with being acceptable to eat any time of the day.
Curiously, coffee cake contains zero coffee itself. I think (and I am totally speculating here) that it’s meant to be served with coffee, sort of in the tradition of tea. My sleuthing on the internet points to origins in German yeasted cakes, but it’s not entirely clear.
A common theme of coffee cakes is the incorporation of streusel, and for many of us (at least in the US), it means a rich yellow cake spiced with cinnamon and topped with as much crumble as the cake can handle!
Better-Than-Starbucks Coffee Cake
My inspiration for this classic crumb coffee cake is the picture-perfect slices you find behind the glass at Starbucks—but bigger, better, and with more crumb!
The cake batter includes sour cream, which not only adds richness but also helps maintain a tender crumb. There’s a cinnamon stripe through the center of the cake and a blanket of crumble over the top.
To ensure that distinctive stripe, we layer about half of the batter into the bottom of the pan, sprinkle the cinnamon layer over the top, then the remaining batter, and finally, a thick cover of crumble topping.
Some of the crumble floats on top of the batter in spots and buckles in others, in a way that sort of resembles a sugarscape of cinnamon-scented hills and valleys that are nearly impossible to resist peeling off and eating straight from the pan—or maybe that’s just me!
HOW TO STORE AND FREEZE COFFEE CAKE
This is one of those cakes that just gets better after a day or two on the counter. The texture improves and moisture remains. It also freezes well!
To freeze the cake, let it cool completely, then wrap it in a layer of plastic followed by foil. The double layer helps to prevent it from drying out in the freezer. To defrost the cake, set it on the counter until it reaches room temperature—if you have that kind of patience! The cake, even half-frozen, is still delicious.
HOW TO ADAPT THIS CAKE
This recipe is easily adaptable to include other spices.
- Add cardamom and a little zest for an interesting twist.
- Swap the cinnamon and sugar for pumpkin pie spice.
- Add 1/3 cup of finely chopped walnuts or pecans to the topping or batter.
This cake is great served as it is. The crumble and the rich cake batter are perfectly satisfying without embellishments, but a dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream is always welcome!
MORE CAKES TO SERVE WITH COFFEE!
Classic Coffee Cake Recipe
For the streusel topping:
- 1 cup (150g) brown sugar, packed
- 1 cup (96g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, very soft
For the cinnamon layer:
- 1/4 cup (50g) sugar
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the cake batter:
- 3 cups (384g) all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups (450g) sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, very soft
- 1 cup (227g) sour cream
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 Heat the oven and prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter or spray a 9x13 inch pan.
2 Make the streusel layer: In a small bowl combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Use a fork to mash the butter into the mixture until completely combined and crumbly.
3 Make the cinnamon layer: In another small bowl, combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Set both to the side.
4 Begin making the batter: In the bowl of your mixer, add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt. Using the paddle attachment for your stand mixer, stir on low to combine.
Add the softened butter and beat on medium-low speed for 2-3 minutes, or until all of the butter is mixed in and the mixture resembles moist sand.
5 Combine wet ingredients and finish the batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, and vanilla until combined. Add the mixture to the dry ingredients. Beat the batter on medium speed until you get a smooth batter. A few small lumps are totally fine.
6 Prepare the cake: Spread half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar layer over the top of the batter in an even layer. Spread the remaining batter over the top (this does require some patience since the batter likes to lift off the cinnamon-sugar layer). Top the final layer of batter with the crumble mixture.
7 Bake the cake: Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 1 hour (or until the cake comes to room temperature) before serving.
8 Store the cake: You can make this cake a day or two in advance. Remove the cake from the pan and cover with plastic wrap. Keep it on the counter. To freeze the cake, wrap it in plastic, followed by foil.
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