Homemade is absolutely with way to go when it comes to this tender, deliciously customizable snack cake. Here’s your guide to make the best coffee cake possible. 

By Tiffany Stevens
February 11, 2020
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Germany has given the world many blessings — sauerkraut, bratwurst, potato salad and pretzels, to name a few. Among those culinary delicacies, one can also add a delicious confection meant to accompany caffeine: coffee cake. Whether it’s accented by crunchy streusel or topped with fruit, accompanied by coffee or eaten by itself, coffee cake is a delightful treat worth downing first thing in the morning. And while some coffee cakes might appear quite elaborate, most are easy to whip up, making them the perfect baking project for home cooks of all stripes. 

If you’ve only ever picked up premade coffee cakes at the grocery store, we understand. But if you have a little time this weekend, it’s definitely worth putting together a custom coffee cake at home. By using this tutorial, you’ll have the chance to explore which kind of breakfast cakes work best for you. In addition to guiding you through the process of making coffee cake, we’ll also include a few fun variations you can try out at home. 

Photos by Teresa Sabga

Step One: Choose Your Flavor Profile

Before starting your coffee cake, you’ll want to decide what kind of base flavors you want to mix in. Traditional British coffee cakes are usually flavored with coffee, so you could always include instant coffee granules along with your spices and other dry ingredients, as demonstrated in the Coffee Lovers’ Coffee Cake above. You could also use flour made from coffee cherries for a cake that’s extra-caffeinated and also gluten-free. Buttermilk can also make for simply delicious (and tender!) coffee cake flavor profile, as can sourdough starter if you have some around. If you’re lucky enough to have a couple of Girl Scout cookie boxes left untouched, then you can also incorporate those delicious, crushed up morsels into your batter. 

Photo: Sheri Giblin; Food Styling: Margaret Dickey; Prop Styling: Amy Stone  

Step Two: Choose Additional Mix-Ins

Once you’ve decided on which base flavors and spices you want for your cake, you can decide whether you’d like some kind of complementary mix-in or filling. Of course, you can mix in nuts and dried fruits, but you can also spread streusel between two layers of batter for a delicious swirl of cinnamon and sugar tucked into every bite. If you’d like, make up a cheesecake-like layer to spread on top of the batter, and then top with your favorite fruit compote, as illustrated above in the Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake. Pumpkin puree, when mixed with pumpkin pie spice, is another delicious add-in, especially in the fall or winter. If you decide to add mix-ins to your coffee cake, be sure to figure out whether you want the goodies evenly distributed throughout the batter, or if you want them focused in a central layer. Be sure to set a few of your mix-ins to the side, too, in case you want to sprinkle them across the top. 

Iain Bagwell

Step Three: Choose Your Topping

Now that you’ve got your batter and mix-ins all ready, it’s time to decide how you want to finish off your cake. Streusel or fruit are common choices, of course, but you can also make a delicious cream or icing to finish off your cake, as shown in the recipes above. If you’re feeling up to it, you could also make a delectable, fruit-infused glaze to finish off your cake. Chocolate chips, nuts and seeds, or a drizzle of honey can also be used to top a cake in a simple but satisfying way. And of course, if you’re feeling like treating yourself, you could always top a hot piece of coffee cake with coffee ice cream for the perfect early morning (or afternoon) delight. 

Victor Protasio

Step Four: Choose Your Presentation Style

American coffee cakes are usually baked in single layers, but there’s no reason you have to resign yourself to a simple square baking pan. Try cooking up your coffee cake in a bundt pan, or creating mini loaves. If you prefer, coffee cupcakes might be more your speed. And of course, you could always turn your coffee cake into a layered creation, a style that’s more popular in European versions of the sweet treat. Make your coffee cake conform to whatever shape sparks joy for you. 

Photo by Daniel Agee

Step Four: Bake Your Coffee Cake

How to Make a Pound Cake-Style Coffee Cake

Get the Recipe: Coffee Cake Pound Cake

If you’re a big fan of pound cake, then a coffee cake that uses a pound cake batter might be right up your alley. For this recipe, use your favorite pound cake batter, or copy the one above. Then add mix-ins or a filling, top as you normally would and bake according to directions. You’ll be left with a hybrid treat that’s the best of both worlds. 

How to Make an Overnight Coffee Cake

Baking first thing in the morning can be a chore, especially on a busy day. You can start your day off right, though, by putting together your coffee cake the night before so you can pop it in the oven first thing the next morning. Save your topping in a separate container—you’ll want to add those just before cooking the cake so that those ingredients don’t sink to the bottom overnight. 

How to Make an Upside Down Coffee Cake

There’s no reason not to give coffee cakes the upside down treatment. For this variation, create a fruit, nut and spice layer at the bottom of your nonstick baking pan. Make sure to grease the pan for extra insurance that the fruit layer won’t stick. Add your coffee cake batter on top, bake as normal, and then allow to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. To release the cake from the pan, run a knife around the edge of the cooking vessel and turn it upside down. The cake should come out, providing you with a delicious and decorative start to your day.