How To Make Classic Coffee Cake

How To Make Classic Coffee Cake

Emma Christensen
May 6, 2016
(Image credit: Christine Han)

Sure, coffee cake can be any cake-like substance served with coffee, but for me, there is only one kind of cake that I want sharing space with my cup — and that is a big square (it must be square) of rich, buttery cake topped with giant, cinnamon-scented crumbles. This one is my go-to favorite for all occasions.

The Cake

This coffee cake is a riff on our yellow butter cake, which (not coincidentally) is also my favorite butter cake. The biggest difference is that I use sour cream instead of plain milk to give the cake a tender crumb and an ever-so-slight tanginess.

Once you make it, this might seem like not enough batter for the baking pan, but it rises significantly in the oven to reach proper cake proportions.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

The Crumble

I'm a big believer in crumble topping. And in this cake in particular, it should not be an afterthought. After all, the crumble is a central, integral part of the whole coffee cake experience, creating a very desirable layer of lofty decadence. I love big crumbs that get crunchy during baking, giving some textural contrast to the softer cake beneath. Be careful not to mix this topping too thoroughly, or you'll lose those big pebble-sized crumbles.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

Serving the Cake

Bake this coffee cake in a 9x13-inch baking dish and you'll have a nice number of servings for a crowd (or for my own coffee breaks over the course of a week, ahem). The larger pan also provides increased surface area for crumbs, and therefore, the best cake-to-crumble ratio.

This cake keeps well for several days, staying moist and tender right up until the last crumb is consumed. Serve it, of course, with a cup of very strong coffee.

How To Make Classic Coffee Cake

Serves 12

What You Need


  • For the crumble topping:
  • 1/3 cup


  • 1/3 cup

    brown sugar

  • 2 teaspoons

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 cup

    (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

  • 1 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • For the cake:
  • 2 1/4 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon


  • 2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1/2 cup

    (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 1/2 cups


  • 2

    large eggs

  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  • 1 1/4 cups

    full-fat sour cream

  • To finish:
  • 1 cup

    powdered sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    whole milk

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    vanilla or almond extract

  • Equipment
  • Mixing Bowls

  • Stand mixer or hand mixer

  • 9x13-inch baking dish

  • Baking sheet

  • Wire cooling rack


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F: Coat the baking dish with baking spray or an extra tablespoon of butter.

  2. Prepare the crumble topping: Mix together the sugars and the cinnamon in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the butter. Add the flour and use a fork to stir and gently toss the flour into the mixture until big, slightly floury crumbs form. Set aside.

  3. Mix the butter, sugar, and eggs: With a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the butter and sugars together at medium-high speed until fluffy and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until each is incorporated. Mix in the vanilla and then scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. Beat in the flour and sour cream: Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl. On low speed, beat in a third of the flour mixture, followed by half the sour cream. Beat in another third of the flour, followed by the last of the sour cream, followed by the rest of the flour. Beat until you see the last bit of dry flour get worked into the batter, then increase the speed to high and beat just a few seconds until the batter is smooth and has no more lumps.

  5. Transfer the batter to the pan and top with crumbs: Pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Use your fingers to break up the crumble mixture and scatter it over the top.

  6. Bake the coffee cake for 40 to 45 minutes: Bake until the cake feels springy when you touch the middle and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. If the crumbs start to get too browned and toasted before the cake is done, then tent the top loose

  7. Cool the cake: Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let it cool to room temperature.

  8. Drizzle the cake with icing: Whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract to form a thick, pourable icing. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake.

  9. Serve the cake: Slice wedges from the pan and serve. Cover the leftovers and keep them at room temperature for up to a week.

Recipe Notes

Coffee cake with a middle crumb layer: If you prefer your coffee cake with a layer of cinnamon crumble running through the middle, bake it in an 8x8-inch pan instead. Divide both the batter and the crumble in half and layer it into the pan. Place a baking sheet under the pan during baking just in case the cake rises too much and some of the batter spills over the side.

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