How to Make Coffee Cake

All the smart tips your recipe doesn’t tell you.


Use High-Quality Butter.

Photo by Anna Williams

No matter which way you slice it, coffee cake has lots of butter. The pan itself gets coated in a thick layer of butter (try brushing on melted butter to get in all of the nooks and crannies), plus the cake and topping usually get several more sticks. Butter is a very important ingredient: it prevents the cake from sticking, and gives the cake its tender crumb and rich flavor. Splurging on a more expensive butter, like Kerrygold, will deepen the flavor and make for a (noticeably) more delicious cake.


Try Substituting Yogurt for Sour Cream.

We love a good sour cream coffee cake, but the acidity in plain whole milk yogurt makes for a lighter (but just as rich and moist) cake. Plus, chances are you have a half-full container of yogurt sitting in the fridge anyway.


Precision, Precision, Precision.

Remember, baking is a science, so precise measuring is incredibly important. Professional bakeries use scales to make sure their measurements are as accurate as possible. When measuring flour, scoop into your measuring spoon, and then use the flat back of a butter knife to level it off.


An Offset Spatula is Your Best Friend.

Spreading the batter in the pan with a rubber spatula is imprecise and messy. Instead, pick up an inexpensive offset spatula, which is designed to keep batter (or frosting) off of your fingers.


Garnish With Salt.

Yes, salt. Flaky salt. Most recipes call for about ½ teaspoon of salt to balance out the cake’s sweetness. Nevertheless, that cake is going to be pretty darn sweet. If you love salted chocolate chip cookies, or our Salted Oatmeal Cookies with Dark Chocolate, try sprinkling on a pinch of flaky salt after you’ve smoothed out the batter.


Mix-ins Make Everything More Fun.

Once you have your basic recipe mastered, the sky is the limit for what you can stir or layer into the batter. Try chocolate chips, fresh fruit, or toasted almonds. You could also experiment with cacao nibs, brandied cherries, unsweetened toasted coconut… the possibilities are endless.


You Can (and Should) Make It in Every Shape and Size.

Sure, it’s tasty in a classic loaf or bundt pan, but try using a muffin tin for a more portable treat. Or, you could even try baking your cake in a mug.


Don’t Overbake.

Coffee cake tends to be dense (because it’s weighed down by all of that delicious topping). Dense isn’t a bad thing, but dense and dry? Now that’s something you want to avoid. Do yourself a favor and test your cake five minutes earlier than the recipe’s baking time suggests.


Cut With a Serrated Knife.

Once your cakes has cooled and you've umolded it, use a serrated knife to create neat pieces. Use a long sawing motion instead of shorter movements for the best results.


Pair With Coffee… or Beer.

Coffee cake gets its name because, well, the denser dessert is delicious enjoyed with a piping mug of coffee (preferably for breakfast). But, if this is a late afternoon snack, no one says you can’t enjoy with a chilled beer – preferably a stout.