By Anna Stockwell,
Why is it called coffee cake if it doesn’t taste like coffee? Seriously, I’ve always found that kind of confusing—though I do take things too literally sometimes. But it’s not just that coffee cake sounds like it’s flavored with coffee. It’s that coffee cake actually should be flavored with coffee. After all, the rich, deep flavor of coffee goes with so many other ingredients that are right at home in coffee cake, like sweet spices and rich chocolate. So I decided to create a coffee cake that truly deserves its name.
For the ultimate coffee-flavored coffee cake, I wanted the coffee flavor to shine in as many ways as possible. After baking a slew of versions in the Epicurious Test Kitchen, we discovered that we needed three different forms of coffee used in five different ways to get the cake right where we wanted it: Bursting with rich, sweet, coffee flavor that’s highlighted by a trio of contrasting textures. Here’s how we made it happen:
INFUSE THE BATTER WITH COFFEE TWO WAYS
Bakers know that that the easiest way to get coffee flavor into a baked good is to add instant espresso powder to the batter. But it turns out that espresso powder alone doesn’t give the fullest flavor: you need a little bit of spice to bring out the coffee flavor. Add some cinnamon and a hint of cardamom and you play up the coffee flavor in a wonderful new way. Once we figured that out, the cake still didn’t quite taste like coffee though, so we replaced some of the liquid in the batter with extra-strong brewed coffee and finally the finished cake batter tasted like coffee, smelled like coffee, and even gave our taste testers a little caffeine buzz. Adding brewed coffee does something wonderful to the texture of the cake, too: it’s more moist and dense—one of our editors even called it “pudding-like.”
ADD A MOCHA SWIRL
Chocolate and coffee are always a good combination. Chocolate in coffee-flavored cake is an even better combination—decadent and indulgent like a mocha latte. So we melted semisweet chocolate, butter, and more extra-strong brewed coffee and layered it between the batters before baking to create two dark mocha swirls in the cake. Then, we put pecans in the mocha swirl to give it extra crunch and a touch of nutty sweetness.
PACK THE CRUMB TOPPING WITH COFFEE, TOO
Coffee cake is always better with a crunchy crumb topping. For the ultimate coffee-flavored cake, it stands to reason that the crumb topping has to have some coffee flavor in it too. Here’s where the instant espresso powder comes in again. We mixed more of it into the crumb mixture to add another caffeine hit to the cake.
FINISH WITH A BOOZY LATTE GLAZE
By the time the cake was finished, we’d already used two different kinds of coffee in four different ways. But even though we risked overkill, we thought the cake needed one more touch of coffee. So we created a glaze that looks and tastes a bit like the foam on a creamy latte, combining sour cream and confectioners’ sugar with a bit of coffee liqueur. The extra-concentrated flavor of coffee in the booze enlivens the coffee character of the cake and carries the scent straight to your nose, just like a freshly brewed cup of joe.
RECIPE: COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE CAKE
For the crumb topping:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup chilled unsalted butter, cubed
- ¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
For the chocolate swirl:
- 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 ounces pecans (about ¾ cup), lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup strong brewed coffee
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
For the cake:
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¾ cup strong brewed coffee, room temperature
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk, room temperature
For the glaze:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
- 1 tablespoon sour cream
- A 10-inch tube pan
Make the crumb topping:
Using your fingers, combine flour, butter, brown sugar, powdered sugar, espresso powder, and salt in a medium bowl until mixture sticks together when pressed. Chill until ready to use.
Make the chocolate swirl:
Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water (water should not touch bowl) or in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in pecans, coffee, and granulated sugar.
Make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour tube pan, tapping out excess flour. Whisk 2 ½ cups flour, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and cardamom in a medium bowl. Whisk coffee, sour cream, and vanilla in another medium bowl.
Beat granulated sugar and ½ cup butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs and egg yolk one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with coffee mixture in 2 additions, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition.
Scrape one-third of the batter into prepared pan; smooth the surface. Drizzle half of the chocolate swirl mixture over. Add another one-third of the batter; smooth the surface. Drizzle the remaining chocolate swirl mixture over, then scrape in the remaining batter; smooth the surface. Sprinkle crumb topping over. Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and cake springs back when pressed, 40–50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
Run a butter knife around the perimeter of pan to loosen cake. Gently invert cake onto a large plate, then return cake (crumb side up) to rack.
Glaze the cake:
When cake is cool, prepare the glaze. Whisk powdered sugar, coffee liqueur, and sour cream in a medium bowl. Using a spoon, drizzle glaze over cooled cake, holding the spoon a few inches above the cake.
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PHOTO BY CHELSEA KYLE, FOOD STYLING BY ANNA STOCKWELL