You guys! It is time for some magically delicious brown sugar cinnamon coffee cake! This is an old-fashioned sour cream coffee cake made with an all-brown sugar streusel swirl in the center and then bulked up into crumbs for the topping.

As far as I’m concerned, this is the nostalgic coffee cake of my dreams, and I hope it is the same for you!

If you like a fruity coffee cake, consider my brown butter blueberry buckle recipe. For ease of browsing, you can find all my cake recipes in one place. Thanks so much for visiting!

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An up-close shot of a cross-section of a slice of cinnamon coffee cake with a ribbon of cinnamon filling in the middle and brown sugar cinnamon crumbs on top. It is shot on a pink background.

Watch my best cinnamon coffee cake recipe web story here.

Coffee Cake, At a Glance

✔️Skill Level: Beginner
✔️Skills: Reverse Creaming Method (also known as the Two-Stage Mixing Method
✔️Type: Breakfast Cake
✔️Number of Ingredients: 12
✔️Prep Time: 15 minutes
✔️Cook Time: 40 minutes
✔️Yield: Serves 12

Jump Straight to the Recipe

I made this over the weekend and it was such a delicious and moist cake. And OMG that crumble topping! Soooooo goooood!!!

Reader Laura

Who Doesn’t Love a Sour Cream Coffee Cake?

Do you guys remember that coffee cake that your mom used to make for you for breakfast or for lunch box snacks?

The one that was tender and wonderful and had little pockets of cinnamon-y brown sugar dotting the top and buried down inside of it?

This is That Guy.

Tender, buttery, vanilla-scented cake, a ribbon of deeply cinnamon goodness running through the center, and lots and lots of crumbly streusel on top.

If this cake sounds like your cup of tea and you decide to make it, I have a favor to ask:

When you do make this recipe, it will help me and other readers if you:
✅Rate the recipes using the stars in the recipe card⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
✅Leave a review when prompted in the recipe card (If it’s a positive review, and I hope it is, I’ll use it in the post as social proof)✍️
✅Leave a comment on the post📝
Thank you so much!😘

Pursuing the Perfect Cinnamon Coffee Cake

My inspiration cake is a cinnamon coffee cake from King Arthur that you can find here.

They call it their favorite, but they have already moved on. So the word favorite is definitely time-limited.

That first round cake was my “control cake.” It was very good, but it wasn’t my favorite.

Here’s what it looked like:

A cross-section of yellow cake with a light cinnamon ribbon running through the center and some crumbs on top.

It was moist, but a little bland, to be honest.

When I shared it on Facebook, I asked everyone what they thought, and the consensus was:

  • more cinnamon
  • More filling
  • More topping.

My response?

I can do that for y’all. And for myself, because I felt the same way.

Here’s the cross-section of the guy I finally settled on:

A square of coffee cake on a plate with a mug of coffee.

What’s obvious is that there is indeed more filling, more cinnamon, and more topping.

What you can’t tell from the photo is how it tastes.

It’s buttery. It’s tender. It’s vanilla-y. It’s moist. The cinnamon flavor of the ribbon is deepened by a judicious amount of instant coffee. Plus there’s just more of it, which is a bonus.

The crumbs on top are buttery, sweet, crunchy, and full of cinnamon flavor.

Hungry yet? Let’s make one!

Loved this coffee cake! It’s soft, and the topping is absolutely amazing.

Reader (and reviewer) Adriana

How to Make This Cake

If you are already sold on this coffee cake, feel free to jump straight to the recipe. Otherwise, read on.

Here’s what you’ll need to make the cake. Some ingredients are in more than one component.

Ingredients and Substitutions

Images of all the ingredients needed to make a cinnamon sour cream coffee cake, labeled and on a white background.
  • Brown sugar: Used in the “cinnamon ribbon” and the topping. Not only adds deeper flavor than granulated sugar, brown sugar also keeps things softer and moister so the streusel on top goesn’t get too crunchy. If you’d like, you can substitute some granulated sugar for a portion of the brown sugar, or you could even go with all-granulated if you like a crisper streusel and don’t want any molasses flavor
  • Salt: Used in all the components to bring out the most flavor and also balance any slight bitterness from the instant coffee
  • Cinnamon: The predominant spice in this coffee cake. Warm and aromatic, it pairs really nicely with brown sugar as each ingredient complements the other
  • Instant Coffee: Just a little bit added to both the ribbon and the topping. You can’t really taste it, but it does add some depth of flavor. Plus I am in the camp that thinks there should at least be a little coffee in a coffee cake!
  • Cake Flour: Used in the cake and in the streusel topping. You can substitute all-purpose flour with no problem here. I like cake flour for its very low protein content and fine texture
  • Butter: In the cake and in the streusel topping.
  • Sour Cream: In the cake. It’s there for moisture, body, as a vehicle to carry flavor (hello, fat!), and as a tenderizer. The acid in the sour cream helps keep the cake nice and tender. You can substitute buttermilk (I like full-fat), or Greek yogurt. If you use buttermilk, the batter will be a bit thinner than if you use sour cream or yogurt, but nothing bad will happen
  • Vanilla: Vanilla shows up in all the components. There are 5 teaspoons of vanilla in total, 3 in the ribbon/streusel and 2 in the cake. Vanilla adds mellow, floral, woody flavor and aroma and works beautifully with cinnamon and butter
  • Sugar: I use granulated sugar in the cake to keep the cake a light color for contrast with the ribbon and streusel. You could certainly substitute brown sugar for a portion of the granulated sugar
  • Baking Powder: For leavening. Generally speaking, I use 1 teaspoon baking powder per cup of flour. I am using a bit less than that here to keep the cake a bit more compact
  • Baking Soda: Balances the acidic sour cream and molasses in the brown sugar so the cake doesn’t bake too quickly.
  • Eggs: Add structure, emulsifiers, moisture, protein, and fat. Substitute JUST Eggs, flax egg, aquafaba, or your favorite egg substitute to keep this cake egg-free

Mixing Method

You can make this cake using the creaming method if you’d like. That will work really well.

For the most Tender cake possible, though, use the two-stage method.

Some folks are referring to this method as the “reverse creaming” method, but two-stage and reverse creaming a slightly different from each other.

I’m not going super deep into the differences between the two right now, but I will give a brief overview of the two-stage method:

  1. Whisk all dry ingredients together.
  2. Add softened butter and mix until you can no longer see the butter and a portion of the liquid and beat for 2 minutes to develop the structure of the cake.
  3. Beat in the eggs and the rest of the liquid

For this cake, I modified that method a bit, beating the butter in by itself and then beating in the eggs with a portion of the liquid, following up with the rest of the liquid.

Why it works:

Working the softened butter into all the dry ingredients does a couple of things:

  • It coats the flour with fat, limiting gluten formation
  • It allows the sugar to start going into solution with the water in the butter. This further limits the water available to activate gluten

Taking the time to beat the eggs in with a portion of the liquid (sour cream, in this case) allows for some gluten development so the cake isn’t so tender that it completely falls apart.

Mixing in the remaining sour cream at the end lightens the batter just a bit. It also adds volume.

Since you’re mixing it in at the very end, it has limited time to activate more gluten.

The end result is a moist and tender cake that also holds together well.

Visual How-To

Here are some photos to show you how to mix up the cinnamon ribbon, turn some of it into streusel, mix the batter, and layer everything together before baking.

Making the Ribbon and Streusel

A collage of four overhead images of a bowl with the brown sugar and cinnamon ribbon and then adding butter and flour to a portion of it to make streusel for the topping.
  1. Brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, espresso powder, and vanilla go in the bowl.
  2. Mix with a fork until all is evenly moistened and sandy. Set aside four ounces for the ribbon.
  3. to the remaining brown sugar mixture, add butter, flour, and a bit more cinnamon
  4. Mix with fingertips until crumbly.

Now you have your ribbon and topping. All you need now is to make the cake.

Here’s how:

A collage of four images of mixing coffee cake batter. In the first butter is getting mixed thoroughly into the dry ingredients. In the next, eggs and some sour cream are added. The third image is of the batter mixing in the mixer bowl. The last image shows the batter scraped into the center of the bowl with the last of the sour cream added.
  1. After whisking all the dry ingredients together thoroughly, softened butter gets mixed into the dry mix completely. This limits gluten formation by coating the flour with fat.
  2. In go two eggs plus about 1/4 of the sour cream/vanilla (not pictured)
  3. Beat the batter for about 90 seconds on medium speed. This helps aerate the batter and develop some structure.
  4. Add the last of the sour cream, mixing it in on low speed for a few seconds and then finishing up by hand.

Panning Everything Up

The last step before the cake meets the oven is to layer the ribbon in with the batter and top everything with streusel.

A collage of four images showing spreading batter in the pan and layering in the cinnamon ribbon, dotting on more batter, and spreading it out to cover the filling.
  1. Spread about half the batter evenly into your pan.
  2. Top as evenly as you can with the cinnamon ribbon.
  3. Blob on the rest of the batter evenly.
  4. Carefully use an offset spatula to spread the batter to cover. It won’t be perfect. If it is, you get a gols star, because mine was not perfect.

Lastly, pile on the crumbs evenly.

Note this photo is of the square cake. The photos in the collage above are of the 9″ x 13″ cake. The streusel on a 9″ x 13″ will not be as thick as it is on the 8″ square cake.

An overhead shot of a square cake with a lot of brown sugar cinnamon streusel piled on top. You cannot see the batter because the streusel covers all of it.

You can press the crumbs down lightly with your hand if you’d like.

I didn’t bother, and they seemed to stick just fine, so it’s your call.

All that’s left now is to bake.

The larger, thinner cake will be ready in roughly 40 minutes while it will take the square cake roughly 45-50 minutes to bake, depending on your oven or whether you used an 8″ square or 9″ square pan.

For your reference, I used an 8″ pan.

Which Pan Size Should I Use?

I tested this cake in 2 sizes:

  • 9″ x 13″ rectangle
  • 8″ square

The recipe works in either pan.

When deciding, always opt for the pan that you own.

If you own both, here are the considerations:

  • How tall the cake is
  • Do you like a higher cake or one that, when you slice it, is appreciably shorter than it is wide?
  • Filling/topping to cake ratio

Here is what a slice of each cake looks like, side by side:

Two pieces of coffee cake next to each other. One is about twice the height of the other. Both have cinnamon streusel on top and a cinnamon and brown sugar ribbon running through the center.

The cake baked in the larger pan will have a bit less filling per square inch, just because it has to cover more area.

The topping will also be a bit thinner.

This is balanced by having a thinner cake, though.

Here’s what the two cakes look like from the top and in cross-section:

Equipment You May Need

You can make this cake with a hand mixer or a stand mixer. It’s easier to use a stand mixer, because it saves your arm from having to manipulate a hand mixer for long periods.

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It will take longer to make the batter with a hand mixer, but you can still do it.

Otherwise, bake in an 8″ square pan, a 9″ square pan, or a 9″ x 13″ pan.

And don’t underestimate the power of an offset spatula to make your life easier. I use one to spread the batter and also to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan.

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Tips for Success

If your instant coffee has large crystals, put it in a small bowl and crush it to powder with the back of a spoon, making it easier to blend into the swirl and streusel.

When using the reverse creaming method, make sure your butter is very soft. You want it much softer than you’d have it for The Creaming Method but not greasy or melted.

Variations

There are many ways to vary the cake. A few of these variations tinker with the batter itself. Most can be made by altering the ingredients in the swirl and streusel or adding a mix-in to the batter.

Have I tried these ideas yet? No. Will I? Yes. An emphatic yes.

  • Extreme Ribbon, Extreme Streusel: Double all ribbon/streusel ingredients, holding out 6 oz for the filling and adding butter and flour to the remaining topping mix
  • Chocolate Chip: Reduce the cinnamon by half and sub with cocoa powder. That will give you chocolatey ribbon and streusel. Add in finely chopped dark chocolate to the streusel mix and some mini chocolate chips to the batter. I’d consider adding them only to the top “half” of the batter to reduce the risk of them sinking and burning on the bottom of the pan. Or at least use more chocolate chips in the top half than the bottom.
  • Chocolate Raspberry: Lose the cinnamon in the ribbon and streusel and replace with cocoa powder. Add some shaved dark chocolate and powdered, freeze-dried raspberries to the mix. If you want, fold chopped fresh raspberries into the batter at the very end of mixing and before panning.
  • Orange Cinnamon: Add the zest of 1 large orange to the batter and 1/2 teaspoon orange extract to the ribbon and streusel mix. Or use more zest if you have an extra orange. Some toasted and finely chopped almonds would be really nice here too.
  • Butterscotch Pecan: Brown 2 sticks of butter and let cool until soft but not melted anymore. Use 2/3 of that in the cake, substituting dark brown sugar for half the amount of granulated sugar. Use the rest of the browned butter in the streusel mixture. No need to change any other ingredients in the ribbon or streusel, but add finely chopped, toasted pecans to the batter and/or the streusel topping.
  • Orange Espresso: This is actually the original variation I posted here eons ago. I’ll show you a picture in a sec. To the batter, add the zest of 1 orange, a couple of drops of orange oil, and 2 teaspoons espresso powder. If all you have is instant coffee with big crystals, crush it to a powder with the back of a spoon so it mixes in evenly. To the ribbon/streusel, add 1 extra teaspoon of espresso powder and the zest of half an orange. Note the batter color will definitely be darker. But it also may be The Best Ever.
A beige piece of cake with streusel on top.

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I know you all will have your own ideas, and I hope you feel confident enough to give them a try.

If not, you know where to find me. I’ll help you figure out your perfect coffee cake variation! (Email me!)

Cinnamon Coffee Cake Q & A

A close-up shot of a slice of cake topped with brown sugar streusel and a mug of coffee.
Can I substitute self-rising flour?

Absolutely. Use 9 ounces by weight of self-rising flour rather than the cake flour. Omit both the baking powder and baking soda. NOTE: Do make sure it’s a relatively new bag of self-rising flour, otherwise the leaveners might not have as much oomph.

How long will this keep?

Keep tightly covered at room temperature for up to five days. For best texture, reheat pieces for either a few seconds in the microwave or a 5-7 minutes at 350 in your toaster oven or regular oven. If not reheating with the microwave, wrap the slices in foil so they don’t get too dry in the oven.

Can I freeze coffee cake?

Yes, you can. Wrap individual slices in double layers of plastic wrap followed by heavy-duty foil. Freeze for up to 3 months, but really, try to use it within a couple of months for best texture and flavor. Bring to room temperature and then reheat as above to serve.

Questions

If you have any questions about this post or recipe, I am happy to help.

Simply leave a comment here and I will get back to you soon. I also invite you to ask question in my Facebook group, Fearless Kitchen Fun.

If your question is more pressing, please feel free to email me. I should be back in touch ASAP, as long as I’m not asleep.

A Note About Measurements

My recipes are almost all written by weight, including liquids, unless otherwise specified.

For accuracy and consistency of results, I encourage you to buy–and use–a kitchen scale.

I promise that baking and cleanup will be so much quicker and easier.

This is the scale that I recommend for home use. I have owned and used one for years.

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07/19/2024 12:57 am GMT

Love This? Consider Rating and Reviewing. It Helps!

5 golden stars for rating recipes
A square of coffee cake on a plate with a mug of coffee.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Jennifer Field
A classic sour cream coffee cake with brown sugar cinnamon swirl and streusel packs tons of buttery, vanilla-y, brown sugar cinnamony flavor in every bite. This coffee cake is very similar to the one my mom used to make as an after-school treat. Super nostalgic, tender and moist, and perfection with a cup of coffee.
4.56 from 9 votes
Tried this recipe?Please give it a star rating!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Cake Recipes
Cuisine American
Servings 12 servings
Calories 433 kcal

Ingredients

For the Swirl and Crumb Topping

  • 224 grams dark brown sugar 8 oz or 1 well-packed cup
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt I use Morton’s
  • 15 grams cinnamon, divided use 0.5 oz or 5 1/2 teaspoons
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee
  • 15 grams vanilla extract 0.5 oz or 1 Tablespoon
  • 112 grams cake flour 4 oz or a scant cup
  • 84 grams butter, soft but not greasy or melted 3 oz, 6 Tablespoons, or 3/4 stick

For the Batter

  • 170 grams granulated sugar 6 oz or a generous 3/4 cup
  • 252 grams cake flour 9 oz or about 2 cups
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt I use Morton’s
  • 8 grams baking powder 1 3/4 teaspoons
  • 2 grams baking soda 1/4 teaspoon
  • 140 grams unsalted butter 5 oz, 10 Tablespoons, or 1 1/4 sticks
  • 242 grams sour cream 8.55 oz or 1 cup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs

Instructions
 

For the Streusel

  • If your instant coffee is in granules, crush it to a powder with the back of a spoon.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the dark brown sugar, salt, 10 grams (about 4 teaspoons) cinnamon, instant coffee, and vanilla until everything is evenly moistened.
  • Remove 4 oz of this mixture and set aside.
  • To the rest, add the additional 5 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) of cinnamon, flour and butter. Work the butter into the flour and sugar mixture until you have a nice, crumbly mix. Set aside.

For the Cake

  • Set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350F.
  • Prepare a 8" or 9" square pan or a 9" x 13" pan by spraying lightly with pan spray. Fold a piece of parchment into a strip wide enough to cover the bottom of the pan and overhang 2 sides. Use a square pan for a thicker cake and a 9 x 13 for a thinner cake.
  • Whisk the sour cream and vanilla together until completely combined.
  • In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer, combine sugar, cake flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk to combine well.
  • Add the softened butter and mix on low speed until the butter is completely incorporated and you can't see any pieces of butter. Mixture will look sandy. Scrape bowl as necessary.
  • Add the eggs and about 1/4 of the sour cream/vanilla mixture, and mix on low for about 15 seconds to moisten the flour mixture. Scrape the bowl.
  • Increase speed to medium and mix for about 90 seconds. This will help develop the structure of the cake. Scrape the bowl.
  • Scrape in the rest of the sour cream mixture and mix on low until incorporated, about 15 seconds, scraping bowl as necessary.
  • Spread half the batter into the prepared pan.
  • Evenly sprinkle over the reserved 4 ounces of brown sugar mixture.
  • Blob on the second half of the batter and use an offset spatula to carefully spread to cover the brown sugar.
  • Evenly pile on the crumbs to completely cover the batter. (NOTE: They may not completely cover the batter if you're baking in a 9 x 13. If you'd like to make additional crumbs, have at it!)
  • Bake for about 35-40 minutes for a 9" x 13" pan or up to about 50 minutes if baking in a square pan. Tent with foil during the last 15 minutes if things seem to be browning too quickly.
  • When the cake is done, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes.
  • Use a small offset spatula to loosen the sides of the cake without the parchment. Use the parchment "handles" to remove the cake to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • NOTE: When I bake in a larger pan, I just let the cake cool in the pan and serve directly from there. When baking in a square pan, I remove it.
  • Wait to slice until completely cool, but serve slightly warm.
  • Keep leftovers tightly covered at room temperature for about 5 days. Freeze for longer storage.
  • Enjoy!

Did You Make Any Changes?

Notes

For an even sweeter and more tender cake, you can increase the butter to 2 sticks and increase the sugar to 10 oz. All other measurements remain the same.
The extra fat will give you even more buttery flavor and a more tender crumb.
The additional sugar will make the crumb even finer, hold onto moisture, and make it extra sweet.

Variations

  • Streusel That Sinks Into the Cake: The secret to getting those brown sugary “craters” on the top of your coffee cake is this: omit the butter from the streusel and just work in the flour. Increase the butter from 3 to 4 ounces, and melt it. Then drizzle the melted butter evenly over the streusel before baking as directed.
  • Super Tender, Super Rich Coffee Cake: Increase the butter from 5 ounces to 2 sticks, or 8 oz, and increase the sugar in the batter from 6 ounces to 9 oz. Everything else remains the same.
  • Extreme Ribbon, Extreme Streusel: Double all ribbon/streusel ingredients, holding out 6 oz for the filling and adding butter and flour to the remaining topping mix
  • Chocolate Chip: Reduce the cinnamon by half and sub with cocoa powder. That will give you chocolatey ribbon and streusel. Add in finely chopped dark chocolate to the streusel mix and some mini chocolate chips to the batter. I’d consider adding them only to the top “half” of the batter to reduce the risk of them sinking and burning on the bottom of the pan. Or at least use more chocolate chips in the top half than the bottom.
  • Chocolate Raspberry: Lose the cinnamon in the ribbon and streusel and replace with cocoa powder. Add some shaved dark chocolate and powdered, freeze-dried raspberries to the mix. If you want, fold chopped fresh raspberries into the batter at the very end of mixing and before panning.
  • Orange Cinnamon: Add the zest of 1 large orange to the batter and 1/2 teaspoon orange extract to the ribbon and streusel mix. Or use more zest if you have an extra orange. Some toasted and finely chopped almonds would be really nice here too.
  • Butterscotch Pecan: Brown 2 sticks of butter and let cool until soft but not melted anymore. Use 2/3 of that in the cake, substituting dark brown sugar for half the amount of granulated sugar. Use the rest of the browned butter in the streusel mixture. No need to change any other ingredients in the ribbon or streusel, but add finely chopped, toasted pecans to the batter and/or the streusel topping.
  • Orange Espresso: This is actually the original variation I posted here eons ago. I’ll show you a picture in a sec. To the batter, add the zest of 1 orange, a couple of drops of orange oil, and 2 teaspoons espresso powder. If all you have is instant coffee with big crystals, crush it to a powder with the back of a spoon so it mixes in evenly. To the ribbon/streusel, add 1 extra teaspoon of espresso powder and the zest of half an orange. Note the batter color will definitely be darker. But it also may be The Best Ever.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/12 cakeCalories: 433kcalCarbohydrates: 58.1gProtein: 4.9gFat: 20.6gSaturated Fat: 12.6gCholesterol: 77mgSodium: 377mgFiber: 1.5gSugar: 32.7g
Keyword cinnamon coffee cake, coffee cake, sour cream coffee cake
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I hope this cinnamon coffee cake checks all your boxes like it does mine!

Enjoy, and thank you for spending some time with me today.

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20 Comments

  1. So many childhood memories this conjures up. Some not really so tasty but still good memories. This version is a crowd pleaser – will make this over and over especially for brunch to share!

  2. 5 stars
    I made this over the weekend and it was such a delicious and moist cake. And OMG that crumble topping! Soooooo goooood!!!

  3. This cake recipe is a must-try! Ingredients are well proportioned to work together to create a masterpiece cake.

    1. Thank you so much, Nadia! I am super pleased with the result, and I really think people are going to love it. I also appreciate your just being able to tell by looking at ingredients and amounts what the end result will be. That’s always a signal for me, too. I hope to pass that knowledge along to others so they aren’t unpleasantly surprised by the result of trying a random recipe. 🙂

  4. Sounds scrumptious….But what I’m really here to tell you is that I finally made your Breakfast to Dinner bread——Oh my! Deelicious! Having a slice toasted right now as a late night snack. Hmmmm!

  5. Coffee cakes are some of the most fun recipes to play around with. We used to make a fantastic lemon-poppyseed one at one of the bakeries where I worked back in the states. One time I doctored it up to make an orange-hazelnut coffee cake. And I was not wrong. Which is to say, I love orange coffee cake, too!

4.56 from 9 votes (6 ratings without comment)

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