Coffee Cake

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

coffee cake, as Americans know it today, descends from ancient honey cakes, yeasty French galettes, medieval enriched breads, and seventeenth-century German kuchen. The practice of pairing sweet cakes with exotic hot beverages is of long standing. Nearly as soon as coffee, tea, and chocolate were introduced into Europe in the seventeenth century, patissiers and confectioners began making sweet foods to accompany them.

In Germany, Henriette Davidis’s popular nineteenth-century middle-class German cookbook Praktisches Kochbuch (Practical Cookbook, 1879) offered recipes for cakes (Kuchen) especially suited for serving with coffee. See kuchen. These included Westphalian Butter, or Coffee or Sugar Cake, a yeast-based warm-milk kuchen topped with coarsely chopped almonds, cinnamon, and butter cut into thick strips; and American Cake, which she advised eating with coffee or tea or for dessert. Davidis carefully explained how to serve coffee and “small friendly” cakes, providing a long list of baked goods appropriate for such occasions. Although the book’s 1904 American edition, German National Cookery for American Kitchens, offered many of the same recipes, Davidis’s notes on coffee service were eliminated, and the single recipe titled Coffee Cake featured coffee as an actual ingredient—not at all a traditional Kaffeekuchen.