lost ingredient – café au lait cake

lost ingredient – café au lait cake

Coffee cake, also known as Kuchen or Gugelhupf, evolved from the ancient honey cake. When coffee made it’s way to 17th century Europe, coffee cakes were invented as an accompaniment to the new beverage.

The early versions of coffee cakes were adaptations of a yeast-based product, sweetened with sugar, enriched with nuts and dried fruits, and perfumed with warm earthy spices. Crumb topping, known as streusel, was fairly common, but some will argue that the word only refers to the swirl of nuts and spices within the cake and not what’s on top

In the 19th century, an American version of coffee cake was based on a Danish recipe included actual coffee. It was a way to use leftover coffee, but most bakers used freshly brewed coffee or extract. Unlike in Europe, enjoying this cake with a cup of coffee was rarely mentioned, until World War I when cookbooks widely suggested the combo. As coffee cake gain popularity in America, it finally earned it’s own category in the culinary world in the 20s.

I don’t know how or when coffee was excluded as an ingredient, but it seems like a great idea to add it once again to complement the cinnamon and nuts. After all, having coffee and cake in one bite is my idea of a delightful morning or afternoon treat, with or without that side cup of coffee.


Café au lait Cake




Café au lait Pastry Cream
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (3-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (1-1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Cinnamon Pecan Swirl
  • 1/3 cup toasted pecans
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Coffee Cake
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cups sour cream, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup toasted pecans
  • 3/4 cups (5-1/4 onces) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter (5-1/2 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature
Crumb Topping
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) cake flour
  • Cake layers
  • Cafe Au Lait Pastry Cream
  • Crumb Topping
  • Coffee Glaze, recipe to follow
Coffee Glaze
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons Kahlúa
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoons fine sea salt


Café au lait Pastry Cream

1. Heat half-and-half and espresso powder in medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in medium bowl until smooth. Add flour to yolk mixture and whisk until incorporated. Remove half-and-half from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly add half-and-half to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to saucepan.

2. Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly, 5-6 minutes.

3. Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat; whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is melted and incorporated. Strain pastry cream through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Press lightly greased parchment paper directly on surface and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Cinnamon Pecan Swirl

1. Combine all ingredients in a mini food processor or clean spice grinder, pulse until pecans are grounded. (Do not over mix or pecan will turn into a paste.) Scrape mixture into a small bowl and set aside. (no need to clean processor)

Coffee Cake

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350℉. Grease two 9-inch cake pan with softened butter, set aside.

2. Whisk eggs, sour cream, maple syrup, and vanilla together in measuring cup, set aside. Combine  pecans and 1/4 cup of sugar in the now empty mini food processor and pulse until pecans are grounded. (Do not over mix or pecan will turn into a paste.)

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix flour, pecans mixture, remaining sugar, baking powder, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed until combined. Increase speed to medium, add butter in several additions until combined. Add half of the egg mixture and beat until batter starts to come together, about 15 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl, add remaining egg mixture, and beat until batter is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes (scrape down sides of bowl again after 1 minute).

4. Divide batter evenly into prepared cake pans, using rubber spatula to smooth out surface. Sprinkle streusel evenly over batter, using a knife or small offset spatula, swirl streusel through batter to make a marble pattern. (Don’t over swirl or streusel disappear into the batter).

5. Bake until skewer inserted into middle of cake comes out with a few crumbs attached, about 20-25 minutes. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 30 minutes, then invert onto wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

Crumb Topping

1. With oven rack in middle position reduce heat to 325℉. Whisk sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in medium bowl to combine. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture resembles thick dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Spread crumb topping in a 1/2-inch thick even layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Use fingers to break up the crumb sheet into various size crumbs.


1. Trim top of cake layers if necessary to smooth top. Place one cake round on a cake stand or large plate. Whisk pastry cream briefly, then spoon onto center of cake. Using offset spatula, spread evenly to edge of cake. Place second layer on pastry cream, bottom side up, making sure layers line up properly. Press lightly on top of cake to level. Refrigerate cake to set, about 20-30 minutes. Prepare glaze.

Coffee Glaze

1. Whisk all ingredients in a bowl until smooth and combined.

2. Remove cake from refrigerator and spoon glaze on top of cake. Using small offset spatula, spread glaze evenly over top and allow some to drizzle off the edge. Let set for 5 minutes and sprinkle crumb topping on top. Serve.