Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Coffee cakes have a bum rap, in my opinion. They just sound boring as hell. It never occurred to me to ever bake one. This was my first coffee cake.

I am born again.

My friend Donna Natale Mason is a proud Texas woman living in the cold North. She sent me a recipe for coffee cake about 6 months ago and told me two things. One, she told me that she could make a grown man cry for joy and worship at her feet with the recipe. And, two, she told me that it was top secret and that I could make it and share in the warm glow of her family secret, but I couldn’t share it. Oh sweet Mary. Dilemma, stress, angst, worry…what to do? It has been saved on my computer for all these months and I haven’t even read it start to finish because like the town gossip who knows about, and feels bad about, her weakness, I’m worried sick that if I actually read about and bake Donna’s cake, I won’t be able to keep it to myself and would share it with my (thankfully) ever growing circle of PIE people. The result of this is that I have been obsessed with the idea of making a coffee cake since she sent the recipe to me. Finally, I found the perfect substitute recipe.

I don’t think for a moment that my rendition could make a man weep. I know this, because I’ve watched 3 or 4 men take bites of this, and while I’ve put them into silent, smiling, plate-licking mode…a tear has not been shed on my cake’s behalf. Lily, my painfully honest daughter, did declare, however, that she wants this cake for her birthday cake. Since her last birthday caused a triple decker multi-colored fondant affair, I take this as high praise.

And, it is great. It is humble and simple. It is also rather large. It is impregnated with thick stripes of cinnamon and brown sugar and has an irresistible pecan studded topping. I am smitten. I think the secret to its success is likely the sour cream. It is a natural for being cooked in a tube pan because it gives a nice stable top for holding onto the maximum amount of topping. I borrowed the bulk of the recipe from Cooks Illustrated’s American Classics Cookbook. Then I took their advice on streusel and I upped the volume a bit. I really like brown sugar and cinnamon, a lot. Also, to get the cake out of its pan, one has to flip the cake on its head, and then put it back the right way on its cake plate so the streusel remains on top for serving. You lose some good topping that way and I wanted to make sure there was plenty left…there is. By the way, you will want to do your cake flipping over the sink for this very reason.

You will need a 10 cup capacity tube pan for this cake.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 12
This is a showstopper of a coffee cake.
Layering Sugar
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
Top Streusel
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (to grease pan)
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1½ cups sour cream (divided use)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  1. For the Layering Sugar, combine the flour, the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, and the cinnamon in a small bowl.
  2. For the Top Streusel, in a second small bowl combine the flour, the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, and the cinnamon, butter and pecans. Use your hands or a pastry cutter to work the butter into the streusel mixture until all of the topping is moistened. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10 cup capacity tube pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter. In a small bowl combine the eggs, 1 cup of the sour cream and the vanilla.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix it for about 30 seconds to ensure that it is well combined. Add the butter and ½ cup remaining sour cream and mix on a low setting until all the ingredients are combined. Increase the speed to medium and mix for an additional 30 seconds. Slow down the mixer and slowly add the egg and sour cream mixture, in 3 additions, beating for 30 seconds and scraping the bowl after each addition. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for an additional minute.
  5. Add 2 generous cups of batter to the bottom of the prepared tube pan and spread it around evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with about half of the LAYERING SUGAR (no nuts). If you need to move it around a fork works nicely. Add one and a half cups more of the batter and, likewise, spread it around evenly with the spatula. Sprinkle on the rest of the LAYERING SUGAR (no nuts). Top with the remaining batter and sprinkle on the TOP (with nuts) streusel.
  6. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Some streusel may stick to the toothpick but there should not be any batter stuck to the pick. Mine took the full 60. Remove the pan to a rack and allow the cake to cool in the pan for 30 minutes.
  7. When you remove the cake from the pan you will invert it to get it to come out, and then re-invert it so that the streusel side is up.

NOTE: To do the inversion trick, you can use a wire rack, but I use a clever little invention that my mom made for me. If you are using a tube pan you will notice that the tube in the middle sticks up about 2 inches taller than the rest of the pan. Thus, your cake has to drop and thud onto the rack when you invert it. So we use a cardboard circle with a hole just the size of the tube cut out of the middle. It ends up looking like a fat lifesaver.  If you cover it carefully with foil you can use it over and over again. My mom has actually been using the same one for decades. So you put the “O” down over the tube and invert the pan. No thud. Then you can put your cake plate or rack on top and re-invert it. This works great for all cakes made in a tube pan. In fact, she made her first foil “O” to deal with her pound cake (coming soon). But it works especially nicely here because it captures streusel that would otherwise go all over the floor or down the drain. You will drop some streusel with this trick so do it over the sink, but between the “O” and the extra streusel, everything works out just great.

I hope you like this cake as much as we did. My execution was not perfect. Most notably I didn’t have time to let the cake cool for the entire 30 minutes, but the nature of the cake is a bit bumpy. I left the pecans chunky as I did not use a food processor to make the streusel and the result was decidedly rustic, but I thought it was gorgeous and it tasted great. Problematically great. Try it.

One upside of always taking photos of all of your food creations is that everyone hovers around waiting for a taste…giving you an opportunity to snap photos of them, too. They lose patience with this trick quickly, though. Isn’t that a great looking lizard? And, that’s Bob. You know Lily and Ford, by now. My mom was running around getting all the matching napkins…which I never have. So when I bake at the lake, so to speak, we get to play with dishes and napkins that actually go together on purpose instead of the stuff I pick up at garage sales to feed my, otherwise cost prohibitive, food styling habit. And by the way, that beat up tube pan that I got to use in this recipe, belonged to my Grandpa Virgil. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is to cook with one of his pans.

And finally, I promise…

This is yet another example of how when I start on a topic about which I know little I always turn to Cooks Illustrated first, be it the magazine, the Best Recipe book or this one, American Classics. I shed cookbooks here and there, and I chronically rip out pages from magazines, but I never ditch a Cooks Illustrated book, and I never rip up their magazines. And if you are fed up with paper, they have an excellent subscription based website that is wonderful. I wish they offered summer camps. I’d go work in their test kitchen for a month (or a lifetime).


  1. Dani says

    I can NOT wait to bake this cake. It is right up my alley since it has no frosting. I will have to sneak in the sour cream though since my husband considers it rotten milk ((rolling eyes)).

    Great pic of Bob! Please tell him I miss him like crazy!!!

  2. Kelly says

    So funny about the sour cream. I love the stuff for baking.

    Bob thinks PIE is going to have really high traffic today because I posted such a handsome photo of him. And, he is a really reliable cake tester. He takes the job very seriously and if he can’t decide if he likes a cake from the first piece, he’s always willing to eat one or two more just to be thorough. I’m lucky to have him on my team.

  3. Donna says

    My fellow debutante….this recipe is about 99% the same as mine. I think all coffee cakes start with the same base ingredients….sour cream IS the magic touch. I always add a little more, because a lot of my friends like how moist it becomes…..I like the tube pan idea….and I don’t know what it is about these Yankees up here…but they aren’t into nuts like Southerners are….now if we could just figure out how to add bacon to this….ha ha…actually, I once added those wet walnuts you can buy as an ice cream topping instead of middle layer of cinnamon/brown sugar mix.

  4. Kelly says

    Donna…thanks for making me snort laugh! I like the idea of bacon in a coffee cake. Let me know how that works out for ya! Tube pans rock, by the way.

  5. Barbi Norton says

    This is going to be my contribution for the day after Thanksgiving breakfast. It looks and sounds so yummy! Love the photos, especially the one of RD – he’s a handsome man!

  6. Kelly says

    Barbi, let me know how it works out for you. I love it. I’m already thinking it is time to make another one!

  7. Donna says

    So, this is my second time making this diet buster….I think I am going to cut back on the streusal filling…I thought it was a bit heavy….I am going to heavy up the pecans for the topping….Yankee husband likes that part! Oh, and I made bacon. Because, I could.

  8. Sam says

    How do you think this would come out if I used a 9X13 pan? I want to make this for a friend & that style pan would be easier to transport.

  9. Kelly says

    I have no idea but I would love to know. I used a 10 cup capacity tube pan, if memory serves. And I believe a 9 by 13 has 12 cups of capacity, so it should be pretty close…and when you add the toppings…I think it might work great. But, I haven’t tried. If you do, please get back to us and let us know!!! Now I want to try it, too. It would be easier.

  10. Lindsey says

    I made this coffee cake, and loved it! The streusel was beyond amazing. I gave it to Scott the second day to take up to work so I wouldn’t eat it all. I decided I wanted it back, but his office had already eaten it all! haha. Thanks Kelly.

  11. Nancy says

    I made one to keep and gave three as gifts. I had phone calls from all three wanting the recipe! Thanks for another delicious recipe!

  12. Donna Natale says

    Um. I’ve been keeping track. This is the 32nd time I’ve made this. I’ve omitted pecans and done bacon crumbles a couple of times. No wonder you can serve dinner for 4 on my backside.

  13. says

    Admiring the time and energy you put into your blog and
    in depth information you present. It’s great to come across a blog every once in a
    while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed information. Excellent read!

    I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  14. Sonya says

    I made this coffeecake yesterday, side by side the Pecan Sour Cream Coffee Cake from Cook’s Country, and I agree, this one was fabulous! Soft, delicious yummy inside with tons of good topping. It was the overall favorite and will definitely be making a reappearance in my house. Oh so good! I used a 6 cup tube pan and divided the recipe by two. The cook’s country recipe was also very good, and very different, so it earned a repeat status too :) It has toasted tiny pecan pieces inside, so the cake part was delicious, but the glazes were kinda boring so next time I’m gonna make less batter and top it with another streusel I loved from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking where the cake part was too wheaty but the streusel was heavenly. Anyway, the recipe that you posted was just perfect as written and needed no adaptations, and I would highly recommend it to anyone!


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