This easy sour cream coffee cake is layered with a crumbly pecan-cinnamon filling and moist, tender yellow cake. It’s the perfect crowd-pleasing treat for breakfast or brunch.
Coffee cake is a classic sharable breakfast treat. At once spongey and moist with a nutty topping, it’s the perfect sweet complement to your morning or afternoon caffeine hit. Plus, coffee cake is easy to pack and transport, making it the ideal potluck recipe.
This sour cream coffee cake recipe, in particular, features tender, fluffy cake layered with a crunchy cinnamon-nut topping. A middle nutty layer adds just the right amount of texture and rich flavor for a well-balanced breakfast that’s satisfying but won’t leave you with a sugar crash.
If you’re looking for the best sour cream coffee cake to start your day or share with friends, you’re in the right place. Start with my helpful tips and tricks so your cake comes out perfectly moist, tender, and flavorful every time.
Why this recipe works
I tested this sour cream coffee cake recipe to guarantee an even crumb with plenty of warming cinnamon flavor. Achieve a moist, buttery texture by combining tangy sour cream and butter in the cake batter. These two dairy additions keep the cake from drying out in the oven. Plus, the sour cream adds a nice acidic note to balance some of the sweetness.
Rather than a dense, sugary streusel, I top my easy coffee cake with a simple cinnamon-nut mixture. I find it’s lighter than streusel. And you won’t get that heavy, wet texture that butter-based streusel can sometimes leave on the top of a cake. You can use walnuts, pecans, or both, depending on what you have on hand and what you prefer.
I find the nuts add a satisfying crunch and buttery, toasty flavor that melds deliciously with the yellow cake. And by layering the nut crumble inside the cake, every bite has plenty of texture and flavor. As the cake bakes, the nutty layer melts into the cake for an effortless swirl-like effect that makes every slice as pretty as it is delicious.
At the end of the day, this cake is light enough to avoid weighing you down and satisfying enough to enjoy for breakfast. It’s a win-win!
Sour Cream Coffee Cake Recipe
You’ll be delighted by how easy this sour cream coffee cake recipe is to make. It follows the classic muffin mixing method. To ensure success, follow these simple tips:
- Let all of your ingredients come to room temperature before you start mixing the batter. This ensures even baking and will help everything mix together into a uniform batter.
- The first step is to cream your butter and sugar. This beats air into the butter, which will help your cake rise and lighten as it bakes. It’s easiest to do this with an electric mixer and a paddle attachment. However, you can get the job done by hand with some elbow grease.
- After you add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredient mixture, it’s important not to overmix the batter. As soon as the flour gets wet, the gluten starts to activate. And the more you mix, the more gluten you’ll activate. After a certain point, over-activating the gluten will result in a tough, chewy cake. For best results, stop mixing as soon as everything is pretty evenly mixed. It’s totally fine if some lumps of flour remain in the batter.
- Brown and white sugar. Brown sugar adds a delightful caramel note to the nut crumble, while white sugar keeps the cake light and fluffy.
- Pecans. Feel free to use walnuts if you’re not a fan of pecans. I recommend toasting the nuts first to maximize flavor. See my note below the recipe for how to easily toast nuts in the oven.
- Cinnamon. This is a classic coffee cake spice that adds a familiar, warming flavor that’s perfect with hot coffee.
- Butter. Unsalted butter is the key to a moist, flavorful cake. Use room temperature butter for easier blending.
- Eggs. Eggs add moisture, fat, and leavening to your cake batter. The water in the egg whites turns to steam in the oven, which creates an airy cake crumb.
- Sour cream. This adds incredible tang and flavor. You can easily swap out sour cream for plain Greek yogurt. Choose full-fat for maximum flavor.
- Flour and salt. Use all-purpose flour for this cake.
- Baking powder and baking soda: Together, this duo ensures your coffee cake rises to new heights in the oven.
How To Make Sour Cream Coffee Cake
There are two features in this coffee cake recipe: the sour cream cake batter and the cinnamon-nut filling. I like to start by making the filling. Then, while the oven preheats and after the filling is assembled, I’ll start mixing the sour cream cake batter.
The batter is a simple matter of mixing wet ingredients in a stand mixer and gradually adding in the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined, assemble your cake, and bake!
Step 1: Make The Filling
Before you make the nutty filling for your cinnamon coffee cake, preheat the oven to 325°F and prepare a baking dish by greasing it with nonstick spray. Then, stir together the brown sugar, chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts), and cinnamon until evenly combined for the filling. Set this aside for now.
Step 2: Make The Cake
The first step to make the sour cream cake batter is to cream together softened butter and white sugar. Beat the ingredients on high speed until you have a light buttery paste in the mixing bowl.
Next, add the eggs, one at a time. Mix until totally combined after each addition. Do the same with the sour cream and vanilla extract. The batter should be a uniform color, but may look a bit curdled. Don’t worry, that’s normal.
In a separate mixing bowl, use a fine-mesh strainer to sift together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Then gradually add the dry ingredient mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix the batter.
Now you’re ready to assemble your cake. Start by pouring half of the batter into your greased 9x9-inch baking dish. Spread it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Then cover the cake batter in the pan with ⅔ of the nutty filling in an even layer. Add the remaining cake batter on top of the filling and spread it flat again. Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture on top.
Step 3: Bake
Now all that’s left to do is bake the cake. Pop it into your preheated oven on a center rack. After about 50 minutes, the cake should be fully cooked. Check it by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out mostly clean, it’s done. Remove the cake from the oven and cool it on a wire rack before removing the cake from the pan and cooling it completely.
Tips For Success
Here are a few simple tips to ensure your homemade coffee cake is a success:
- The best way to measure flour accurately is the scoop and level method. Scoop flour into a dry measuring cup, then use a flat surface, like a butter knife, to level it off.
- For easy unmolding, line your baking dish with two overlapping pieces of parchment paper. I like to fasten the parchment to the sides of the pan with binder clips, as you can see in the photos. Just be sure to remove the clips before baking!
- To avoid overbaking your cake, check it early and often. If you see the top is browning too quickly before the cake is fully cooked, cover it with aluminum foil.
Storing & Freezing
To store: Store leftover sour cream coffee cake wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days.
To freeze: Make sure the cake is cooled fully to room temperature. Then wrap in several layers of plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
Originally published January 2017. Post updated January 2021 with new photos and a video. The recipe was updated for a lighter cake texture.
Watch the sour cream coffee cake web story!