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When I say "coffee cake" ...

... you think

(A) it's a cake made with coffee (or espresso)

(B) it's a cake meant to be served and eaten with coffee

I've always associated "coffee cake" with (A), but more and more nowadays I've come across people and menus where it's (B).

Is there one settled meaning, and how in the world does one discern the difference on, say, a menu?

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  1. Coffee Cake is B...normally I think of sour cream coffee cake that has cinnamon and sugar and possible nuts.

    (A) is usually a type of cake like Espresso Cheesecake etc.

    1. It is (B).

      I learned that definitively the day I met my Helsinki born husband and he asked me if I would like a piece of "coffee bread".

      A coffee cake is part of a small meal, like afternoon tea. It isn't usually listed as a choice on a menu. If there is a menu for meals and it lists choices for dessert, possibly with flavors (straberry, vanilla, etc.), that's a clue.

      1. actually (C) - childhood flashback to plastic packages of Drake's and boxes of Entenmann's...which technically fall under (B)...and there must be a crunchy, sugary strusel topping involved and preferably sour cream in the batter.

        (A) would never cross my mind upon simply hearing the words "coffee cake."

        2 Replies
        1. re: goodhealthgourmet


          In addition to the streusel topping, the cake is of a denser consistency.

          An interesting aside, while on a dictionary site to check on my spelling of "streusel" it noted that the word was introduced in the 1920's-30. Derived from the German "to strew".

          1. re: meatn3

            +2. I used to love the Drake's coffee cakes as snacks in school.

        2. I vote B, too. Could this be either a generational or regional thing? (I'm middle-aged and Midwestern.)

          1 Reply
          1. re: lemons

            Yes on "B". I don't think it has anything to do with generation or region; I'm an ol' geezer originally from CT. Coffee cake is the name given to a type of pastry which does not have any coffee in it, just as spaghetti sauce is a name and has no spaghetti in it.

          2. My vote is for B. But if you've grown up around a lot of Chinese bakeries, I can see why you would think A.

            1. B.

              A has never even crossed my mind until now, and I am well into my fifth decade.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Karl S

                A baker friend of mine recalls one Sunday in his retail bakery a woman came up and asked "Are your coffee cakes made with Decaf or regular coffee?" and the clerks started laughing uncontrollably, probably didn't see that customer again!!!!

                1. re: ospreycove

                  This reminds me of the Fawlty Towers episode where Basil Fawlty gets an order from an American guest for Waldorf Salad (unfamiliar in Britian) and thinks it has Waldorfs in it---asks his wife if a Waldorf is a walnut that's gone orf.

                2. re: Karl S

                  I have to agree, Karl S and I have 2.5 more decades if that helps re- re:Karl S
                  inforce the opinion.

                3. Wow, color me stupid.

                  I guess coffee cakes comes from the same place that "tea cakes" come from ... Go figure.

                  FWIW, at least wiki acknowledges my goofiness ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_cake

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Maybe the origin is from the German, Kaffee und Kuchen, a very important social ritual. Many Konditorei offer the coffee and cake throughout the day. It is a leisurely event, in one's day.

                    1. re: ospreycove

                      Except that American coffee cake was/is typically eaten for breakfast or a late morning snack, whereas Kaffee und Kuchen is more like tea and biscuits being eaten before the evening meal (the Bavarians have a different tradition for late-morning snacking, involving weisswurst & brotchen).

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Karl....yes, but before 11:00A.M. and with a beer!!!!!

                        1. re: ospreycove

                          But of course (I should have been more specific about "late morning" - I wouldn't want anyone to think I was a Prussian barbarian of the kind that might take a fork and knife to weisswurst rather than holding the wurst by the fingers and sucking the contents out properly; my forebears, though, were Schwabische /Badeners - Augsburg, Schwarzwald, Rust in Baden and Karlsruhe).

                          1. re: Karl S

                            karl, Nothing worse than seeing a tourist eating the casing of Weisswurst with utensils. No such tradition in Rheinland Pfalz though!!

                  2. Like others, I grew up eating the Drake's and Entenmann's variety always purchased at the supermarket. On special occasion days that warranted a trip to the local bakery, a better version was purchased in its own round pan....or one in the form of a square cut out from a sheet pan. Depending on which bakery you went to, some had large crumbs and some had small crumbs toppings. Also, some would make a cake consistency bottom, and others would make one more of a bread consistency. I enjoyed both, but preferred the cake bottom. Unfortunately for me the best crumb topping came with the bread bottom.....maybe in my next lifetime it will be different.

                    Costco sells this one that's pretty good for about $7


                    5 Replies
                    1. re: fourunder

                      fourunder.....Your description is of the elusive independent North Jersey bakery, and its best selling item on a Saturday morning...."Crumb cake", square cut, with about an inch thick crumb topping. I remember the base was a little "tough" not cakelike as it was made with baking soda and baking powder, quite a lot of butter, eggs, and someplaces used sour cream.It is nowhere to be found in Florida!!!!!

                        1. re: ospreycove

                          It was my weekend treat as I got older too....only for me it was on Sundays, after purchasing the paper at the corner news stand.

                          Let's not forget the Granulated Jelly and Boston Cream Donuts to wash the Coffee Cake down....

                          1. re: ospreycove

                            Flakowitz in Boynton Beach makes the square "streusels" on weekend mornings (maybe only sunday). They remind me of the days of walking to Snowflake Bakery in NJ and ordering "2 fromthe middle please." They always tried to give the 10-14 year olds the corners which were not as good. BTW they also have individual chocolate babkas which are to die for.

                          2. re: fourunder

                            $7. Nice. When they first let me go alone to the store, seventy years ago, it was to the bakery up the street to buy a coffee cake that was about 9 x 12 and had maybe an inch and a half of topping (think pineapple or cherry) and cost a dime.

                          3. IMHO it's B, but I'm a Midwesterner and it could certainly be a regional thing. I think of it as a fine-crumbed yellow dense cake with a cinnamony streusel topping, but can also relate to it now as any not-too-sweet cake with crumble and even fruit topping. Never crossed my mind that it might be made with coffee, because it was presented to me as a snack for WITH coffee, and if I'd thought there was coffee in it, I never would've tried it at the tender age of six or so.

                            1. B--definitely a dense yelloow cake with a streusel topping, also known as crumb cake.

                              Growing up, and when I was in the kosher baking business many years ago (note the Bagelman handle), only Honey cake was made with coffee in it.

                              1. B - cake made to be eaten with coffee, usually has a crumb topping....

                                1. I know that in the US it is B, but here in the UK it is A.
                                  Coffee cake is coffee flavoured cake.
                                  And cake is not a breakfast food.
                                  And it is usually served with tea.

                                  3 Replies
                                    1. re: Peg

                                      So what is a dense single layer yellow cake with cinnamon streusel topping is called in the UK?

                                      1. re: funniduck

                                        It isn't called anything because it doesn't exist!

                                    2. B. Unless it names the coffee like a mocha cake or espresso cake.

                                      1. When I was a kid coffee cake was B, had it every sunday after dinner at my grandmothers, with coffee.
                                        I have discovered the best coffee cake around, My Grandmother's of New England.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: roro1831

                                          (B) with a cinnamon crumb based topping

                                          Never heard of (A) but would certainly love to try it. I do make my chocolate cakes with a bit of espresso.

                                        2. Want "A"?
                                          In Monterey Park there's a place called O' My Buns. Seems like a brioche like bun which is brushed with coffee on top and baked.

                                          O' My Buns
                                          2251 S. Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park
                                          Next to Carrows

                                            1. "how in the world does one discern the difference on, say, a menu?"


                                              1. Um, when I was a kid, I always wondered why there was no coffee in coffee cake. And,since I did a ton of baking as a kid, I made my coffee cake with, you guessed it, instant coffee crystals in the center and in the crumbles on top!

                                                I do know now that it is B, cake to be had with coffee but I still make it my way with either some ground coffee beans or tea.

                                                Actually, my first thought when coffee cake is mentioned/seen is "gee, I wonder if this cake is the right kind, with actual coffee in it". My second thought is "I hope this is yummy sour cream apple (or cherry) cake" and my third thought is, if it isn't either of the above, "I hope there is an unhealthy amount of brown sugar, butter and flour crumbles on top"!

                                                1. B, and a very specific type of B at that - must be medium-density white cake swirled with cinnamon and topped with streusel.

                                                  1. In my traditional Jewish family in RI, the coffee cakes we brought home from the bakeries most resemble what people now call cinnamon or chocolate babka. I don't think I ever heard the word babka until it was popularized by Seinfeld.

                                                    So (B)

                                                    Bagelman is correct that honey cake is made with coffee -- my brother Lurker W is now the custodian of the family honey cake recipe, which may also be found in the 1965 Temple Emanu-El Sisterhood cookbook.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Bob W

                                                      We had bubka when I was growing up Jewish in Boston and called it that, though in my family we pronounced it BUB-kee (we also pronounced matzo MUTT-zee - go figure).

                                                      But bubka is quite different from what I think of as coffee cake - bubka is a yeast dough, coffee cake is more like a pound cake dough.

                                                      1. re: BobB

                                                        Actually, coffee cake is either made with a yeast dough or a baking powder batter. In recent years when many women work outside the home and home baking is less practiced, quick coffee cakes with baking powder have somewhat taken over. But if you go to a traditional bakery, you will assuredly be sold a yeast coffee cake as a twist, Julekaka, babka, kiddush cake, Hefenkrantz, Kugelhopf, stollen, Danish pastry aka Weinerbrod, etc. Check any standard cookbook (Joy of Cooking maybe) for confirmation.

                                                        My God, first we had people who think a Kindle is a book, and now we have people thinking that Little Debbies are coffee cake. Civilization has gone all to hell.

                                                    2. Just out of curiosity, if you were served coffee cake of the (A) variety (i.e, cake made with coffee), would you eat it with coffee?

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Sure, or with a liqueur, but it wouldn't be in the morning.

                                                        1. re: LauraGrace

                                                          Isn't that a bit like gilding the proverbial lily?

                                                          Some brownies with that hot chocolate?

                                                          Or maybe some apple slices with your apple cider perhaps?

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            Nah. Many's the time I've had Guinness chocolate cake with a Guinness!

                                                      2. Answer B.

                                                        This is our typical NY coffee cake --> http://www.flickr.com/photos/45616325...

                                                        I prefer a gooey Russian coffee cake --> http://www.elizabar.com/Russian-Coffe...

                                                        2 Replies
                                                          1. re: im_nomad

                                                            Well, in NY, there's often a difference between "coffee cake" and "crumb cake" - the latter is what a lot of people mean when they think "coffee cake", but crumb cake (or even crumb pie) is a local speciality. That Russian coffee cakes looks like it might be made with Danish/Viennese pastry, which would be a different category altogether, closer to the venerable pecan ring.

                                                        1. B. a cake served and eaten with coffee.

                                                          there are dozens of different kinds of coffeecake, but they are all homemade. commonly streusel topped or the sliced almond kind, with white glaze, or the date kind, or all the scandinavian types, or the ones with fresh fruit in the summer, or apple&cinnamon/pear&cinnamon in the fall. several people may bring different types of coffee cake to a gathering or you can leave it around a workplace instead of donuts or danish pastries, and people can grab a little slice on a bev-nap, and then come by 35 minutes later, pretending they haven't had any yet, and get a bigger slice. . . if you are very ill or newly bereaved, it is somewhat permissible to purchase a coffee cake from a small local bakery, esp if it is a specialty ethnic bakery or you know the family who runs the place. i have also heard of barbarian countries where branded and packaged varieties of "coffee cake," "maple flavored pancake syrup," and raw human flesh are routinely consumed, but i pretend that nothing like that can happen in the real world.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                            Love it :) And you are reminding me to casually wander over to see what sweets are leftover from the office lunch potluck yesterday...

                                                          2. B

                                                            made once a year following grandma's recipe. it was made christmas eve to be eaten while opening presents christmas morning. the recipe disappeared for a while this year, but has been found in time for christmas. the original recipe involved mixing nuts into a portion of the batter and put on top, but we never actually bothered with that.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                              E, KaimukiMan, Aloha Kaua:

                                                              Mele Kalikimaka a me Hau'olui Makahiki Hou!

                                                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                mahalo kaleo, and to you and yours as well.
                                                                lemme know, i go send you tutu's recipe
                                                                would be ono on a cold pacific northwest morning.

                                                                aloha kaua!

                                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                  E, KaimukiMan:

                                                                  'Ae, e oluolu 'oe! Go send wikiwiki. kaleokahu@gmail.com.

                                                                  Hele'd to Kaua'i last month, just long enough to sensitize me to how cold it is here when I returned. I've been plenty cold places, but a damp Seattle at 40F is worse than a dry -40F. Tabis, socks AND slippahs.

                                                                  Mahaloz nui to you and tutu. Shoots.

                                                            2. So far as I was concerned, it was always B.

                                                              Back when I was a little kid, my grandmother would drag my cousin and I along to coffee socials with the ladies from her church.

                                                              The ladies typically served several different types of pound and bundt cakes along with the coffee, but no one cake in particular was a "coffee" cake.

                                                              Those ladies could bake a mean cake...

                                                              Recently I have seen "Coffee Cakes" made with espresso at my supermarket bakery...

                                                              And yes Ipse, I would eat it with the strongest brew I could percolate.

                                                              1. Until reading this thread would never have considered A.

                                                                I am definitelyin the B camp. Love a good boston coffee cake but cannot eat any longer because of the nuts.

                                                                1. (B). Trader Joe's has recently put out some boxed cake mixes and frostings. One is a coffee cake. I have it but haven't made it. The picture on the box sure looks good!

                                                                  1. In New Zealand it's definitely A, pretty sure it's the same in the UK.

                                                                    1. I have always thought that our city's gooey butter cake is in actuality a sort of coffee cake. No crumbs, but square, dense, very sweet. Although sweeter than the crumb kind.

                                                                        1. Do y'all remember those Sara Lee coffee cakes that came in the round metal pan and had the cardboard lids? When I was little (early to mid-70s), we had those often...blueberry was my favorite, then butter pecan. Do they still make those? I googled it and it looks like they sell a "Butter Streusel" type, but I didn't see other flavors. That blueberry...yum. The blueberry filling got super-nuclear hot...guaranteed to burn your mouth. It was even better once it got cold.

                                                                          1. For me it's B. I recently tried baking Ina Garten's coffee cake recipe but was not entirely happy with the result (I found it a bit dry). Does anyone have a recipe they can link to? Thanks!

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: RhondaB


                                                                              I've made this recipe a few times to good reviews. Takes longer to bake than 20 min, but don't overbake, you'll get a dry cake.

                                                                            2. B here.

                                                                              My grandmother used to make coffee cakes (a sort of crumb cake, I guess, but not terribly sweet) when we came to visit. She'd pluck ripe apricots right off the tree in the backyard, cut them up and layer them on top of the coffee cake, then toss it in the oven to bake. What came out was the gooiest, mouth-burningest, most delicious mess. My brother and I got to sip on my mom's coffee (which had grown cold) while eating grandma's coffee cake. Was such a treat!

                                                                              There are also less cakey/more bready varieties which can also be quite tasty.