By Heather Dyer


When I was growing up, my mother had an incredible coffee cake recipe. Allegedly. I didn’t really know firsthand, but I did smell it baking from time to time and it drove me insane. Why had I never tasted my mother’s famous coffee cake, you ask? Well, she only made this cake when she was taking it to someone who had just lost a loved one. That’s right. Funeral cake.

It was the perfect gift because not only is it delicious, but the cake doesn’t need a plate, so that’s one less dish that the family has to worry about returning. Here’s the thing: We obviously felt terrible that someone had passed away and everything, but for my family this cake was just one big tease. I smelled this gorgeous thing baking for an hour or so, and then I had to live with it without TOUCHING IT until it cooled.

Remember that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s dad keeps sneaking into the kitchen to nibble on the turkey? I was kind of like that. I couldn’t stay away, and I always got caught. After it cooled, my mother would wrap it up and leave the house with it and all we were left with was the smell of cinnamon. I never even tasted a whole slice of this cake until I was in my 20s.

I do make Mom’s coffee cake occasionally, not just when people die. I’ve made it for Christmas morning and Easter Sunday and get-togethers with friends, and it is always devoured (and no plate to take home). It’s an excellent recipe, but the key here is to follow Mom’s directions exactly. Not only because your cake will turn out beautifully if you do, but because Mom told you to and that should be reason enough.

What Mom says you need:


  • A tube pan with a removable bottom or a Bundt cake pan
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup walnuts (optional)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease the pan
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

What Mom says you should do:

First off, Mom says DO NOT PREHEAT THE OVEN. She’s the scientist, not me, but I suspect this keeps the cake from puffing up like it normally would when you place a cake in the oven. This will keep your cake lovely and dense, like a reality TV star.

While you’re busy NOT preheating the oven, combine the cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. If you’d like to add nuts to this, take another bowl and toss the nuts with a little of the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Butter the pan and then spoon about half of the cinnamon/sugar mixture on the bottom, sides and tube. This can be very messy if you’re using a pan with a removable bottom, so I suggest doing it over the sink. Tilt the pan and move it around to coat all areas. Set aside.


In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder together and set side. If you’re super lazy like me, you can just whisk this together instead of sifting it. I won’t tell.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.

Add in order:

  • eggs
  • vanilla
  • sour cream

Add the dry mixture and mix until combined.

Put half of the batter in the pan, then the rest of the cinnamon mixture and nuts, then the rest of the batter. I had to use my fingers to spread out the blobs of batter so they were evenly distributed. It’s like finger painting—you’ll love it.

Bake for 55 minutes at 350 degrees (starting with a cold oven). Remove and allow to cool for about 10 minutes and then turn it out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.

Remember, this is a great gift! Cherish the look of disappointment on your family’s faces as you wrap up the cake and take it to someone else’s house.

Blueberry Vanilla Cake

I fiddled a little bit with Mom’s recipe (I know, I know, but the outcome was SO. GOOD.) and came up with a vanilla-blueberry cake that I topped with a vanilla-sugar glaze.

Here are the changes from the original recipe:

  • Omit cinnamon completely (unless you like blueberries and cinnamon together; some people do).
  • Change vanilla from 1 teaspoon to 5 teaspoons.

I had frozen blueberries so I put about 1 cup of them in a small bowl and tossed them with just enough flour to coat them, then stirred them into the finished batter. I took the berries out by hand instead of dumping the bowl in because I don’t want extra flour in the cake.

Bake for the same amount of time, remove from the oven and after letting it cool 10 minutes turn the cake out onto a cooling rack.

Apple Cinnamon Cake

Same as the regular coffee cake, but add 1 or 2 diced granny smith apples to the finished batter.

  • Omit the cinnamon sugar ribbon in the middle of the cake and instead paint the baked cake with melted butter (I find this works best after the cake has cooled)
  • Pat on cinnamon sugar all around the cake so it looks like a really big doughnut.

Vanilla glaze

Combine 5 tablespoons butter, ½ cup sugar and 3 teaspoons vanilla in a saucepan. Heat slowly until all the sugar is melted completely, but do not bring to a boil; we don’t want a butterscotch sauce. Once the sugar is melted, remove from heat and stir often until cooled and thickened.

Move cake to serving platter and drizzle vanilla sauce over the top.



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