Coffee Cake, Literally

It was the boyfriend’s birthday last Saturday, so I threw him a “surprise” birthday brunch over the weekend. It’s a tradition among our friends to throw surprise birthday parties, but we do them so often that people have come to expect them, and they are not really surprises anymore. We’ve had to get pretty creative to make sure the person  is genuinely surprised.

It’s pretty hard to surprise the boyfriend because he has planned more than a few  of these surprise parties himself. Also, unlike me, he’s not totally clueless, so he knows when something’s up. I thought I was keeping everything covered pretty well, but after a few slip-ups by my suitemates, it was pretty hard not to detect our suspicious behavior. But being the cooperative boyfriend that he is, he pretended not to notice.

And as if things couldn’t get any more obvious, the boyfriend got out of work super early, so he showed up at our apartment before all of the guests had arrived. When he texted me, I had to lie to him that I was on a run and hadn’t been expecting him yet, but that I’d be back as soon as possible. It was over half an hour until I “got back,” but the boyfriend was a good sport, and waited patiently in the Starbucks on the first floor of our building.

During this half hour, I was trying to finish making the food and decorating the cake, while trying to warn people to stay away from the Starbucks and come through the back entrance. I was more than a little frantic, so lovely Janet offered to put the finishing touches on the cake. She did a MUCH better job than I could have done, despite the limited supplies I had.

So even though the surprise was pretty much ruined, I think the boyfriend still appreciated our effort. And at least his birthday cake turned out fantastic! I made The Pioneer Woman’s “Coffee Cake, Literally” and it was pretty spectacular. I used my own recipe for the coffee frosting though, which is made from egg whites, because I just could not bear the thought of slathering the cake with another 1.5 sticks of butter when there were already 2 sticks in the cake alone.

The boyfriend isn’t a huge coffee drinker, but he enjoys coffee flavored desserts, so he really liked this cake. And I think everyone else did too. It was moist and delicious (thanks to the butter) and the coffee beans used for decoration were the perfect compliment to the cake and frosting. They provided a nice bitter, crunchy contrast to the soft sweetness of the cake. I was so sad that I only got to eat one piece! 🙂

Coffee Cake, Literally

Source: adapted from The Pioneer Woman


For the cake:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee crystals
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (I used skim milk with vinegar)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup VERY strong coffee
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. While butter is melting, dissolve instant coffee granules in 1 cup boiling water. Once the butter is melted, add coffee mixture to the saucepan. Bring to a boil for 10 seconds, then turn off heat. Set aside.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla extract.

5. Pour butter/coffee mixture into the flour mixture. Stir mixture together gently with a wooden spoon. Add in egg mixture and stir gently until well combined.

6. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake in preheated oven for 20-22 minutes, or until set.

7. To make the frosting, combine sugar, coffee, and cream of tartar in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high medium high heat until the mixture is bubbling and the sugar has dissolved.

8. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Gradually add in sugar/coffee mixture while beating constantly until stiff peaks form, about 7-10 minutes.

9. Frost cakes after they have cooled completely.



Filed under Cakes/Cupcakes, Dessert

5 responses to “Coffee Cake, Literally

  1. Deborah

    moist & yummy goodness 🙂

  2. This sounds amazing! You’ve got some really creative recipes on here!

  3. Katie

    Aww, I hope the bf had a great birthday! You are the best cake maker ever! 🙂

  4. Oh I’ve never seen coffee in the frosting – looks great!

  5. hanjoon

    🙂 i want some of this right now…

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