If you’re looking for the best sour cream coffee cake recipe on the planet, guess what? You’ve found it. This recipe is SO good that I dream about it at night.
The best coffee cake in the world
Seriously, if you’ve never had a sour cream coffee cake, here’s why you should check it out. The sour cream in this cake gives it A LOT more flavor. It’s perfect with a cup of coffee or tea, or even as a quick snack in the afternoon. (It’s up there with my ginger almond cake recipe.)
Like, the cake itself is delicious, even by itself. Buttermilk add a little extra tang without being overpowering. And, if you don’t have sour cream, you can easily substitute plain yogurt. I personally love the combo of lemon and vanilla, so this cake has a nice fresh lemon-y flavor with warm notes of vanilla. When you pair sour cream and vanilla with lemon and buttermilk, the flavor of this cake is blasted out of the stratosphere.
(If you adore the vanilla-lemon combo like I do, be sure to check out these lemon-vanilla bean rice krispy treats.)
The crumb of the cake is tender and satisfying, like a coffee cake ought to be. And it doesn’t have a ton of sugar, so it’s not cloyingly sweet like I’ve found a lot of other coffee cake recipes to be.
This cake comes together in just about five minutes, and the vanilla-lemon glaze and toasty walnut streusel only take another five minutes each. That makes this sour cream coffee cake recipe seriously quick to throw together.
It’s great for Christmas morning, or on the weekend when you want something special without a ton of time, energy, or work. Minus baking time, it’s only 15 minutes to make.
Sour cream coffee cake of the gods
Another reason I love this coffee cake is because I sometimes find a tub of sour cream hiding in the fridge that I need to use up before it goes bad. If you’ve got some extra sour cream you want to use up, this is the best way to put it to good use. Food waste is a bummer!
You can also spice this cake up with all the different leftover spices you have in your cabinet. You can add 2 teaspoons total of some combo of the following:
- A touch of clove (not too much… it can be overpowering)
If you don’t have sour cream, you can totally use plain yogurt in this coffee cake. It will still have the same tender crumb and gorgeous flavor, though it will have a little less fat than if you use sour cream. You could even use fruit-flavored yogurt, but you’d probably want to reduce the amount of sugar in the cake recipe by one tablespoon.
You could also stir ½ cup of candied citrus peel or chocolate chips into the batter from this sour cream coffee cake recipe, if you’re feeling extra fancy. This cake is similarly flexible to my winter breakfast cake, which has all sorts of goodies in it.
A few tips for baking this cake
First of all, don’t over-mix the batter. When you add flour a cake batter and then start stirring, that activates the gluten in the flour. The more you mix, the more those proteins get riled up and start to get tough. That’s why you only want to mix the final ingredients just until they’re combined, meaning you don’t see any bits of white flour anywhere.
If you keep mixing past that point, you run the risk of making your finished sour cream coffee cake tougher than it’s supposed to be. You want a tender crumb, one that feels delicate but sturdy on your palate, not a tough hockey-puck of a cake.
Also, the reason you want to use a cake pan with a removable bottom is that the walnut streusel is baking on top of the cake. This means you can’t invert the cake pan to get the cake out. If you turn the coffee cake upside-down, the streusel will fall off and make a huge mess!
So make your life easier and use a cake with a removable bottom. Or, I suppose you could use a silicon cake pan where you can pop the cake out, but I did not test this recipe with a silicon pan, so your baking times may change.
Sour cream coffee cake substitutions
If you want to start substituting ingredients, here’s what you can expect:
Can you make this cake dairy-free?
You CAN swap out sour cream for yogurt, if that’s what you’ve got, but trying to use a dairy-free sour cream or yogurt may or may not work. Non-dairy products tend to have emulsifiers and other random ingredients in them, so that they taste and feel like regular dairy-based products. Those extra ingredients may cause problems with the baking. But the only way you’ll know for sure is to try! And then let me know how it goes. If you’re looking for a great dairy-free cake, check out this vegan fruit-smoothie cake.
Since this cake recipe uses melted butter, you can substitute vegetable oil, olive oil, coconut oil, or another liquid oil. The flavor will change and the texture may be somewhat affected, but it should not (in theory) ruin the recipe.
For the buttermilk and whole milk, you should be able to substitute any non-dairy milk, since they’re not a huge part of the recipe.
For the glaze, you can use whatever non-dairy ingredients you want. Glaze isn’t baked so it’s pretty easy to swap out ingredients.
Can you make this cake gluten-free?
Possibly, though your mileage may vary depending on the gluten-free flour blend you use. I’ve had good luck with prefab blends like Cup4Cup and Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten-Free Baking Mix, but if you start adding alternate flours, I can’t guarantee how it will turn out.
You can also easily sub out the flour in the streusel with gluten-free flour without much problem.
How do you know when the cake is done?
One question I get a lot from students is, how do I know when my cake is done? In a normal cake you can touch the top and see if it’s bouncy, but since there’s a walnut streusel on this cake, you can’t do that here. You can insert a toothpick in the center of the cake to see if it’s done, but I have a much more effective way to see if it’s done. I use a probe thermometer.
Here’s the thing with cakes: they’re usually done when the internal temperature reaches 200°F (93°C). That’s the temp at which the starches in the flour have fully liquified to create a network of carbs (which gives the cake its body) AND enough of the liquids have evaporated
Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Lemon and Vanilla
- 8-inch cake pan with removable bottom (cheesecake pan or springform pan — see video)
- Optional: small squeeze bottle for drizzling glaze
Sour Cream Coffee Cake Ingredients
- 3/4 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter melted and cooled
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla powder or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs large eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- Walnut Streusel (below) YOU NEED THIS BEFORE BAKING!!
- Vanilla Lemon Glaze (below) You can make this while the cake's in the oven
Walnut Streusel Ingredients
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon ground
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
Vanilla Lemon Glaze Ingredients
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sour Cream Coffee Cake Instructions
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch cheesecake pan generously. (A cheesecake pan is just a cake baking pan with a removable bottom — an 8-inch springform pan will also work). Place a parchment round in the bottom of the pan, if you’ve got one. This will make your sour cream coffee cake FAR less likely to remove from the cake pan.
- Stir together sugar, melted butter, lemon zest, and vanilla. Stir in beaten eggs until well combined.
- In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir these dry ingredients into the butter and egg mixture.
- Stir buttermilk, milk, and sour cream into flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Do not overmix! This will make the crumb of this sour cream coffee cake more firm than it should be.
- Pour coffee cake batter into prepared pan and smooth the top flat with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with walnut streusel, making sure to create an even layer.
- Bake until internal temperature is 200°F (93°C), 50 to 55 minutes, rotating the cake halfway through baking. Let cake cool for 20 minutes before removing from pan.
- Drizzle with glaze before serving. The easiest, most attractive way to do this is to put the glaze in a small squeeze bottle, and run strips of glaze across the entire coffee cake in a back-and-forth motion. It looks great this way!
Walnut Streusel Instructions
- Stir together all dry ingredients. Stir lemon zest into melted butter, then stir butter into dry ingredients until it is crumbly.
- Use your fingers to finish mixing the butter into the dry ingredients, created different sized crumbled for the cake. Spread crumbles over top of sour cream coffee cake before baking.
Vanilla Lemon Glaze Ingredients
- Whisk ingredients together in a small bowl until there are no lumps. If you’d like your glaze a little thicker, you can add another few tablespoons of powdered sugar.
- Drizzle the glaze all over your sour cream coffee cake. The easiest, most attractive way to do this is to put the glaze in a small squeeze bottle, and run strips of glaze across the entire coffee cake in a back-and-forth motion. It looks great this way!
- A touch of clove (not too much... it can be overpowering)