Vanilla Coffee Cake with Butterscotch-Walnut Filling

I needed a stack of cookbooks to hold for my “professional blog photos” (thanks Mom!). I also needed to find a good first-post recipe. So, I went to my favorite libraries to browse their cookbooks and came home with an armful. (Alright, it was actually several armfuls. I made three trips.) I knew I wanted to bake something, and I was craving a good old-fashioned coffee cake.

I pulled out all the baking cookbooks I’d borrowed and sat on my couch, flipping through the recipes. No coffee cake. I ran my finger down the “C” recipes in the indexes. Isn’t coffee cake a required recipe? (Apparently it is not.) Reluctantly, I picked up Ovenly by Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin (public library // Amazon) – the last in my pile. I had been super excited to find Ovenly on the shelf, but I was “saving it for later.” Later being when I would hypothetically be a better food blogger with good photography skills and killer recipe reviews, obviously. Yet here I was. Well, it turns out Ovenly has a whole chapter for coffee cakes! (And quick breads, but back to coffee cake.) There, on page 43, I found the old-fashion recipe I’d been seeking: “Coffee Cake Base Recipe,” and on page 46 was the accompanying “Coffee Cake Streusel.”

Ovenly is a small Brooklyn-based bakery founded and run by two ladies named Agatha and Erin. I stumbled upon Erin on Instagram earlier this year and fell instantly in love with Ovenly’s story. Agatha and Erin met as two home bakers with no professional experience in a cookbook club! Together they built Ovenly, a small-business bakery focused on sweet treats, community engagement, sustainability, financial literacy, and so much more. Basically my dream.

After deciding Ovenly’s coffee cake would be my first recipe-attempt, I read the prefaces written by Agatha and Erin, laughing out loud – it was too perfect! Agatha is the daughter of two Polish immigrants. Her love of food comes from growing up eating traditionally Polish food. Erin grew up with fond memories of Polish and Austrian foods thanks to her grandparents. Of course I’d found the recipe I was looking for in Ovenly! I grew up eating traditional Polish and German foods, listening to stories about my respective grandmothers’ cooking adventures. (My dad’s side Polish and German, my mom’s side all German.) And it just so happens my boyfriend lives in Poland. So, there you have it. This was meant to be the first recipe post!

Grab your copy of Ovenly. Bookmark pages 43 and 46, and turn your oven on to pre-heat at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Kitchen Tools

  • 13 x 9 inch pan
  • Microwave safe bowl
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Whisk
  • Spatula
  • 1 baking sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Wire baking rack
  • Optional: Stand mixer (otherwise, you’ll need another mixing bowl)


For the cake batter

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (full-fat) sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the filling

  • 3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar
  • 1 bag of butterscotch chips

For the streusel

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (and a little more, if you want!)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

How I Baked It

Please note, my written “steps” are only loosely correlated with the recipe’s printed directions, this is more “my story” than a direct how-to. You will need to get the recipe for full cooking details as I cannot publish it on the blog!

A note about the filling: I read the directions for this recipe at least four times before I grasped that you have to create the filling for your coffee cake; it’s not part of the recipe steps. Agatha and Erin offer a variety of filling combinations to get you started, but it’s completely up to you. I decided to go with a traditional brown sugar-walnut combination with a slight twist: butterscotch chips.

I toasted my walnuts while my oven preheated. You’ll need to chop (or buy pre-chopped) about 3/4 cup of walnuts. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put the walnuts in to toast for about ten minutes. While the walnuts toasted, I greased and floured my pan and made the streusel topping.

A well-greased and floured pan is my only talent

To Make the Streusel

Once you have greased and floured your pan, turn to page 46 of Ovenly for the recipe to make “Coffee Cake Streusel.”

Step 1: I started by combining all the ingredients and whisking together, which is actually the second step in the recipe’s directions.

Step 2: After mixing together all my ingredients, then I melted the butter (the first step). I stuck my butter in the microwave and zapped it for about 25 seconds at a time until it was all melted.

Step 3: Add the melted butter, and viola! I was slightly disappointed by my streusel. I was expecting it to be more clump crumbly. This streusel seemed too loose, more like a shoo-fly pie streusel than traditional coffee cake topping. The solution? More butter.

Too crumbly, I wish it had all clumped together with no loose parts

Step 4: You should go ahead and melt some more butter. Or if you are reading this before attempting the recipe, just remember to melt more butter than the recipe calls for. Use your fingers, working the butter into little clumps until all the dry ingredients are together. (If you add too much butter, just add more flour to soak it up.)

Once you’ve made the streusel, set that aside. By now your walnuts should also be toasted – you will start to smell them and they will get a deeper brown. Be careful not to over-toast them!

To Make the Cake Batter

Turn to page 46 for the “Coffee Cake Base Recipe.”

Step 1: I mixed my dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl, whisking by hand.

Step 2: In my stand mixer I combined the wet ingredients. I actually forgot to add in the melted butter during this step, and ended up mixing it in at the very end. This is likely due to the fact that I skipped that step in the recipe, figuring I would melt the butter when I needed to add it. Lesson here: melt the butter when the recipe says to, and don’t forget to add the melted butter.

Step 3: Next, I added my dry ingredients to my wet ingredients and whisked them together in the stand mixer, using a spatula to scrap down the sides. (Approximately here is where I realized I forgot the butter, so I melted that real fast and threw it in too.)

Sans butter – I added the butter right after this picture!

Step 4: The recipe goes straight from mixing together the dry and wet ingredients into pouring the batter into your floured pan. This is the point where you need to make your filling. In a mixing bowl, combine the half cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup of toasted walnuts, and bag of butterscotch chips. Give it a stir and set aside, you’ll need it in a minute.

Step 5: Pour about half of the batter into the prepared pan and spread the filling out over top. I used a spoon and sprinkled the filling over little by little, trying to keep it relatively even. Next add the rest of the batter on top, covering the filling – make sure it goes all the way over the filling to the edges of the pan.

Half the batter is loosely defined – I ended up with a little more on the bottom than the top
The filling!

Pro tip: Take your spatula and gently pull the batter from the middle to the edges, repeating the motion in little increments to shuffle the batter over the filling. Very similar to rolling out pizza dough! Remember to be very gentle, you don’t want to mix up the filling.

Step 6: Spread the streusel over the entire top of the cake, and stick it in the oven on the center rack. Mine took a little longer in the oven than the recipe called for. My advice is to check it at 50 minutes, and then keep checking it every 5-10 minutes, or “until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.”

Once your coffee cake is done, let it cool on a wire rack until ready to serve.

Tips for Serving

For a classy after-dinner dessert, serve with fresh fruit and ice cream. For a sweet afternoon snack, enjoy with a big cup of strong coffee.

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