Crazy Cool Century-Old Coffee Cake Recipe

Overhead view of homemade yeasted breakfast cake by bake this cakeIt’s easy to prepare and easy to love because its cuddly, cozy and crazy-cool all wrapped up into one magical turn-of-the-century yeasted coffee cake! And no machines required! Zilch. Nada. Yep! Just you being one with the dough — for about a minute — because we’re seriously fast-stepping our way through prep time with a couple of 30-second “finger kneading” sessions to let the yeast do all the work. Then we’ll drizzle it with icing and serve it warm from the oven. Hello homemade!

d german coffee cake recipe on an orange fiesta plate by bake this cake

Invitation to a yeast feast #oldschoolnewschool: Yeast brings out the best in this buttery coffee cake. I mean, it just wouldn’t have that soft yeasty zing with a chemical rising powder. And what’s an old-fashioned cake baking adventure without a few liberties thrown in? So – we slashed the ingredients by half for a smaller breakfast cake, simplified the shape with a common baking dish, we sliced the kneading time to next-to-nothing and we sweetened it with a drizzle of icing. These changes are meant to invite you to try it out as a starter to working with yeast — or just for an easy version of a great classic yeasted coffee cake for those already in the know. In other words, we’re just having a little fun with kitchen crafting history.

Globe Theatre Sign Honoring The Past DTLA Los Angeles by BakeThisCake

1913 Globe Theatre Downtown L.A. Making a Comeback

Shape shifting cake:  In its proper form we’d be using a special high-top Kugelkopf mold for this cake (like a tall bundt pan). But, heck, that’s another specialty pan and it makes for an awfully large slice of cake at breakfast time. It also prevents each warm bite from having a little smear of icing, know what I mean? So we’ll be nixing all bundt pans in favor of a low-rise version of this European classic. You could also use a regular bundt pan (which is pretty close to a “proper” shape for this cake) or use the real deal Kugelhopf mold. If you go old school, just be sure to add an extra teaspoon of yeast to the below recipe and let the dough rise up almost to the top of the mold before popping it into the oven to bake.

Olive M Hulse Quote crossing the threshold with desserts card by bake this cake

Sweet tooth cake twist!  The recipe we’re using for this cake is not actually sweet (though it does have enough sugar in the dough to feed the yeast). I mean, after all, we’ve grown rather fond of sweetness with our breakfast cakes over the last century, right? So with some historic liberties taken, we’ll be drizzling this little gem with a simple icing. Okay, we’re also giving it a sprinkle of crystalized sugar aka sanding sugar for a zap of sparkle. It won’t overwhelm you with sweetness but if you’re looking for a real sweet glow then just double up on the icing and you’ll be good to go.

vintage-sugar-bowl-and-tea-cup-by bake this cake

Go-go chocolate! Lots of breakfast breads and other vintage versions of this cake have little dots or streaks of luscious chocolate running through the dough and this little baby is no exception when you simply substitute little chunks of chocolate for the chopped raisins (or go half-ers chocolate and raisins). We don’t usually use chocolate chips around here for some reason but, yeah, you could do that too.

Chopped Bittersweet Dark Chocolate for Easy Yeasted German Coffee Cake by Bake This Cake

Try Chocolate and Almonds, Go for it!

Nutty variations: The original recipe tells us to “powder the mould with sliced almonds” but I used chopped pecans instead of sliced almonds. Why? No other reason than because that’s what I had on hand. But you may line the dish (or the bundt pan or the classic cake mold) with the same amount of sliced almonds or chopped almonds…or any chopped or sliced nut that you prefer. So feel free to change it up a thousand ways as you prefer…even with a mixture of: dried apricots, cranberries, chocolate pieces, dates and/or figs.

sliced-almonds-skin-on-for-german-yeast-coffee cake-by-bake this cake

The small chop: Although the original recipe calls for “a teacup of seeded raisins”, I do think the dried raisins (or chocolate bits) should be small-chopped (for the most part) to ensure a great dough texture, to feed the yeast with dispersed boosts throughout and to create little pockets for the icing up top. Plus, I’m sorry, I don’t really like whole raisins in breads or cakes (unless they’re plumped from being soaked in brandy, of course).

pretty vintage tea cup photo by Leslie Macchiarella for bakethiscake

Just coffee with your coffee cake? Serve it warm with a good cuppa coffee, a nice cup of hot tea in a pretty tea-cup or milk. Heck! Go whole hog and, instead of serving it at brunch, wait until after dinner, haul it out to the patio, light the candles and serve it with champagne or a little cherry Kirshwasser brandy – ’cause its what comfort food was meant to be with a kick of elegant for good measure.

Pour coffee into vintage mustard coffee cups by bake this cake

SLOW FOOD WARNING: Actually, I think the special ingredient in this cake is really the time you invested to make it from scratch ’cause the gift of time is worth more than any fancy pants ingredient or high fallutin’ baking pan. And even though it only takes a few minutes to prepare, it does take hours overall (with the yeast rising time) so tell your friends, “It took me HOURS to make it from scratch by hand but, for you, it was my great pleasure.” And that’ll be no lie.  So…although prep time is super fast, this buttery breakfast cake uses yeast in the recipe so this little puppy needs at least 2 hours of rise time to get it the way we like it – or longer if you prefer a lighter and fuller rise to the cake. So go, ahead, you can do this thing. I just know you’re gonna make someone smile!

Janice Johnson's dog photo by Leslie Macchiarella

Doing double duty as breakfast bread: You could (hint-hint) use a modified version of this already modified recipe (coming very soon to our sister site, substituting bread flour for all-purpose flour, adding in some freshly ground cinnamon and kneading away for about 8 minutes to make a heavenly loaf of homemade yeasted cinnamon bread. Punch it down after the first rise, shape it into an oval the length of the buttered bread pan and plop it into the pan for the second rise. When it fills your kitchen with an awesome aroma, you’ll have yourself some loverly homemade bread like this…

German Coffee Cake Cinnamon Bread by bakethiscake

The recipe! I’m so fascinated by this book and its author! The original recipe comes to us from “Two Hundred Recipes for Making Desserts Including French Pastries” by Olive M. Hulse, 1912, The Hopewell Press, Chicago. I noticed that it originally sold for $1.00 and was part of a trilogy of books about salads, desserts and casseroles. The covers all have the same stylish Art Deco design with each book containing 200 recipes and each including some interesting discussions on culinary history. As she mentions in her desserts book, “the success of one persuading the publication of the other”.

Desserts book cover of Olive M. Hulse 1912 by bake this cake

I love a good research mystery! I triple-searched through the midnight hours for background information about our recipe author, however, I came up way short for such an elegant writer of this special series of books. Ms. Hulse was obviously a well-educated and worldly-wise business woman and I wish I knew more about her — so if you do, please share any information you have about her. I hope what little I found was indeed on point but I want to know more about her life!

Shelf of vintage cookbooks from the collection of BakeThisCake

Mostly I found our Ms. Hulse in Chicago during the turn of the century, at least from 1898 when she was 18, where she was listed in various directories over the years as a stenographer in the now-historic Michigan Avenue  Historic Boulevard District.

Aerial view of Michigan Avenue in 1911 1911 Bird’s-eye view of Chicago from above Lake Michigan

While we’re at it, you may enjoy checking out this great historic Chicago postcard collection and I think we should sample some Chicago timeline events of this era:

Chicago Timeline Card Turn of the Century by bake this cake

Mystery of The Hopewell Press: Ms. Hulse was 30 when her first salads book was published in 1910 and she was 32 when her desserts book was published. She is listed in a Chicago business directory for the Peoples Gas Building as a stenographer. Coincidentally, or not, this is the same address for her publisher, The Howell Press (one reason I think she may have published these books on her own). This building is still holding strong today in all its historic glory.

122 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, built in 1910-1911, designed by D. H. Burnham & Company.

Peoples Gas Building, Chicago

She was 34 in 1914 when her last book about casseroles was published by The Howell Press. In some editions the address for the Chicago publishing house contains a “tipped in” (or pasted-over) address card for the Chicago publisher, listing it with a San Francisco residential address (another reason that I think she published these books on her own).

Casseroles cookbook by Olive M Hulse photo by bake this cake

In 1920 at the ago of 40, we find our cookbook author listed as a widow in Chicago’s Hyde Park East Side overlooking Harold Washington Park. Her residence is the swanky Cooper-Carlton Hotel (known then as a residential or “travelers” hotel) on Hyde Park Boulevard, (becoming the Del Prado Hotel in 1930 and today the site of the historic Del Prado Apartments). Her employment is stated as “employer” instead of wage earner and she is listed as a Publisher (third reason I think she published these books).

Cooper-Carlton Hotel R now Del Prado Chicago

1920 Sisson Hotel, L, Cooper-Carlton Hotel, R, from S. Hyde Park Blvd

Foodie Overseer: Within a few more years she is added to the high society social register, Chicago Blue Book  (“The Chicago Blue Book of Selected Names of Prominent Residents of Chicago and Suburban Towns”, Volume 26), as: Mrs. Olive M. Hulse residing on Lake Park Avenue, Chicago. And we can see that she was very busy visiting restaurants and culling recipes from the chefs. My guess is that she was better at directing her kitchen staff than preparing the dishes herself (many recipes are left to the imagination for specifics)…but I love her collections.

Preface of Salads cookbook by Olive M Huse 1910 by bake this cake

Now that we know a little (or a very little) about our special author, what say we bake this cake?

Tools Needed for Yeasted German Coffee Cake:
9″ x 13″ casserole dish (I’m using a glass casserole dish but a 9″ round cake pan works well too resulting in a higher rise cake, or lots of other size and shape variations on the baking pan)
1 large bowl for mixing all ingredients
2 small bowls or cups (for mixing yeast and for mixing icing)
Danish bread whisk or wooden spoon (for initial mixing of dough)
Cooking spray or unsalted butter (for smearing the bottom of the baking dish)
Measuring cups and spoons
Pastry brush (for spreading butter and icing over baked coffee cake)

German Yeasted Coffee Cake served in a square plate by bake this cake

Yeasted German Coffee Cake Ingredients:
1/3 cup warm milk (2% is fine)
1 packet rapid rise dry yeast (about 2-1/2 teaspoons but add 1 extra teaspoon for a taller rising cake)
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 cubes) room temperature unsalted butter
1 cup chopped raisins (or chopped chocolate bits or a mixture of both)
1 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans but sliced skin-on almonds are typical)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter to spread on top after baking

Yeasted German Coffee Cake Icing Ingredients:
1 Tablespoons light corn syrup (optional)
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Optional Topping:
Sprinkle (about 1 Tablespoon) of nuts and chopped raisins (or chopped chocolate)
Sprinkle (about 1 teaspoon) of Sanding sugar (also known as crystallized sugar)

Yeasted German Coffee Cake Directions:

To see a video on exactly how to knead the dough and incorporate the fruit or chocolate, you may want to check out our little homegrown video. (We used Muvee software for stylin’ it up.) I promise to get better at the video production thing. (So many have asked me to make some videos and I’m finally getting to it.) It was fun and I hope it gives you a good feel for how easy it is to make this little gem from start to finish.

In a small bowl or cup, mix until incorporated:
1/3 cup warm milk (we used 2%)
1 packet dry rapid rise yeast (about 2-1/2 teaspoons)

Yeast packet photo by bake this cake

In a large mixing bowl, use a Danish bread whisk or a wooden spoon to thoroughly incorporate:
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 cubes) room temperature unsalted butter

bowl of ingredients for yeasted coffee cake recipe by bake this cake

The ingredients will be ready to start finger-kneading when the flour generally coats the liquid ingredients enough so that the dough is not too sticky to the fingers.

mixing dough with bread whisk for german coffee cake by bake this cake

Using your fastidiously clean hands, gently knead the dough in the bowl for about 30 seconds using your fingertips, pressing gently and folding.

fully mixed yeast dough for coffee cake by bake this cake

Using your hands, gently knead the dough in the bowl for about 30 seconds with your fingertips pressing gently and folding in:
1 cup chopped raisins or chopped chocolate bits

mixing raisins or chocolate into german coffee cake by bake this cake

Prepare a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish or other baking pan with cooking spray or butter and spread evenly into the bottom of the baking dish:
1 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans but sliced almonds with skins-on are typical)

spreading nuts on baking pan for yeasted coffee cake by bake this cake

Place pancake-sized dough portions over the nuts and pinch the edges together to form a continuous layer of dough.
Tip: Nooks and crannies and nuts showing around the edges are great to catch the icing so no need to be tidy.

pressing dough into baking pan for german coffee cake by bake this cake

First Rise: Cover the prepared dough with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm place for 60 minutes.

Rising German Coffee Cake in closed oven with lightbulb by bake this cake

It will look like this after the first rise…

after 1st rise of yeasted german coffee cake by bake this cake

Second Rise: After the 1st rise, check the rise level of the dough (just to make sure all is well) and let it continue to rise, covered, in a warm place for another 60 minutes.
Tip: Although we like our coffee cake to achieve a low-rise, you might like to let the dough rise longer for a higher rise.

after 2nd rise of yeasted german coffee cake by bake this cake

Set the oven rack to center position and pre-heat the oven to 350.

Remove the towel used during rising and bake this cake uncovered for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees until the top of the cake is lightly golden.

Tip: I like to spray it with a little spray of water about half way through the baking process to keep it nice and moist and help bring a little golden color to the top of the cake.
Double Tip: If using a temperature gauge or baking thermometer inserted into the center of the cake, this baby is fully baked at an internal temperature of about 185 degrees.

fully baked yeasted german coffee cake by bake this cake

Icing and Toppings Directions:

Using a pastry brush, spread about 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter over the top of the warm cake.

spreading german coffee cake with butter by bake this cake

Using a small bowl or a cup, mix with a spoon or fork until very smooth:
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup (optional)
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream (substitute milk or water)

creamy icing for vintage german coffee cake by bake this cake

Pour icing over the top of the warm cake and use a pastry brush to smooth it into the nooks and crannies.

spreading icing on german coffee cake by bake this cake

Sprinkle with sanding sugar for a fun sparkle to the cake (optional).

sanding sugar crystalized for german coffee cake by bake this cake

Serve warm with little drippings of the icing to add a sweet charm to each plate.

warm icing on german coffee cake by bake this cake

Yin and Yang of Yeast: I can’t tell if it’s the history in this cake that I’m tasting or that lovely punch of yeast. Either way, I think it’s a fun project to share with those you love. I do hope you’ll get a chance to make it.  If you’re able, please consider sharing your ideas in the Comments for change-ups or even why you don’t think the classic cakes should be changed from traditional. Go ahead, tell it straight, we can take it. You can share your baking adventure by posting a photo of your own creation on our Facebook Page. It is SO fun to see how creative our baking friends can be!

tasting vintage german coffee cake by bake this cake

You can usually catch up with me around the web nights and week-ends and I do hope you’ll join me on Instagram (I always learn something interesting over there) and be sure to check out our new videos on BakeThisCake YouTube Channel.



Leslie Macchiarella

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9 thoughts on “Crazy Cool Century-Old Coffee Cake Recipe

  1. Thank you for this amazing recipe (Actually all your recipes are tempting me, but I think I’ll start with this one!) I love that you bring history into your recipes. Your writing style is a beautiful reminder that eating a meal with family should be an “experience.” An experience that includes good food, quality conversation, and for family recipes, learning about the past.

  2. This cake sounds wonderful. I love yeasted coffee cakes. They have so much flavot than quick-rise cakes.. This is my first visit to your site, and it is an absolute treasure trove of culinary knowledge. It’s a pleasure to visit.

  3. I want to wake up to a warm piece of this…well, at least I can dream! I will be making this tomorrow… this looks so good! Yum!!?

    • Cathy, Thank you! And I’m pleased that you enjoyed the intriguing Ms. Hulse and her cake. (I was thinking I might be the only one to find her of interest.) I just hope I don’t become (more) obsessed with finding more of her story. 🙂 Leslie

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