Vegan Coffee Cake with Cashew Sour Cream

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This vegan coffee cake with cashew sour cream is a classic! It’s so tender, with an irresistable ribbon of cinnamon sugar running through the center and big, buttery crumbs of vegan streusel topping. The cake is made with homemade, plant-based cashew sour cream, which contributes to its moist texture.

An angled photograph of a slice of vegan sour cream coffee cake, with a ribbon of cinnamon filling and streusel topping.

We’re nearing the end of the first week of 2024.

Many folks have returned to their offices or places of work this week.

Others are busy planning and strategizing for the year ahead.

Parents might have their hands full looking after kids who are still on winter breaks from school.

Whether it’s focused on getting back to work, extending family time from the holidays, or catching up on the things that got pushed aside in December, the first week of the new year usually feels busy.

In the midst of that, I thought it might be sweet—literally!—to slow down, pause, and share this recipe for vegan coffee cake with you.

I actually made the coffee cake earlier in the fall, as a way to welcome cooler mornings. It was my plan to share the cake right away, but 2023 was a year in which my fantasy timelines were often upended.

They say that things happen in the right time, even if it doesn’t feel that way to us. Whether that’s true or not, I think this the perfect moment to curl with with a slice of vegan cake.

The basics of coffee cake

I have a friend who loves cake as much as I do. We agree that it’s not only the optimal dessert, but also the perfect snack.

We speak often about how much we appreciate the Swedish custom of Fika, a convivial coffee break that’s part of national culture.

As I understand it, Fika is associated not only with the taking of coffee, but also with some sort of sweet treat. And that treat is often cake.

I thought of Fika when I was writing this post. My mind wandered to another country abroad, Vienna, where coffee cake seems to have been born.

American coffee cake originates with the Austrian German kaffekuchen, a sweet cake to be enjoyed with coffee.

German and Scandinavian immigrants eventually brought the tradition of sweet cake and coffee to America. Early kaffekuchen were probably yeasted, but over time, they’ve evolved into the quick breads that many contemporary home cooks know and love.

Today, coffee cake can be a single layer or two. It may contain nuts or dried fruits. And it’s often made with streusel topping.

Streusel is German for “sprinkle,” or “strew,” and it refers to a crumbly, sugary, buttery cake topping.

As coffee cake evolved in America, it came to often include the addition of sour cream. Sour cream adds some slight tartness of flavor, to help balance the sweetness of the cake. It also moistens the cake crumb, and it serves the practical role of activating the baking powder or soda that makes the cake rise.

My vegan coffee cake is modeled on a classic American coffee cake. It contains all of the elements described above: two layers, with cinnamon sugar running between, and a generous sprinkle of 5 minute vegan streusel topping.

Also, there’s indeed sour cream here: specifically, my 4-Ingredient Vegan Sour Cream, which is made with cashews.

Why cashew sour cream is a “secret weapon” for vegan baking

A “quick bread,” which is what this vegan coffee cake is, is a type of bread that’s made with chemical leavening. The leavening agent could be baking powder or baking soda; many recipes use a combination of both.

Baking soda is activated by some form of acid. In other words, when baking soda is incorporated into a batter along with something acidic, it will create small bubbles that get trapped in batter as it bakes.

This results in the rise that home bakers are looking for when they create cake, banana bread, pancakes, or waffles.

While many baking recipes call for some sort of liquid component in making the batter, they don’t always call for a liquid that’s acidic. Needless to say, an acidic liquid will help quick breads to rise more than a neutral liquid will.

This is why so many baking recipes and pancake recipes call for buttermilk as an ingredient. And it’s the reason that I make my own homemade vegan buttermilk.

It’s also the reason that coffee cake recipes often require sour cream—and the reason that I include my cashew sour cream in this vegan coffee cake of my own.

A glass mason jar holds creamy white vegan sour cream. It rests on a white surface.

My favorite 4-ingredient vegan sour cream

Conventional sour cream, of course, is not a vegan ingredient. So, how do we replace it?

Well, there are commercial vegan sour creams available nowadays. In fact, there are several store-bought options.

I’m going to make a plug for my homemade vegan sour cream below, because I love its taste and texture. But if you’re short on time, you don’t have a powerful blender, you’re allergic to cashews, or you just don’t feel like it, you don’t have to use homemade.

Instead, you could try the Tofutti tofu sour cream (nut free), Forager sour cream (which has a cashew and coconut oil base), or Kite Hill sour cream (which has an almond and coconut oil base).

If you’re inspired to make your own cashew sour cream, then let me take a moment to tell you how awesome it is.

I’ve experimented with different vegan sour cream recipes since becoming vegan, but this is my favorite by far.

An overhead image of a blender, filled with a creamy white mixture.

It’s so easy to make, and it’s proof that less is more. There are only four ingredients involved, minus water: cashews, lemon juice, lime juice, and salt.

This makes the sour cream very wholesome, in addition to being incredibly creamy and delicious.

The cashew sour cream will make the texture of your vegan coffee cake better: more tender, more rich. It will also help the cake batter to rise. It’s an important, useful addition to the recipe in many ways.

Can I substitute the sour cream?

Yes, you can. Yogurt can work very well in place of the cashew sour cream. You won’t end up with a vegan sour cream coffee cake, but you’ll have a cake with many of the same characteristics.

As for the specific type of yogurt, once again, you can choose the product that works best for you. I love the Forager Project and Kite Hill yogurts, but Silk’s soy yogurt is also lovely.

No matter what, opt for a plain or unsweetened yogurt, so that you can help to preserve some of the tart, acidic quality that the original cashew sour cream is supposed to impart.

How to make vegan coffee cake with sour cream

This is not a difficult cake to make, but it has a stepwise process.

Take it all bit-by-bit, and I think you’ll find that it’s a very fun treat to prepare!

Step 1: Make the streusel topping

This coffee cake recipe calls for 1 batch of my 5 minute vegan streusel topping.

The streusel can definitely be made ahead of time. It can be stored in the fridge for up to three days or frozen for up to six weeks.

Otherwise, you can prepare it right before you get to work on the rest of the vegan coffee cake.

Step 2: Prepare the cinnamon sugar layer

As you can see from the image at the top of this point, the vegan coffee cake has a lovely layer of cinnamon and sugar running through its center.

You’ll begin the cake-making process by mixing up the ingredients that create this layer: cinnamon, sugar, and a little bit of flour.

A small, pinch bowl contains cinnamon, brown sugar, and flour.
Cinnamon, brown sugar, and a pinch of flour make up the cinnamon sugar layer that runs through the coffee cake.

Step 3: Mix the dry ingredients

Next, you’ll start the cake batter by mixing flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. You’ll want to do this in a roomy mixing bowl.

Step 4: Mix the wet ingredients

In a separate medium mixing bowl or large Pyrex liquid measuring cup, combine the sour cream, non-dairy milk, avocado oil, cane sugar, and vanilla. 

An overhead image of a large, white mixing bowl that's filled with a cake batter in the making.
The batter for the coffee cake is simple: flour, leavening agents, salt, vegan sour cream, non-dairy milk, oil, sugar, and vanilla.

Step 5: Combine the wet and dry ingredients

Add the wet ingredients to the whisked dry ingredients, then fold them together until the batter is fully incorporated and smooth. Some small lumps are fine!

Step 6: Pour half of the batter into a square cake pan

You’ll use a lightly oiled, 8-inch / 20cm square baking dish to make the coffee cake.

Pour half of the prepared cake batter into this dish in the next step.

Step 7: Spread the cinnamon sugar layer over the batter

Lightly distribute the cinnamon sugar mixture over this bottom layer of cake batter. No need to be ultra precise here—just do your best to spread it around.

Step 8: Top the cinnamon sugar with another layer of cake batter

Once the cinnamon sugar is in place, you’ll pour the rest of the cake batter over that cinnamon sugar layer.

The next step is a little tricky: you’ll need to use an invert spatula or spoon to smooth this layer over. If you apply too much pressure or work too fast, you might dislodge the cinnamon sugar layer or mix everything together, so that the cinnamon sugar is blended into the cake.

Just work carefully, with a light touch, and be patient. It usually takes me a minute or two to spread the top layer of batter around, and I work in small movements.

Step 9: Add the vegan streusel topping

This is the fun part! Finish preparing the coffee cake by distributing the streusel topping all over the top. There will be a good amount of it, and that’s how it should be.

A square cake pan is pictured overhead. It contains a layer of cake batter topped with crumb-like streusel.
Vegan streusel topping will add big, buttery, sugary crumbs to the top of this coffee cake.

Step 10: Bake

Bake the coffee cake for 40 minutes, or until the top is puffy, the streusel is a deep golden color, and a toothpick inserted into the cake emerges clean. Transfer the baked cake to a cooling rack.

You’ll need to wait 2 hours before slicing and enjoying the cake, which I know is a big ask.

The top of a vegan coffee cake, which is covered with buttery streusel.
The finished cake will be golden, and the streusel will be becoming crispy.

Your patience will be rewarded, however, with the most wonderful accompaniment for your morning or afternoon coffee or tea.

Vegan coffee cake ingredients

Most of the ingredients for the vegan coffee cake are straightforward. Here are a few extra words about some of them.

Flour

My flour of choice for the coffee cake—along with most of my baked goods—is unbleached, all-purpose flour.

You can make the coffee cake gluten-free by using an all-purpose, gluten-free flour blend. My favorite is the King Arthur Measure for Measure Flour flour.

Sugar

The recipe calls for both cane sugar and light brown sugar. The cane sugar is for the cake batter, and the brown sugar is for the streusel and cinnamon sugar layer.

In a pinch, you can use all brown sugar or all cane sugar, but each has a distinctive texture and appearance. If you have both, it’s worth using both.

You can swap coconut sugar for the brown sugar, if you like.

Oil

I typically use refined avocado oil in baking, and that’s what I use in the recipe. However, you can also use olive oil.

You can also use another vegetable oil, such as safflower or grapeseed.

Vegan sour cream

Once again, you have the option of store-bought or homemade sour cream for the recipe. If you need a substitute, vegan yogurt is the way to go.

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Meal prep and storage

Vegan sour cream coffee cake is a lovely thing to make at the start of the week and enjoy as the week goes by. It can be part of vegan meal prep breakfasts, or it can be your make-ahead, coffee break snack.

Vegan slices of sour cream coffee cake are arranged on a piece of white parchment.
Cut the vegan coffee cake into squares and freeze or store them for a week’s worth of sweet snacks.

The coffee cake can be cut into squares, then stored in the freezer for up to six weeks. They can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days.

Other Fika-worthy vegan treats

If you love the ritual of a sweet treat in the afternoon, with or without coffee, then you’re in luck. I love this ritual, too, and I’ve created a lot of vegan sweets that work for the occasion.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Vegan chocolate snack cake
  • Peanut butter & jelly cake
  • Vegan thumbprint cookies
  • Foolproof applesauce spice cake
  • The best vegan gingerbread cake
  • America’s Test Kitchen vegan chocolate chip cookies
  • Vegan zucchini bread
  • Cranberry almond biscotti
  • Classic vegan banana bread
  • Chewy vegan oatmeal raisin cookies

And here’s the recipe for the vegan coffee cake that will be part of my coffee breaks forever.

An angled photograph of a slice of vegan sour cream coffee cake, with a ribbon of cinnamon filling and streusel topping.

Ingredients

For the vegan streusel

  • 1 batch 5 Minute Vegan Streusel Topping

For the cinnamon sugar layer

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (65g)
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the cake

  • 1 3/4 cup cake flour or unbleached, all-purpose flour (210g)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 cup 4-ingredient vegan sour cream (120ml)
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon soy, oat, almond, light coconut, or cashew milk (135ml)
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil
  • 1/2 cup cane sugar (100g)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Prepare the streusel topping

  • Prepare the 5-minute vegan streusel topping as instructed. Pop it into the fridge while you proceed with the recipe. This can be done ahead of time. The streusel will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week and in the freezer for up to six weeks.

Prepare the cinnamon sugar layer

  • In a medium small mixing bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon to make the cinnamon sugar layer.

Prepare the cake

  • Preheat your oven to 350F. Lightly oil or coat an 8-inch / 20cm square baking dish with oil or vegan butter.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In another medium mixing bowl or large Pyrex liquid measuring cup, combine the sour cream, non-dairy milk, olive oil, cane sugar, and vanilla. Mix well, then pour these wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Fold the batter together until it’s fully mixed (some small lumps are fine).
  • Pour half of the batter into your prepared baking dish. Use a small, inverted spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth this mixture evenly over the bottom of the cake pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over this layer.
  • Pour the remaining batter on top. Use a regular or an invert spatula or spoon to smooth this layer over. It’ll be a little tricky to do this—be patient and confident!
  • Sprinkle all of the streusel topping over the top layer of cake batter.
  • Transfer the coffee cake to the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is puffy, the streusel is a deep golden color, and a toothpick inserted into the cake emerges clean. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and allow it to cool in its baking pan.
  • Cool the cake for 2 hours before slicing and enjoying.

As I’ve written in the past, I believe firmly that sweets represent the sweetness of life, the pockets of joy in human experience.

This is part of why I champion interspersing sweets and homemade baked goods into your life routinely.

I hope that this lovely, layered vegan coffee cake will add sweetness to your 2024!

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