Margaret’s Espresso Cake

Espresso Cake Recipe

This is one of my late mother-in-law Margaret’s most-treasured recipes. I’ve made a few tweaks of my own. First, Margaret kept a kosher kitchen and baked with margarine, but this updated version has my beloved butter. Also, I’ve substituted full-flavored espresso powder for the generic instant coffee in the original. And Margaret never used a tube pan. Nonetheless, when I make this cake, I think of her and smile. A simple coffee glaze tops it all off.

To give this espresso cake its proper deep beige color and coffee flavor, you must use both hot brewed coffee and instant espresso or coffee powder. Instant espresso yields the richest flavor.–Sarabeth Levine and Rick Rodgers

LC Naming Conventions Note

Although we don’t know Margaret, we, too, now think of her with appreciation when we make this cake. We think you’ll feel the same.

And if you’re one of those types who needs a shot of espresso in the a.m. before you even consider being grateful, you may wish to consider oomphing the caffeination of this cake by adding an extra 1/2 teaspoon or so of instant powder to ensure you get a proper fix. Conversely, if serving this as dessert, you may care to either rely on decaf expresso or warn guests accordingly of its stimulating potential.

Espresso Cake Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 15 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Makes 12 servings

Ingredients

  • For the cake
  • 1 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 3 tablespoons instant espresso or coffee powder (preferably instant espresso)
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for the pan
  • 2 cups superfine sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • For the coffee glaze
  • 2 tablespoons hot brewed coffee
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder (preferably instant espresso)
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Directions

  • Make the cake
  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C) and position a rack in the center of the oven. Butter and flour a 10- to 12-cup fluted tube pan and tap out the excess flour.
  • 2. Combine the brewed coffee and espresso powder in a glass measuring cup and let cool.
  • 3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Beat the butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually beat in the sugar, then add the vanilla and beat, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the mixture is very light in color and texture, about 4 minutes. Beat in the yolks, 1 at a time.
  • 4. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the cooled coffee in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until smooth after each addition.
  • 5. Beat the egg whites in a bowl with a handheld electric mixer on high speed or a balloon whisk until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, stir about 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with the spatula.
  • 6. Bake until the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed with your finger and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.
  • 7. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert and unmold the cake onto the wire rack set over a baking sheet. Cool completely.
  • Make the glaze
  • 8. Mix the brewed coffee and espresso powder in a small saucepan until the espresso powder is dissolved. Stir in the milk. Add the confectioners’ sugar and whisk until smooth. Place over low heat and heat, whisking constantly, until the glaze is warm to the touch and thins slightly.
  • Embellish the cake
  • 9. Transfer the glaze to a glass measuring cup. Slowly pour the warm glaze over the cake, letting it flow over the indentations in the cake down the center of the cake. You will have plenty of glaze. Cool completely before slicing. (The cake can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.)
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Sofia Reino

Dec 28, 2010

The first time I made this recipe, I followed it to a T. It certainly is a cake for coffee lovers—and so very good! For my taste, however, the coffee glaze was overly sweet and overpowered the cake. I also found 55 to 60 minutes in the oven to be a bit too long—I should’ve taken the cake out approximately 7 minutes earlier. The second time I made this, I treated the recipe as an “Espresso Bread,” so instead of using a fluted tube pan, I used three loaf pans. I didn’t bother with the glaze, and it came out absolutely amazing, after just 40 minutes of baking.

Testers Choice
Kip Hardy

Dec 28, 2010

This recipe turned out quite good. The espresso flavor in the cake is certainly evident, though it still could be amped up a few notches, perhaps with more espresso powder mixed into the coffee mixture. I had a wee bit of trouble getting the cake out of the pan, even though it was thoroughly buttered, floured and cooled, but once the cake was glazed, the small uneven spots were masked. I was expecting the cake’s crumb to be a little more moist—it isn’t dry by any means, but maybe adding a few more tablespoons of the coffee mixture would moisten it up. I did have to look in more than one store for superfine sugar and instant espresso powder, so these ingredients may be more difficult to locate in some part of the country or in rural areas.

Testers Choice
Elsa M. Jacobson

Dec 28, 2010

In her introduction to this recipe, Sarabeth notes, “This is one of my late mother-in-law Margaret’s most treasured recipes.” This could easily become one of mine, too. In the interest of full disclosure, I had the pleasure of assisting Sarabeth for a demo class she presented while on tour for her cookbook. The consistent deliciousness of the recipes Sarabeth presented plus her charming way of introducing each with history and anecdotes made me eager to test this cake. My more than half-dozen tasters all agreed: this cake is simple, elegant, gently flavorful, and a crowd-pleaser. This lovely, rich, deep coffee-flavored (and colored!) cake is excellent as a breakfast pastry, at tea time, or equally appropriate as dessert.

The recipe is well-organized, with the steps clearly and fully explained. Nearly each and every detail seems important to the success of the cake. Sarabeth notes the importance of both the HOT brewed coffee and the combination of the two instant coffees to give the cake its distinctive “proper” beige color. I trusted that these details were integral to success, and I was rewarded with a delicious cake.

I did bake the cake for the full 60 minutes because at 55 minutes it was not quite fully baked. After letting it cool (nearly) completely, we made the first cut into the cake, and it had a beautiful, even crumb and a lovely, almost fluffy, texture. Sarabeth notes the cake makes 12 servings and could be stored, plastic-wrapped, for up to two days. Whether this would ever serve 12 or hang around long enough for two days of storage is unlikely! About Margaret, Sarabeth says, “when I make this cake, I think of her and smile.” When I made this cake, I thought of Sarabeth and smiled, as I will do each time I make this cake.

Testers Choice
Tamiko Lagerwaard

Dec 28, 2010

This is a coffee lover’s dream cake. It has a very rich, deep, coffee flavor that’s balanced by sweetness. The espresso glaze enhances the moist cake—but it was incredibly sweet. Next time, I’ll reduce the sugar to 1 cup, which would also help cut down on the extra glaze that I found to be too much for the cake. If you’re not a coffee drinker (and I’m not), be prepared for the caffeine in this cake, as it packs a wallop. It actually kept me awake! I made this gluten-free, and I was quite happy with the texture of the final product: light, moist and smooth.

Testers Choice
Natalie Reebel

Dec 28, 2010

What a fun cake to make and eat. The ingredients came together easily and without any fuss. I used espresso powder mixed with boiling water in both my cake batter and glaze. The result was great. The finished product was a beautiful, two-toned, moist, deliciously balanced, sweet, lightly coffee-flavored Bundt cake. Once baked, the cake came right out of the pan without any problem. The glaze added an additional flavor dimension. It looks like so much more work than it actually took. To get a substantial glaze that would adhere to the surface of the cake, I used 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar.

Comments
Comments
  1. Zanne says:

    Tamiko, what flour mix did you use to make it GF? Or did you make your own mix?

    • Tamiko says:

      Hi Zanne! I used my own blend that is a combination of a variety of whole grains and starches. I find this makes a better baked good than using just the rice flour/starch mixes.

      • Zanne says:

        Tamiko, I was afraid you were going to say that :-}

        I don’t like the mixes/blends with white rice flour as the main ingredient. I have not made many of my own mixes yet, as it was hard for me to get some of the ingredients (I’m in a rural area), but that is changing now. I just don’t relish the thought of trial and error–a lot of waste of time, money, and supplies. I’m on a tight budget and need to make things I know will work–experimentation will have to wait.

        Happy Holidays!

        • Melody says:

          Tamiko,

          Would you be willing to share your blend recipe? My husband is GF and like Zanne I’m on a tight budget.

          Thank you!

          • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

            Zanne and Melody, one of our most experienced recipe testers went gluten-free about a year ago, and she’s been doing quite a lot of GF baking. She’s found that in standard cake recipes, Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose GF flour works beautifully. Just in case this helps you….

  2. This cake looks beautiful and the espresso must be tasty.

  3. This would be perfect for my father-in-law. A New Year’s treat for him.

  4. Patty says:

    Does anyone know where I can get espresso powder? I can’t find it anywhere in Central PA, not even at specialty or natural foods stores.

    • David Leite says:

      Sure, so. You can buy it here. This is the brand I use.

      • Zanne says:

        David,

        Wouldn’t it be easy to find this in an Italian Deli?

        • David Leite says:

          Zanne, it would be, but Patty says she can’t find it anywhere, so I suggested online. Patty, do you have Italian deli where you live?

      • Zanne says:

        David,
        Hope I didn’t step on toes–I wasn’t being snarky or dense–just that sometimes the logical local place is overlooked. I would call around to any Italian deli within a certain radius and they would probably send it if necessary. I used to get my Asian food supplies that way when I first moved into rural Virginia. And the other reason I mentioned it is that ordering online requires you to buy A LOT of espresso powder. I do order some things from Amazon, but it’s a killer if you only need one or two things. There are also some online sites that specialize in ethnic foods of all nationalities (sorry, can’t remember the sites) and you can order single items.

        • David Leite says:

          Zanne, not in the least! I thought online because, being a typical New Yorker, I never think anywhere but NYC has Italian delis.

  5. chris karres says:

    It is not worth the time or effort. Cake looked nice and was very moist but it had a very mild coffee taste and it was a little strange.

    • David Leite says:

      Chris, I’m sorry you didn’t have the same reaction as the other commenters. I’d love to help you: The mild coffee flavor can be fixed by adding more espresso powder, to your liking. Can you tell me what you mean by “a little strange”?

  6. An Nguyen says:

    I made this cake last night, not without a couple of mistakes. First, I halved all the ingredients in the recipe to bake the cake in an 8-inch round pan but forgot to halve the espresso powder. Second, I accidentally left out the part where egg whites are whipped, beating the whole eggs into the batter instead. Whoops. Regardless, the cake was still very moist and delicious; I even love the extra-strong coffee flavor. It was a little on the sweet side, so next time I might cut the sugar back by 1/4 cup.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      An, it’s hard not to love a cake that titillates even when there are whoops involved, yes? So glad it’s a keeper of a recipe for you!

  7. Judy says:

    I made this cake and it came out really nicely! I skipped the part about separating the eggs because I hate doing that step but I made sure to beat very well after adding each egg. The cake was light and moist, really delicious. I think the coffee flavor is just right. It was enjoyed even by people that are not that into coffee because it is so pleasant. I did not make the glaze but instead used a chocolate ganache glaze (actually from the sour cream chocolate bundt cake from this site) because I love chocolate and coffee together. It was very good, but I think it would even be lovely with just a dusting of confectioners sugar since the cake is sweet and delicious on its own. Thanks for this nice recipe for a cake that is a little bit out of the ordinary!

  8. Polly Adema says:

    So simple and so delicious! I made this as described, with instant espresso granules and in a bundt, and used espresso rather than ‘regular’ liquid coffee where the recipe calls for liquid coffee. One taster said it reminded her of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream: the definite but delicate coffee flavor, the ultra-smooth texture, the suggestion of creamy richness….I often make bundt cakes, yet this cake’s texture was such a lovely surprise–it is moist but not dense, dry but not at all crumbly, firm yet yielding to the fork and tongue–all this in a positively delectable way. The cake seemed even better the next day, and by the third day? Well, I can’t tell you. It was already gone.

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Polly, kinder words have never been spoken about a recipe! So glad that you enjoyed the cake.

  9. Susan says:

    I haven’t tried this yet, but I have a question about method. The recipe uses chilled butter, but I always let my butter come to room temperature (along with the other ingredients) for creaming. Why the difference? Usually you don’t see the specific requirement for chilled butter when it’s going to be creamed.

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Susan, creaming cold butter helps to create fine air bubbles that contribute to the structure and rise of the cake. Let us know if you try this method, it might become your new favorite.

  10. Melissa says:

    I need to make a bacon shaped, coffee flavored cake (odd combination, I know) for a friend’s birthday party. Would this recipe fit in a 9×13 in pan? If so, what would you guess the cooking time to be? Thanks!

    • Beth Price says:

      Hi Melissa, this recipe calls for a 10-to-12-cup capacity tube pan. A 9-by-13-inch pan has a capacity of 14 cups. You’re going to end up with a thinner cake that bakes faster. As far as actual times, I’m reluctant to guess since we only tested it using the tube pan. I would use your cake tester and look for visual clues, when the sides begin to pull away from the pan and the top springs back. Let us know if you give it a try, we’re real curious about that bacon shape.

  11. Linda says:

    Why would you want to change a recipe before trying it as written? This is a fabulous recipe just as it is…

  12. Tracy Yu says:

    Followed the recipe exactly as written yesterday and surprised my dad with it today for his birthday because he’s a coffee lover! The batter is rich, foamy, and fragrant even before baking, and is moist but not too crumbly when sliced. I was close to overbaking it so the outer crust came out a bit dry and chewy, however, the coffee flavour and sweetness hits the spot for us! I would omit the glaze and maybe add an extra dash of espresso powder next time!

    • David Leite David Leite says:

      Tracy, do you have two oven thermometers? Your oven may run a bit hot. I have to check mine occasionally to make sure it’s on the money. And so glad that you liked it. Please tell your dad happy birthday!

  13. Isidro Cazares Jr. says:

    I grow up eating espresso cake, its the best cake of heaven. i love it. Thank you, Leite’s Culinaria for sharing your recipes. Sincerely, Isidro Cazares Jr.

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