Whether it’s for the holidays or not, this easy and delicious pecan coffee cake recipe is one of my favorite breakfast cakes ever. I’ve been making it for years and it never disappoints! Also known as an Italian coffee cake, this pecan-filled breakfast is perfect for special occasions, cold mornings, or if you’re like me, anytime!
The truth is, I’m not much of a morning person so if I’m going to make a nice breakfast, then it really needs to be easy. Fortunately, this easy-to-make homemade coffee cake is also quick thanks to the fact we don’t need any yeast to make it rise.
Ready to get started?
Pecan Coffee Cake
A pecan coffee cake obviously uses pecans, but it doesn’t actually use coffee as an ingredient. Coffee cake is called such because you enjoy it with your coffee in the morning. The pecans are an integral part of this recipe because we use them in an easy-to-make pecan cinnamon streusel that we use in the center of the cake, as well as for the topping.
This recipe takes about 30 minutes to prep or faster if you use a food processor to chop your pecans. Once the coffee cake is assembled it bakes in the oven for 30 minutes. So, by the time I’m done cleaning up the dishes and brewing a cup of coffee, um… a second cup of coffee, the cake is just about ready.
I rarely deviate much from the measurements in the recipe. However there are modifications you can make and I’ll explain some options later. I already use less sugar than many other recipes, but to make it even healthier, try making a butter olive oil mixture instead of just butter.
About the Pecan Cinnamon Streusel
Making a streusel isn’t hard at all. A streusel is a crumbly mixture made up of sugar, butter, and a little flour. For this recipe, we add in chopped pecans and cinnamon. Streusels can be used on top of coffee cakes, in the middle, or both.
For my Italian coffee cake, I like the flavor of the pecans on top and in the middle. I think it adds more flavor and sweetness throughout. The pecans are only used in the streusel mixture, and are not blended in the actual cake batter itself.
So for that authentic and delicious pecan flavor, you really need to include that middle layer.
An Italian Coffee Cake
Even though I’m Italian, and I have an Italian food blog, I really can’t say if there is a specific Italian coffee cake recipe that’s only Italian in nature. Coffee cakes are fairly basic to make and are pretty standard in style with their moist cake texture and various toppings.
This particular cinnamon pecan coffee cake recipe obviously uses both pecans and cinnamon. Omit the pecans and you have an old-fashioned coffee cake.
Once you get the gist for how to make a basic coffee cake, you’ll soon discover how to modify them and experiment – which I encourage you to do!
But Italians do love their morning sweets, especially when served with a nice cappuccino or espresso made from a classic stovetop espresso maker. And for those who only drink decaf like me, don’t worry, it goes just as well. 😊
Here are the ingredients for your pecan coffee cake. I’ve divided them up by the streusel and then the cake batter.
Specific measurements are included in the recipe card at the end of this post.
- Finely Chopped Pecans –About the size of ½ a pea.
- Softened Butter
Pecan Coffee Cake Ingredients
Here are the ingredients for the batter. Specific measurements are in the recipe card below.
- Cold Butter – cut into small bits
- Baking Powder – This is why we do not need yeast. The baking powder will cause the dough to rise while baking.
PRO TIP: For a low glycemic sugar, try coconut sugar. It also gives a slight maple flavor.
Pecan Coffee Cake Recipe
Now that we know what’s needed, here’s how to make this delicious Italian coffee cake.
Start by greasing the inside of a 9×9 baking pan with butter. Set the pan aside.
Make the cinnamon pecan streusel
In a medium bowl, add the soft butter, and the chopped pecans, flour and cinnamon. You don’t want the pecan pieces to be too fine or too large, a little smaller than the size of a pea is about right. Use a food processor if you’d like, just don’t turn it into a ground powder!
Combine and mix together until moist crumbs are formed. You do not need to use a mixer for this, you can use your hands, a hard spatula or spoon. Just make sure it’s well mixed.
Make the coffee cake batter
You can make the batter in a stand mixer like a KitchenAid with a dough hook, or you can just use a regular bowl and handheld mixer which is what I do. Either way is fine.
In a large mixing bowl, measure and add all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. I use a regular whisk to make sure everything is incorporated.
Next, prepare the butter by cutting it into small bits which make it easy to mix and add to the flour mixture. Using a fork or your hands, rub the butter into the flour so that all the flour is coated with the butter. There should be no chunks of butter left.
PRO TIP: The easiest way to cut butter into small pieces is to do so when the butter is still cold from the fridge, not when it is too soft.
Now we add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture. So go ahead and add in the egg and milk. Mix on low speed until the everything is blended. The cake batter will have a thick and sticky, even stretchy consistency.
Assemble the coffee cake
Add half the batter to the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Try to get the batter as close to the edges as possible.
PRO TIP: When using a spatula to spread the batter around, dip it in a little bit of water to prevent the batter from sticking to it. It makes spreading thick batter so much easier and is a trick I also use in my classic almond biscotti recipe.
Using half of the pecan streusel mixture, spread evenly over the coffee cake dough. I try to sprinkle it evenly, and then using the back of a spoon or a spatula I spread it to create an even layer. I think having the layer of pecan mixture in the center of the cake is what makes each bite so delicious!
Pour the remaining cake batter over the streusel making sure the streusel is fully covered. Then add the rest of the pecan topping on top of the coffee cake, again being careful to sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the surface.
Bake in the oven at 350F for 35 minutes or until the center of the coffee cake is baked. You can test this with the toothpick method. Simply insert a toothpick in the middle of the cake and if it comes out dry then it is done.
Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, assuming you can wait that long. It does taste better after it sits. You can then move it to a wire rack to cool further or just leave it in the pan which is what I do. I’ve never been able to get the cake out without making a mess.
Next, serve the delicious coffee cake with a wonderful hot cup of espresso or coffee!
Frequently asked Questions
A coffee cake is similar to a regular cake except it generally includes a layer of crumbs or streusel on top and sometimes in the center of the cake.
Coffee cake is not strictly Italian, but the Italians know how to make amazing coffee cakes. There is no single recipe for an Italian coffee cake since it can be made in a variety of mouth-watering ways.
Coffee cake doesn’t have to have coffee in it, unless you want a coffee flavored cake. It is meant to be served with coffee for breakfast, or dessert.
Preparation and Storage Tips
One of the advantages of this type of Italian coffee cake is that it can be made in advance. I like to make this the night before and store it the fridge.
You can also prepare the cake batter and streusel ahead of time and keep in the fridge overnight in separate airtight containers. Then assemble and bake it in the morning, adding an extra 10 minutes to account for the colder temperature.
This baked pecan coffee cake can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days, covered in an airtight container or in the freezer up to 3 months. Remember to label and date the contents.
To reheat from the fridge, microwave for 30 seconds. If frozen, allow the cake to thaw overnight and then warm to room temperature before serving.
An Italian pecan coffee cake is best served warm.
Variations of a Pecan Coffee Cake
Here are some ideas for recipe variations for your coffee cake.
- Swap the pecans for walnuts.
- Omit the pecans all together for an old fashioned coffee cake.
- Instead of adding a layer of pecan streusel in the middle of the cake, add a layer of strawberry jam, and use the entire streusel mixture on top.
- Add 2 Tablespoons of espresso for a coffee flavor, or a Tablespoon of instant coffee to the dry ingredients.
- Add in fresh blueberries to the batter.
- Make cupcakes instead, although I don’t know what the baking time would be.
Other Pecan and Cake Recipes
Here are some additional recipes you may enjoy if you are a fan of pecans or cakes in general.
Garlic roasted pecans are easy to make and a delicious snack. Perfect for parties too.
Italian lemon cake is quick to make and tastes delicious with the lovely lemon flavor.
Orange almond cake is a chocolate cake with a hint of orange and sliced almonds.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my recipe for my Pecan Coffee Cake. Let me know how you like it or if you have your own tips or variations. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
Pecan Coffee Cake
Pecan Streusel Mixture
- 2 Tbsp butter soft if possible
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
Coffee Cake Ingredients
- 2 cups flour
- 3 Tbsp cold butter cut into small bits
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup milk
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Grease 9×9 inch baking pan.
Pecan Streusel Instructions
- In a medium bowl, create the streusel by mixing the soft butter, chopped pecans, sugar, and the flour until it is evenly combined. Set aside.2 Tbsp butter, 3 Tbsp flour, 3/4 cup chopped pecans, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon
Coffee Cake Dough Instructions
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the rest of the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and sugar and mix together using a whisk.2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt
- Next, add in the cold butter that was cut into bits and mix using your mixer of choice on low speed. I use an electric hand held, but even a fork will do. Mix well until the flour is all coated with the butter.3 Tbsp cold butter
- Add in the egg and milk and mix until well blended. The batter will be slightly stiff, stretchy and quite sticky. It is not a runny batter.1 egg, 3/4 cup milk
- Pour half the batter into the greased baking pan you prepared earlier.
- Sprinkle or spread half the pecan mixture over it, then add the rest of the batter followed by a final layer of the remaining pecan streusel. If the batter is hard to spread, dip your spoon or spatula in water to prevent sticking.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until the center is done. Check using a toothpick and if it comes out clean, it is done.
- Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. You can also let it cool on a wire rack, then transfer to a serving plate.
- If you don’t have pecans, try swapping with walnuts.
- Adding the streusel in the middle isn’t required, but it tastes great.
- Use more pecans if you want more pecans on top, just make sure to increase the butter by a Tablespoon so it sticks together.
- When spreading the batter around, especially over the streusel, dip it in some water, shake off excess then spread the batter. This helps prevent the batter from sticking to the spatula. It’s a big time saver too!