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Coffee & Pecan cake

We both like coffee in Chez Mike, nearly as much as I love tea. However, t'missus isn't fond of tea so my ideas for tea-flavoured cake often fall upon deaf ears (and, to be perfectly honest, the tea loaf recipe we have on the site is pretty good stuff already). So occasionally I make a coffee cake. It doesn't happen often, I'll admit, but it does happen.

It doesn't happen because I don't like walnuts and I don't really like buttercream. You can't have a coffee cake without some kind of extra, though - it's just that the classic is "coffee & walnut cake", recipes for which you'll find all over the place from Mrs Beeton to Nigel Slater. But there's a reason it's always "coffee & something", and that's because it's really difficult to get coffee flavoured things to taste of coffee. So you need something else.

Why is it so difficult to get coffee cakes to taste of coffee? Partially it's because we use the wrong ingredients, but also because what we do use has to be dissolved in hot water or it already contains sweetner; instant coffee powder or Camp coffee. You can now get some superb instant coffees on the market, even instant espresso powder. Use these things. Take a heaped tablespoon and dissolve in 30ml boiling water and hope it doesn't clump, and you have your coffee flavouring. Experiment, though. All of them will have their own character and strengths. Whatever you do, though, don't just use cold espresso, or the remnants from the breakfast cafetiere.

Oh, but buttercream... I'm not a fan, it's safe to say. Even done well it can be claggy, oversweet tooth-aching mush. You need soft butter, which is not the same as "melted" (or "microwaved, just for two seconds to get it to soften up a bit") and really isn't the same as marge (really, buttercream made with marge is just so, so wrong the only times I've come across it I've been so taken aback at how vile the cake is I've been too shocked to actually say anything to the perpetrator). At this time of year softened butter is a bit of a luxury item, unless you live in a centrally heated house (we don't). I would much rather make cream cheese or swiss meringue or even ganache, but alas: coffee cake requires buttercream. It's like a rule.

Don't even talk to me about walnuts. Bitter, acrid nasty things that have been hanging around for upwards of a year before being used. And they stick in your teeth. Give me pecans every time, and hang the food miles.

Cake: this is a pretty standard cake. If you've not read my basic cake recipe before then go off & read that, then come and read this variation.

I'm going to assume that you're using an 8" tin and that your eggs are mediums, weighing 120g. Got that? OK.



2 eggs

120g self-raising flour

1tsp baking powder

120g caster sugar

120g butter

50g pecans + 9 for decorating

15ml coffee essence (see above)


First, line your cake tin by whatever method you prefer. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Chop up your pecans, but remember to fish out the 9 you want to use to decorate before chopping.

Cream together your butter & sugar. Beat together the eggs, add a little at a time to the butter & sugar and mix well. Add your coffee extract, and mix in your chopped pecans. Sift together the baking powder and flour and fold into the mix, making sure you don't miss any clumps of flour.

Pour into the tin and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is firm and a toothpick comes out clean.

See? Simple. Now, to decorate. First things first: LEAVE THE CAKE TO COOL COMPLETELY. Do not be tempted to do any of this while it's still warm.

1. Slice the cake in half so there is two flat discs[1]. If you do this warm it'll fall to pieces.

2. Make your buttercream. In a bowl beat together 200g icing sugar, 60g really soft butter, 15ml of coffee extract and a teaspoon of milk until smooth. Use a big bowl. If you have an electric whisk then ok, I'll let you use it here.

3. Spread half the buttercream on one of the discs. Put the other on top. Spread the rest of the buttercream on top of that. If you do this warm it'll melt and be awful.

4. Put 8 of the whole pecans equidistant around the edge and put the 9th in the middle. Careful observers may note that the 9th is missing in this photo. That's because I'm inconsistent.

And there you have it! Coffee & pecan cake that is really very simple indeed.


[1] I once told someone to halve a cake horizontally and they sliced it down the middle from the top, then turned it around 90 degrees so the line was, indeed, horizontal if you were looking down on the cake.

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