Breakfast,  Cakes,  Desserts,  Recipes

Dick’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Of all my mother-in-law’s signature recipes for cakes, breads, cookies and pies, this one elicits the most nostalgia. So much so, the family handed it out on printed cards at her memorial service.

Dorothy, or Dick as we all called her, passed away three years ago at the age of 91. She started out with the usual nickname, Dot, until her baby brother mangled it so adorably that the mutation stuck. I don’t know how much gender confusion it caused, but when she and my father-in-law Louis won a bridge tournament, the local newspaper reported their names as “Richard and Louise.”

Dick first baked this sour cream coffee cake in the late ‘50s. No one knows where she got the recipe. It didn’t come from her Irish mother or her Italian inlaws. I’d like to think that it has New England roots, since I never saw it when I lived in the South. My college roommate from Connecticut made an almost identical cake with grated baking chocolate in the filling. And Joe Kennedy likes to give away at Christmastime a pretty good version made by a local coffee cake company. But there are bloggers from all over claiming sour cream coffee cake as part of their heritage, so let’s just say it somehow materialized in her recipe box, ready to delight her family for decades and generations to come.

Deliciously reproducible
The aroma of the cinnamon-walnut topping as it toasts will grab you before you even get it out of the oven. The cake is light and moist with a soft crumb, and the contrasting sweet, spicy nuts and occasional raisin give it crunch and dimension. It’s a classic company cake, perfect for overnight guests, and easy to make anytime since it calls for common pantry ingredients.

The recipe is flexible, too. Sometimes I substitute chopped apple for the raisins. And I rarely use sour cream—usually yogurt or sour milk.

Best of all, it meets my three top criteria:

  1. Reproducibility. You can trust it will come out great every time.
  2. No fussing, yet it looks beautiful. The tube pan makes this possible.
  3. It freezes well.

I transcribed Dick’s recipe into a cookbook format so you can scan the ingredients. However, I also include below the old-style way she wrote it out, more as a narrative.

Dick’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Bake at 350° about 35-40 minutes.


  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream (or yogurt, or milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I double to 2)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


  • ½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (double to 2)
  • ¼ cup raisins for inside batter only
  1. Grease a tube pan well and preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Cream together shortening, eggs and sugar.
  3. Mix sour cream (or sour milk or yogurt) with vanilla and set aside.
  4. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to creamed mixture, then mix in sour cream mixture.
  5. Put half the batter in a tube pan. Sprinkle on it half of the topping plus ¼ cup raisins. Cover with the rest of the batter, then sprinkle on the rest of the topping.
  6. Bake 35-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Or, as Dick used to say, “When you can smell it, it’s done.”

Sour Cream Coffee Cake (Dick’s narrative)

350°  35-40 min.

(1) Cream together:

  • ½ c. Crisco
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar

(2) Mix and set aside:

  • ½ pt. sour cream (1 c)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

(3) Sift together:

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

(4) Topping

  • ½ c. chopped nuts
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Cream #1 – then by hand add your sour cream mix (#2) to the above (#1) stir well – add sifted dry ingredients – fold + stir in well – then put ½ mixture in tube pan + add ½ topping mix and also ¼ c. raisins – then remaining half of mixture and rest of topping.

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