Coffee birthday cake is the ultimate way to celebrate that yearly milestone. With an aromatic coffee cake, fluffy mocha frosting, and crunchy hazelnut chocolate this cake might have a bite missing before it even makes it to the party!
You know when a cake is served at a party and people clearly have a favorite between the cake and the frosting based on what's left on their plates? Disregard those few who eat the whole thing, we will discuss that later. Anyways, I am a frosting person. Always have been, and always will be.
When I was a kid I could be found sneaking spoonful's from the frosting jar after we made a cake. In particular, I devoured German chocolate frosting (the coconut caramel kind). This frosting flavor has no relevance to this coffee birthday cake, but just know that I love frosting!
Fast forward to being an adult, I have learned that when a cake has fillings and lots of texture and flavor, I become the person who eats the whole cake. Like I won't leave a single crumb behind because me, frosting, AND cake are all the best of friends.
Since discovering what it takes for me to enjoy a full cake, I've been dreaming up the perfect birthday cake for now when I make my own birthday cake as a coffee lover. What came to be is this Coffee Birthday Cake filled with crunchy hazelnut chocolate and fudgy frosting. It's the perfect cake for a special occasion!
The best part is that it's made with a boxed cake mix and premade frosting. Don't worry, no one will ever know being that it's packed with all the extra delicious flavors!
Ingredients and Substitutions
All substitutions are a 1:1 substitute unless otherwise noted.
Vanilla Cake Mix and its Ingredients: This is the base of the cake. I've tested this with two brands of yellow/vanilla cake and let me tell you - Betty Crocker is far superior! The other brand was very lumpy so just pay attention to make sure it's fully mixed, whatever kind of cake you use. Depending on your mix, the required ingredients (per the box) will vary - ours needed butter, eggs, and water.
Substitutions: Any kind of vanilla or yellow cake can be used just make sure there are no unmixed lumps. A gluten-free or vegan mix can also be used. You can also check out our egg substitute guide if you want to sub out eggs.
Chocolate Frosting: I love a good fudgy frosting. Pillsbury takes the cake (ha!) for the most fudge-like. We will use some in the middle of the cake and then an amped-up version of it on the outside.
Substitutions: Any type of pre-made chocolate frosting will work.
Instant Coffee: Obviously we need coffee for this coffee birthday cake! You can use your favorite instant coffee (we use Starbucks).
Substitutions: Any instant coffee or instant espresso powder can be used. You can also use brewed coffee in place of any water called for in the boxed cake mix to really amp up the flavor. This would be in addition to the instant coffee NOT in place of it.
Hazelnut Chocolate Bar: I was racking my brain trying to figure out the perfect crunch for this cake. Enter a chocolate bar with whole hazelnuts.
Substitutions: Any chocolate bar with hazelnut chunks (or other types of nuts) will work. Chocolove is our favorite brand for maximum crunch. You can also try chocolate chips and chocolate coffee-covered coffee beans.
Heavy Whipping Cream: A great trick for making canned frosting taste homemade is to add whipped cream to make it super fluffy.
Substitutions: Canned whipped cream can probably be used, but it hasn’t been tested. You can also whip up coconut cream and fold that into the frosting for a vegan take. Heavy cream will not work.
How to Make this - Step by Step
Step one: Preheat the oven to the temperature on the cake mix box. Butter two 9” round cake pans.
Step two: Make the cake as directed by the box but add in 2 tablespoons of instant coffee. Split the cake batter between the two prepared cake pans. There won't be much batter in each pan but I promise it'll rise more than you think!
Step three: Bake cakes per the packaging directions. While the cake bakes, chop the chocolate bars and set them aside. Prep the frosting by whipping up the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. I like to do this in a medium bowl with a hand mixer because the small amount of cream is too small to mix in the large bowl of a stand mixer and actually have it whip up. Then, fold in one can of frosting gently so as to not knock the air out of the cream. Place in the fridge until ready to use.
Step four: Once the cakes are done, let them cool for 15 minutes and then flip them out onto a cooling wire rack to finish cooling. You can check that the cakes are done by pricking them with a toothpick - the toothpick should come out clean. It can be a little tricky to tell visually if these cakes are done because they are golden brown in color from the coffee.
Step five: After the cakes are cooled (SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT to be cool), gently slice the tops off of each coffee layer cake with a serrated knife to level them. Then, place one cake on a plate or board and spread one can of fudgy jar frosting onto it. It should be about ¼” thick. Next, sprinkle the crushed hazelnut chocolate all over the frosting.
Step six: Place your other cake layer on top of this. Then, use the whipped cream chocolate coffee frosting to frost the outside of the cake to make it look pretty!
Watch How to Make This - Step by Step
Always let your cake cool completely before frosting. This is particularly important when dealing with whipped buttercream because the heat will cause the whipped cream to liquefy again.
Facts and Common Questions
What do you eat with coffee cake?
Can I use ground coffee instead of instant coffee in cake?
You can not use ground coffee in place of instant coffee in cake. Ground coffee will result in some coffee flavor but mostly a speckled cake and gritty frosting. You can definitely use brewed coffee in place of the liquid in the cake though.
Should you refrigerate coffee cake?
Because this coffee birthday cake has whipped cream buttercream on it, it should be kept in the fridge. It will keep for a week, sealed in the fridge but will dry out if sliced. It will retain its moisture for the most part when stored with buttercream on it. This cake can be eaten cold or brought to room temperature before serving again.
Want to Save it for Later? Here’s how!
This coffee birthday cake can be made up to 2 days in advance when stored as a completed cake with the frosting. This is because the frosting keeps the moisture trapped in the cake. However, if it's sliced and not wrapped individually then it'll dry out quickly.
Fridge: To keep the leftover cake in the fridge, press plastic wrap along any exposed cake sides and place it in a sealed air-tight container. You can also cut it and tightly wrap each piece of cake with plastic wrap. If storing a whole, uneaten cake, place it on a plate or on a cake stand with a bowl over top to seal it but not mess with any decorations.
Frozen: For freezing this cake, I like to slice it individually and wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap and then place them all in a sealed container. Then when I want a piece, I just put it in the fridge the night before to thaw.
Make-Ahead Best Practices: When making this cake in advance of an event, I recommend making it, stacking it, and then crumb-coating the top sides of the cake with the canned frosting (not the whipped cream version) the day before. Then, cover it and leave it at room temperature overnight.
The cake will retain its great texture as long as it's frosted in some buttercream. Make the whipped cream coffee buttercream and leave that in the fridge overnight. On the day of the event, frost the outside of the cake with the whipped cream frosting and add any special decoration you like!
Did you know coffee cake is also called kaffekuchen in German? However, Kaffekuchen is the version of coffee cake that's layered with cinnamon, cake layers, and a brown sugar crumble. The formal version of the word is “Kaffee und Kuchen'' which literally translates to Coffee and Cake. And if you have a German grandma, you know that when you visit there is always coffee, cake, and an afternoon of chatting ahead. (source)
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Try these other tasty desserts!
Did you try this and love it? Leave us a review, we would love to hear from you!
- 1 box yellow cake mix plus ingredients for box mix
- 2 lbs chocolate frosting
- 6 oz chocolate hazelnut candy bar
- 3 tablespoon instant coffee
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the cake mix box. Butter two 9” round cake pans.
- Make the cake as directed by the box but also add in 2 tablespoons of instant coffee. Split the batter between the two pans. There won't be much batter in each pan but I promise it will rise more than you think!
- Bake cakes per the packaging directions. While the cakes bake, chop the chocolate bars and set aside.
- Prep the frosting by whipping up the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Then, fold in one can of frosting gently so as to not knock the air out of the cream. Place in the fridge until ready to use.
- Once the cakes are done, let them cool for 15 minutes and then flip them out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling. You can check that the cakes are done by pricking them with a toothpick - it should come out clean. It can be a little tricky to tell visually if these cakes are done because they are golden brown in color from the coffee.
- After the cakes have cooled (SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT to be cool), gently slice the tops off of each to level them. Then, place one cake on a plate or board and spread one can of fudgy jar frosting onto it. It should be about ¼” thick. Next, sprinkle the crushed hazelnut chocolate all over the frosting.
- Place your second cake layer on top of this. Then, use the whipped cream chocolate coffee frosting to frost the outside of the cake to make it look pretty! **See notes for making this cake in advance.