Coffeecake as we know it today wasn’t so much a creation as it was an evolution, with many countries given as the potential origin point. It is generally accepted that coffeecake originated from northern or central Europe during the 17th century. At that time, coffee was still fairly new to Europe, having only made it to the continent in the previous century.
While the earliest coffeecakes included coffee as an ingredient, updated popular recipes recommend eating the cake with coffee and instead deriving flavor from nuts, dried fruit, oats, cinnamon and other spices. Another addition to coffeecakes has been to incorporate yogurt, cheese or sour cream in the batter to produce the cake-like texture which further deviates from its bread origins.
The countries laying some sort of claim to the coffeecake such as Germany, Austria and Denmark were already well versed in sweetened breads and cakes and found that their local sweet paired incredibly well with this new beverage. It became very commonplace in these countries to have a small sweet served alongside coffee.
When the coffeecake made its way to North America via German immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, bolstered by the creation of refrigerated sections in grocery stores, the addition of sour cream became more common place, both as a means of adding more moisture into the cake as well as activating the baking soda. Another modification to the coffeecake came with the popularity of the Bundt pan in the 1950s. With its ring-shaped design, the Bundt pan allowed bakers to drastically increase the moisture content in their cakes without having to worry about the center being uncooked.
Sometimes cake, sometimes bread, the only real defining trait of a ‘coffeecake‘ is that it is meant to be enjoyed with a cup of coffee.