Coffee Layer Cake With Vanilla Espresso Buttercream

coffee layer cake recipe by sugar and sparrow

If you’re reading this, chances are you love coffee as much as I do (or you’re here for a coffee loving friend). I don’t know about your city’s coffee situation, but we Portlanders are spoiled when it comes to good coffee. I wouldn’t call myself a coffee connoisseur per se, but I know what a good cup tastes like. So when I set out to configure the perfect coffee layer cake recipe, I wanted to capture the rich and aromatic flavor of the good stuff. The only way to do that is to use rich and aromatic coffee beans in the recipe!

It all starts with a delicious cup of coffee. The best part about this is you can make yourself an extra cup or two for sipping while you start whipping things together. I really love these Blue Bottle Coffee beans, because the combination of Congolese and Ethiopian beans produce a chocolatey aroma with undertones of blueberry and cardamom. Sounds delicious, right? Just keep in mind that whatever beans you choose will flavor the cake, so choose wisely! PS: isn’t it the best coincidence that my cake ended up matching my favorite coffee mug ever? 

best coffee for coffee cake

coffee layer cake with vanilla espresso buttercream recipe

The texture of the cake is super soft thanks to cake flour (makes for ultra-fluffy cakes!) and a little brown sugar and sour cream for extra moisture. To bring out the richness of the coffee flavor, I’ve paired this coffee layer cake with a vanilla espresso buttercream and a chocolate ganache drip. The hint of chocolate ganache adds the perfect amount of depth to balance out the coffee flavors, and I can’t tell you how much I love the vanilla espresso buttercream. It’s basically my classic vanilla buttercream recipe with instant espresso powder added, but it ended up looking so pretty with the little flecks of espresso and tasting like a dream. 

espresso buttercream recipe by Sugar and Sparrow

slices of coffee cake by sugar and sparrow

For garnish, I’ve used some chocolate covered espresso beans and these Speculoos cookies from Trader Joe’s ground into crumbs. If you’ve had these yummy cookies before you know they were made for pairing with coffee! They’re crispy caramelized cookies with a spiced cinnamon flavor, making them perfect for coffee dunking (or coffee cake decorating!). And thanks to these flavor choices, I ended up stumbling upon the most delicious snack ever: spread some vanilla espresso buttercream onto a Speculoos cookie, top with another cookie, and eat it like a sandwich. Heaven, y’all. 

vanilla espresso cake recipe

Trader Joe's Speculoos cookies and chocolate covered espresso beans

Whether you need something sweet to add to your brunch table or you just love coffee-flavored things, this cake will make you oh so happy.

coffee layer cake recipe by sugar and sparrow
5 from 2 votes
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Coffee Layer Cake With Vanilla Espresso Buttercream

Three layers of moist, flavorful coffee cake with decadent vanilla espresso buttercream

Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings 15 slices

Ingredients

Coffee Layer Cake

  • 3 3/4 cup (398g) cake flour, sifted before measuring*
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/8 cup (254g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup (308g) granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (94g) packed brown sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (112g) sour cream, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) strong coffee, room temperature

Vanilla Espresso Buttercream

  • 2 cups (452g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 cups (960g) powdered sugar
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp (45ml) whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

Make The Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 6-inch or 8-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with a cooking spray (Baker's Joy is my favorite) and a wax paper circle fitted to the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, you can grease and lightly flour the pans.

  2. Sift the cake flour and then measure by spooning and leveling it in your measuring cup. Add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside. Combine the whole milk and coffee in a small container and set aside.

  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer (a handheld mixer works fine too!), cream the butter for on high for two minutes until it's light and fluffy. Add in white and brown sugars and continue to mix on high for another two minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream and mix for one minute on high, scraping down the bowl and paddle once more. 

  4. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the coffee and whole milk mixture and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and give it a few stirs to make sure there are no lumps. Batter will be slightly thick, but pourable.

  5. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans (about 2/3 of the way full) and bake for 35-40 minutes. They're done when they spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for five minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack for an additional few hours of cooling. Make sure they're entirely room temperature before applying any frosting.

Make The Vanilla Espresso Buttercream

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter on med-high until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes), scraping down bowl and paddle a few times in between.

  2. Add powdered sugar a few cups at a time, scraping down bowl and paddle between intervals. Mix on medium until fully incorporated. 

  3. Turn mixer to low and add vanilla and milk. Mix on medium for one minute. Scrape down bowl and paddle and add the instant espresso powder and salt. Mix for another minute on medium until incorporated.

Assembly

  1. Torte each layer to desired height. Fill the first layer with vanilla espresso buttercream and place the second layer on top. Fill the second layer with vanilla espresso buttercream before placing the final layer on top. Crumb coat with vanilla espresso buttercream and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to chill before frosting with a final layer of vanilla espresso buttercream.

  2. Decorate however you wish. I've chosen to decorate with a chocolate ganache drip, a few swirls on top with Wilton tip 1M, and garnish with crushed Speculoos cookies and chocolate covered espresso beans. 

Recipe Notes

*DIY Cake Flour Recipe: To make your own cake flour, spoon and level one cup of all-purpose flour and remove 2 Tbsp. Add 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. Repeat per the amount of cake flour you need, then sift the flour and cornstarch mixture 4 times (don't skip that step!). After sifting, spoon and level to re-measure the amount of cake flour you need.

Make ahead tip: These cakes can be baked, cooled, wrapped in plastic wrap, and left out at room temperature up to two days ahead of decorating. Unfrosted cake layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for up to two months before thawing and frosting.

The buttercream can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you're ready to use it, bring it back to room temperature and re-whip with your stand mixer. 

Disclaimer: this post does contain some affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission if you click them and purchase items I’ve recommended. Using these links won’t cost you any extra money, but they do help to keep Sugar & Sparrow up and running. Thank you for your support!

Did you make this cake? I want to know how you liked it! Let me know in the comments below or tag me on Instagram so I can see your coffee-infused creation!

48 Comments

  1. Rajni Girish

    Love the recipe. It would be great if you could add metric measurements for the ingredients..!! Thanks.

    • Thanks Rajni! I am so happy to hear you love the recipe!! And yes, I really need to get a kitchen scale so I can add metric measurements to my recipes. Will get on that asap!

  2. kemala hayati

    yeah it would be helpful if there is metric measurement, because not all of the reader use cups

  3. Making this today! So excited to see how it turns out. Yours looks absolutely stunning!

  4. Pingback: 25 Incredible Cakes That Are Almost Too Pretty To Eat - And Easy To Make

  5. Hi Whitney. I tried this recipe today and it was indeed taste great!;)
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Jana Hoglund

    How deep are the 6” pans you used? I’m literally baking this right now and watching them in the oven, they are sooo close to overflowing! Did you not use all the batter? Help!

    • Hi Jana, I use 2 inch deep cake pans and fill them no more than 2/3 full just as specified in the recipe. After filling the pans 2/3 of the way full I usually have a little bit of cake batter left over. If you did end up filling them too full, you may still be able to rescue them by using a cake leveler to cut off the tops of the cakes! I hope they can be salvaged!

    • Hi Ashley! It would be totally ok to use two 8″ pans with this recipe. The baking time might be slightly different, I would check the cakes at 40 minutes and see if they need more time 🙂

  7. Anuja Khemka

    Hi Whitney!

    Can i add some chocolate chips to the batter to make it a little chocolatey? I want to make a non-chocolate heavy mocha cake. Most chocolate cakes have coffee but chocolate is the dominant flavor!

    • Hi Anuja, you can totally add chocolate chips to the cake batter! I would coat them with a little bit of flour first so they don’t sink to the bottom in the baking process.

  8. What is the best way to get an even stronger coffee flavor? I’m making it for someone who LOVES coffee!

    • Hi Ava, this recipe was created for someone who loves coffee, so I made it to be pretty strong as-is! Between the espresso powder and strong coffee inside the cake and the espresso buttercream on the outside of the cake, it’s a coffee lover’s dream. If you want more coffee flavor, you can try adding another 1/4 cup of strong coffee to bring the total to 3/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup.

  9. Hi Whitney, If I’m wanting to use two 8 inch pans would you suggest doubling the recipe or 1 and a half times the recipe? Thanks

    • Hi Shel! For two 8 inch cake pans, this recipe will work perfectly as-is. Just be sure to fill the pans no more than 2/3 full!

  10. 5 stars
    Made as a birthday cake for coworker and it was a hit at the office. Everyone loved the frosting! Another coworker said she’ll request this one for her birthday.

  11. Hi! So in the recipe it calls for instant espresso powder, is that instant espresso (ie you could add water and drink) or espresso powder (the one thats not really meant for drinking)? Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Lo! I used Instant Espresso Powder (the kind you can add water to and drink) but after doing some research it looks like you can use either. Espresso Powder and Instant Espresso Powder will add the same intense coffee flavor and are great for baking. Hope that helps! Here is the exact Instant Espresso Powder I used: https://amzn.to/2LF4xGb

  12. This looks delicious! I need to make cupcakes — would this recipe yield 24 regular size cupcakes?

    • Hi Alison! A cupcake version of this recipe will be delicious! It will yield more than 24 cupcakes (probably more like 35). Be sure to fill the tins no more than 2/3 full, bake them at 350 for 17 minutes and you’ll be good.

  13. Elizabeth

    Hello! For the premade coffee- do you think i can use straight Cuban espresso? Or American coffee okay? I wonder because American brewed coffee may be thinner in consistency? And does it have to be HOT?

    • Hi Elizabeth! Cuban espresso would be totally fine, any kind of coffee that tastes good will do 🙂 whatever kind of coffee/espresso you go for, it should be room temperature when you add it to the batter, so make sure you allow time for it to cool in your recipe prep.

  14. Hi Whitney, really loved your receipe and wanted to try .. but can you please tell me how can I replace the eggs as we don’t eat eggs

    • Hi Lavanya! I’d love to be able to recommend an egg substitute for this recipe, but I have never tried making an eggless cake and I don’t know what the best solution would be. If there are any egg substitutes that you already love for baking, I’d say try them with this recipe and see what works best (and let me know because I’m curious too!).

  15. Hi Whitney
    Do you think the vanilla expresso buttercream will work for vanilla layered cakes?
    Would I have to add more coffee to the buttercream so make it shine?
    Also, instead of using espresso powder, could I use the coffee made with a nespresso machine???

    • Hi Thanh! The vanilla espresso buttercream would taste amazing on vanilla cake! I’ve never made it with anything but espresso powder, but if you want to use liquid espresso, just bring it to room temp and use it in place of the milk. The color of the buttercream will be more beige if you use the liquid espresso and you won’t get the little flecks, but it will taste amazing nonetheless!

      • Thanks so much Whitney.
        What measurements do you recommend for 3 layers in 8inch pans?

          • For a triple layer 8-inch cake, I would use these measurements for the buttercream recipe:
            2.5 cups (565g) unsalted butter, room temperature
            9 cups (1080g) powdered sugar
            5 tsp vanilla extract
            4 Tbsp (45ml) whole milk, room temperature
            5 tsp instant espresso powder
            1/2 tsp salt

  16. Thankyou Whitney!! I am making the cake next week and hopefully it will turn out well. I will be sure to tag you. Xx

  17. Is the ‘cake flour’ that you’ve described a self raising flour or plain? Thanks 🙂

      • Thank you so much 🙂 Can you recommend quantities for an 8 inch, 3 layer cake? I can see you’ve already provide the icing quantities for someone else, so just the sponge quantities. In metric if possible. Thanks!

        • Hi Gemma! This recipe makes quite a lot of batter as-is, enough for a 3 layer 8 inch cake (need to revisit it to edit down the batter quantity!). Enjoy!

  18. Hello, your cake was absolute hit

    I would like to make small batch of cupcakes with this recipe (6). What do I need to with the ingredients, half it or divide by 3?

    • Hi Sasha! So happy to hear this recipe was a hit – it’s one of my faves! To make exactly 6 cupcakes would be pretty hard math-wise (you’d have to divide by 5 or 6). To keep things simple, I’d divide the recipe by 3. You’ll have some extra batter, but you could make extra cupcakes and store them in the freezer in an airtight container for up to two months.

  19. 5 stars
    Hi!! Wonderful recipe!! Just wondering, if I want to make it as a sheet cake (in a 9x13inch pan) is the recipe + cooking time ok as is or should I make any changes?

    • Hi Shabra! So happy you love the recipe. I’ve never made it as a sheet cake before (so I don’t entirely know how long to bake it) but I’d just be sure to fill the pan no more than 1/2 full, keep the oven temp the same, and check for doneness at 45-50 minutes. Let me know how it goes if you try it as a sheet cake!

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