An Irish Coffee Cake

24 Feb 2011

I had my first encounter with an Irish coffee cake while we were living in Adare, County Limerick in 2005. We had been renting a sweet little bolthole in the village during the construction of our new home on the farm. There used to be a charming little café + deli called Lloyd’s just up the lane from our place, which was run by a lovely woman named Anne Lloyd.  I believe Lloyd’s even made the esteemed Georgina Campbell’s Blue Book of Ireland’s Best Places, and if not, it should have because it was a very special place and everything that came out of her kitchen nearly melted my heart.

Lloyd’s was literally where I first sunk my teeth into many gorgeous Irish dishes and baked goods. Almost everything on Anne’s menu was exciting to me, not because the ingredients seemed foreign, but because the ingredients were put to different uses than I had ever previously experienced. Chocolate biscuit cake (digestive cookies stirred into chocolate), flapjacks (big square honey oatmeal bars), painstakingly stirred scrambled eggs with a sprinkle of curry, a certain carrot and coriander (cilantro) soup, the perfect Irish stew topped with a splash of white wine and freshly chopped parsley and that oh….so…..wonderful warm brown bread that is essentially an Irish “brand”.  Still, more than anything, I was in very much intrigued by her sensational coffee cake and went on to have an endearing love affair with this cake that still lingers on to this day.

In America, coffee cake takes on a whole different meaning. “American” coffee cake is not an iced cake-y cake at all. Coffee cake in the USA is often more of a cinnamon streusel, bundt-like pastry that is traditionally meant to be eaten while sipping a hot cup of coffee {hence the name “coffee cake”.} While the American version is different than the Irish coffee cake, it is absolutely delicious and also one of my favorite treats. I grew up with a mother who liked to bake coffee cake in the morning and have the neighbour ladies over for coffee and gossip. And I will never forget the incredible poppyseed coffee cake that my grandmother sourced from her local Eastern European bakery and always, always had on hand whenever we visited.

So, at first, I didn’t know what to make of this new idea of coffee cake which is basically a coffee-flavoured sponge layer cake slathered in coffee-caramel-y flavoured icing. But, over time, this cake has become one of my all-time favorites….

First, you must find coffee/chicory essence.  Strong coffee or espresso would work, but would likely produce a flavour that is not the same as the sweet caramel coffee taste of the chicory/coffee essence used in this recipe. In Ireland, look for IREL (In England it is called CAMP and in the USA you can use Coffeol)

After you’ve mixed all the ingredients together, split the batter evenly into two lined, buttered and dusted sandwich tins (layer cake pans)

When the cakes are done and cooled, frost the first layer.  Because I love a caramel-coffee-nut combo, I decided to top the frosting with a handful of toasted pecans.

Sandwich the cakes together, pour over the icing, and tuck into a slice!

I truly hope you enjoy this cake as much as we do on the farm!

Slan Abhaile,


Photos by Imen McDonnell. Recipe adapted from Darina Allen’s “Forgotten Skills of Cooking”

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