blum’s coffee crunch cake

Like most people who love to cook, I have an ongoing list of dishes I’d like to make one day. My list consists of various items found in magazines and cookbooks, classics that I have yet to tackle (like osso bucco and fresh pasta), things that I’ve eaten in restaurants that I want to recreate at home, and old family favorites. Now that I’m an adult I realize how fortunate I am to come from a family that loves food. My paternal grandparents were wonderful cooks. Because of them and their love for preparing delicious meals for their family, I really do appreciate a good home-cooked meal and homemade desserts.

My grandma’s coffee crunch cake is one of those family favorites that I’ve wanted to make for quite some time now. I think it might have been one of the best things I ate as a child. Who wouldn’t like a three layer cake covered in whipped cream and toffee? I know I’ve mentioned my grandma and her amazing baking before, but I just cannot say it enough – she was everyone’s favorite baker in her day. And now that she’s well into her 80’s, she’s become my favorite taster. If she says likes something that I’ve made, I know in my heart I’ve got a winner on my hands because she is not the kind of woman who just throws around compliments, especially when it comes to food.

A few weeks ago, while having dinner with Grandma, I mentioned that I wanted to make her coffee crunch cake and asked if she still had the recipe.  To my surprise she said she did (my mom always talks about the way Grandma could bake without even measuring ingredients so I fear that some recipes will be lost forever). And then she mentioned Blum’s. I didn’t realize what she was saying at first but then it became clear to me; the coffee crunch cake that I grew up with was actually an adaptation of Blum’s famous coffee crunch cake. Blum’s was a bakery in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square (there were other Blum’s shops around San Francisco and also in Berkeley and Palo Alto). It was the kind of place where people would go after a long day of shopping at Macy’s or I. Magnin (the ladies who lunch set of those days likely frequented Blum’s). My grandma was born and raised in San Francisco and I can imagine her and my Great-Auntie Teiko going to Blum’s and eating coffee crunch cake. Unfortunately, Blum’s closed in the 70’s but their famous cake lives on in a few bakeries in San Francisco, including Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop in Japantown.

A few days after our dinner, I had a photocopied newspaper clipping with Blum’s recipe in my possession. After reviewing the recipe I realized that the individual elements of the cake are quite simple – sponge cake, whipped cream and a toffee like topping. Together, however, they create the most magnificent confection. It is the perfect combination of light, airy, creamy, crunchy and sticky with just the faintest lemony vanilla flavor. This cake is what the sweetest of dreams are made of. It’s the kind of cake that would’ve inspired a Wayne Thiebaud painting, full of old world charm and elegance. When I brought the cake to our last family dinner, I can’t describe to you how pleased my grandma was – she said she couldn’t believe I made it. I could see the pride on her face when everyone ooh’d and ahhh’d as it was being served. It was a delightful experience, for myself and for all of the other coffee crunch cake fans. As Grandma says, it was just delicious.

blum’s coffee crunch cake

from Flo Braker

serves 10-12


1 -1/4 cups cake flour, sifted

1-1/2 cups sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 egg yolks

1/4 cup water

1 cup egg whites (6-8 large eggs)

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

coffee crunch topping:

unflavored vegetable oil

1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted

1/4 cup strong brewed coffee

1-1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup


2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

for the cake:

Adjust rack in the lower third of oven;  preheat to 350°F. Sift flour, 3/4 cup sugar, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add water and beat until thickened, about 4 minutes.

Whisk egg whites in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer just until frothy. Add cream of tartar; whisk until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a steady  stream, whisking until thicker, stiffer, glossy peaks form – about 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Pour yolk mixture over whites. Fold together with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle a third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture; fold to combine. Repeat two more times just until ingredients are incorporated. Gently pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch round tube pan with a removable bottom (such as an angel food pan). Level top with a spatula.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top springs back slightly when lightly touched. Invert pan over a long-necked bottle to cool for about 45 minutes.

To  remove cake from pan, slip a flexible metal spatula down one side of pan; slowly trace perimeter to release the cake. When sides are free, push up on bottom to release cake. Tilt cake with removable bottom still attached, and gently tap bottom against counter to loosen cake. Rotate cake, tapping a few more times, until it appears free. Cover cake with a rack and invert; remove bottom of pan.

for the coffee crunch topping:

Generously oil a large baking sheet or line with a silicon mat or parchment paper; sift baking soda onto a sheet of wax paper; set nearby.

Combine coffee, sugar and corn syrup in a heavy, 4-quart saucepan. Place over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. When mixture is clear and begins to boil, increase heat to medium-high; cook until mixture reaches 290°F on a candy thermometer. Toward end of cooking (around 270°-280°), stir occasionally to prevent mixture from scorching and becoming too foamy. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up fiercely). While still foaming, pour out onto prepared baking sheet. Do not spread; let cool undisturbed for at least 1 hour.

Crush into very small pieces. (Place between two sheets of wax paper or inside a freezer size ziplock bag and tap with a rolling pin). Store in an airtight container.

for the frosting:

Combine cream, sugar and vanilla. Whisk until cream holds soft peaks.

to assemble:

Slice cooled cake into 3 equal layers using a serrated knife. Spread whipped cream between each layer, carefully stacking layers. Spread remaining whipped cream over the top and sides of cake. Refrigerate.

Just before serving, generously sprinkle top and sides with the coffee crunch.

***Update 6/10/2012: I hadn’t revisited this post in over two years and just realized that there was a discrepancy in the instructions involving the amounts of sugar being added to the cake batter. It has been corrected. Huge apology to anyone that experienced issues with this. 

19 thoughts on “blum’s coffee crunch cake

  1. Simlpy delicious. Tonight, I made this for my family and it was a hit. I used crushed heath bars for the crunch part of the cake instead of the coffee crunch but it still turned out well. Thank you for the recipe!

  2. When I was in my pre-teens, I used to visit my father’s hair salon on Geary Street, just a block from Macy’s. On many occasions one of his clients would take me to Blum’s for lunch and, of course, Coffee Crunch Cake. First of all, to a young girl Blum’s was amazing with all it’s pink decor. It felt like another world to me. And even now, almost 50 years later, I can still taste and remember the Cake. It was fantastic. I’m going to make this for my daughter’s birthday on Saturday.

  3. Pingback: Food Blogger' VIrtual New Year's Eve, and My 12 Favorite Recipes from 2011! | The Spicy RD

  4. I remember this cake well – as a child my mother took us to the City to get our school uniforms every August and then we went to Blum’s for Coffee Crunch Cake. We also celebrated Easter dinner with this delightful concoction. And now I can make it myself – fun!

  5. I must have done a lot of things wrong. My cake turned out horrible. Please help me figure it out bc I love this cake!

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  7. I have made this a few times and really love the cake and cream. I also like the crunch but its not quite as crunchy as I had imagined. Is the correct texture crunch when you first bite but them somewhat sticky….stick to your teeth sticky? If yes, then mine came out perfect!

    • Hi Michele,
      The amount of crunchiness will vary depending on how long the crunch has been on the cake. The crunch should be pretty crisp if served immediately after applying it to the cake. The longer it sits on the whipped cream, the more sticky the crunch may become. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Also, using fresh baking soda will produce a nice, aerated crunch.

  8. I am confused as to what the “discrepancies” were??? Am thinking of making this for thanksgiving this year and it seems that there is about a 3/4 cup difference of sugar between the ingredients and instructions. Which is right? And is it supposed to “stick to your teeth sticky”??

    • Hi Sadie,

      The sugar is added to the batter at three different stages – 3/4 cup gets sifted with the flour; 1/4 cup is beat into the egg yolks; and the last 1/2 cup is added to the egg whites.
      Also, the crunch will be more crispy and less sticky if you apply it to the cake right before serving.
      Hope this answers all of your questions. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Hi,
    I just came across this recipe.
    Wanted to ask if the flour is 21/4 or 11/4? because on marth’s recipe it says 2 1/4 and rest of the ingredients are same.

  10. Just wanted to say I’ve always wanted to get my hands on the recipe. Geez, never figured anyone had it on the internet… go figure! LOL, anyhow thanks for sharing. I’m anxious to try it and see how it comes out. I remember as a small child growing up in the 60s and crunch cake was my favorite, so my mom would get one for a special occasion like my birthday. I was crushed when they closed. But lucky enough, as it closed, our friends opened up the Yasukochi bakery and started making it too. Yup, still as good as the original. Even to this date. I don’t live in SF anymore, but whenever I’m up there long enough to get to Japantown, that’s a mandatory stop to get whatever size cake I can get my hands on. Hey, its only once every 2-3 years, so I crave it like crazy! Now if this cake comes out, I can make it anytime! So thanks again for the share.

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