German Coffee Cake

16 May


Coffee cake has always been enjoyed on Christmas mornings in my family. Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas without this breakfast staple. My grandmother (Grandmama) made it for her five children. In turn, my mother and all her sisters made it for their families. After my mother passed, I started to carry on the tradition by making it for my father and brother. Someday, I hope to make it for my own children when the time comes.


 Coffee Cake

A Recipe with a Long Genealogy:

This recipe has a long genealogy. As the below excerpt from Grandmama’s cookbook shows, her grandmother made coffee cake for her when she was a little girl. Upon tracing my roots on, I discovered that my great-great grandmother, referred to as “Grandma” in the story below, was born Augusta “Gussie” Ovitz Von Wilamowitz on October 14, 1878 in Wisconsin. Her mother was born Wilhemina Keehn on August 3, 1851 and died October 6, 1944. Wilhemina had seven children with Henry Von Wilamowitz (1851-1924) who she married on April 15, 1870 in Wisconsin. She died October 19, 1960. Grandmama got the recipe from Aunt Babe who I assume is the “Auntie” in the story. She was probably one of Grandma Ovitz’s six siblings.

Further research revealed that the surnames Wilamowitz and Keehn are both of German origin which confirms family legend that my maternal line emigrated to the U.S.A. from Germany. When I Googled “German coffee cake recipes,” I found that the ingredients and instructions exactly matched the ones in Grandmama’s recipe, so it is safe to assume that this recipe came from my fourth great grandmother or her mother before her- whoever emigrated from Germany. I do know (from that Grandma Ovitz’s husband was a first generation American and his father Otto Von Wilamowitz was born in 1806 in Germany. 


History of coffee cake recipe (reprinted from The Ince Family Cookbook):

“When I went to Delavan as a little girl, Mommo would always take me the first morning down to Grandma’s house on the corner. Grandma’s house was a one-story white frame house with a green roof and green trim. The front porch, which was on the left side of the house, was glassed in. In back was a garage (but no car), and two big rain barrels where Grandma collected rain water. Once she washed my hair in her rain water and rinsed it with vinegar and water.

In the dining room there was usually a wooden frame by the window with stretched burlap where Grandma and Auntie always wore long dresses, a white apron, and Grandma’s black high shoes had buttons. I remember her best sitting in a rocking chair where she would be tatting with ivory bobbins or stitching material together for quilts. Mommo and I would walk back up the hill carrying two coffee cakes, which were always waiting for us for me at Grandma’s. I would eat them in the mornings with stewed apricots, always with Poppo and Mommo in the dining room. They would last a day or two.”

        – Jean Gregory Ince, 1993


Preparation Time: 4 hours
Cooking Time: 25 minutes



  • 1 cup scalded milk, hot
  • ¼ cup Crisco or butter (shortening)
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 yeast cake (may be substituted for dry yeast)
  • Grated rind of ½ lemon


  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, cut in until it is like course meal.


  • Put sugar and shortening in a bowl, pour hot milk over them. When lukewarm, crumble in yeast cake or stir in dry yeast. Let stand for about 5 minutes.
  • Add beaten egg and lemon rind.
  • Stir in 1 ½ cups flour with salt sifted in.
  • Add raisins and stir in remaining 1 ½ cups flour.
  • Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 2 ½ hours.
  • Grease tins, put dough in with spatula, and pat down with floured hands.
  • Cover with topping and let rise for one hour.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Serving Suggestion:
You can eat this cake with dried apricots as Grandmama did when she was a little girl or with coffee and scrambled eggs (my preference).

Chef’s Tip:
Be very careful when adding the yeast. If using dry yeast, follow the instructions for activation on the package and use a thermometer if possible. The milk cannot be too hot or too cold. It must be lukewarm. Otherwise, the dough will not rise properly and you will end up with something other than cake.



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