Weeknight Cooking

Prune Coffee Cake

September 26, 2011

Prune Coffee Cake

- Jenny

As the early morning light flowed into my kitchen one morning last week, I noticed a tree in the far back of my yard beginning to turn red. Another season, another set of holidays on the horizon that none of us will be quite prepared for, another slog in the early darkness from the office to the metro to home. Same. Same. Same.

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It seems only children experience the absolutely new, from their early moments as terrifying bundles of sheer need, to their wobbling discovery of the world below their feet, all on the journey toward their own traditions and eventual drudgery.

I was at that 6:30 am moment overcome with the need to make a cake. A new cake, actually, because untried recipes -- along with ingredients and techniques -- are the one way we can keep our kitchens, and our lives, rebooting. I love my standbys, I have made some of them scores of times. But it felt nice to bring a new friend into my kitchen, especially one that would greet the rest of the family, warm and fragrant, when they awoke.

If you are in search of fresh meaning in your life, or, more likely, just a better breakfast cake, I strongly recommend Prune Coffee Cake. This fits the weekday mandate quite easily; I had the whole thing whipped up just in time to run upstairs and cajole my kids from their beds, by taking a very few shortcuts.

First of all, this is breakfast time, so your coffee is already made, no? While you plump your prunes in the hot liquid, get your butter and sugar going in the mixer while you whip together your dry stuff. Toss that egg in, then the vanilla. Don’t forget the maple syrup, the sweet key to this whole cake, but if you do, as I did, you can toss it in at the end. I did not process my prunes, but rather threw them in with the coffee into the batter. Just be sure to cut them on the small side.

I did not use powdered sugar, though would have -- for variety! -- were I serving it at a brunch. Which I should. If I had brunches. Which I don’t.

What amazed me about this cake was how moist it was, considering how little fat it has relative to the flour. Its aromas conjure some family tradition, which one just depends on your family. Bring it to work to spice up your day. Your life may not feel so different for your efforts, but it will be for the moment more pleasurable.

Prune Coffee Cake by nannydeb

Serves 8-10


  • 1/3 cup hot espresso or coffee
  • powedered sugar for dusting

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10 inch spring form pan. Set aside.

  • In a small bowl, plump the prunes with the hot espresso or coffee for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

  • In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

  • In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the egg, vanilla and maple syrup and mix well.

  • Puree the prunes with the espresso or coffee in the food processor. Add to the cake batter and mix well.

  • Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

  • Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan at least 10 minutes.

  • Remove the cake to a serving plate and dust with powdered sugar. Enjoy!


Like Jenny? Watch her butter her noodles and add corn (obviously!) last week.

Photos by Nicole Franzen.

By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.

Jennifer Steinhauer

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Paula J. March 10, 2015
Did anyone else have issues with cooking time? I baked my cake at 350 for 35 minutes and although the tester came out clean, when I cut my still warm cake, the center was still raw. Back into the oven it went. I'm hoping another 15 minutes will do the trick.
Aria A. October 19, 2014
Any recommendations to sub for the coffee? Thinking maybe orange juice or even Apple cider might be nice. Wondered if you've tried any variation with sucess as I plan on making this tomorrow morning at 6:30am too cause that's how I roll outta bed. In the kitchen and baking. Perfect way to start the day if us ask me.
Stacey S. December 27, 2012
Just made this delicious cake, and kept the prunes whole w/ the hot espresso liquid in the batter. I also iced the cake w/ orange juice and confectioner sugar. SO GOOD! Loved!
kcupdrawer November 23, 2011
I need one piece of PRUNE COFFEE CAKE you did. Please Please ^^

I will drink with my coffee in this time.

Thank you for your share recipe.

fishesm October 24, 2011
This was delicious. Perfect for Fall. My Kindergarten and preschool daughters gobbled it up, as did their visiting grandfather. Thanks for an easy winner with broad appeal!
gt9 September 30, 2011
Thanks Jenny...making this tomorrow morning...as I have said, your writing reminds me of Laurie Colwin...and give me that same warm feeling...not to mention the smile. The kind of work that makes me want to get cooking...maybe one day you will put your thoughts into a cookbook..
Jestei September 30, 2011
awe you're too good to me. are you still barbecuing there in minnesota?
gt9 September 30, 2011
Yes...still time for that...the beautiful fall colors of Indian summer...salmon on the grill on Sunday...come on over!
Demington September 29, 2011
Does anyone know where to buy prunes with pits in the US? They seem to have disappeared.
Jestei September 29, 2011
do you know, i feel like i have seen them on the shelves of traditional big supermarkets .
LaMar September 27, 2011
I love prunes, its always funny to me the rap they have. Plums certainly get all the love. This cake sounds lovely - I have to say what amazed me most is that you could get up at 6:30am, conceive of and then actually make a 'breakfast cake' all in the same morning. Sigh.
Jestei September 29, 2011
it was more avoidance of the rest of life. don't be too impressed.
MrsBeeton September 27, 2011
I'm not much of a commenter, more a lurker (and a cooker), but your observation about the way a new recipe can make us middle-aged folks feel a sense of possibility again really resounded with me. Thanks for your beautiful writing.
Jestei September 29, 2011
i hope you believe me when i tell you that you truly truly made my day. thank you.
mcs3000 September 27, 2011
Every Friday at work, 2 to 3 people make or buy breakfast for the department. Last time I made Sara's granola bars via Merrill. I think I'll make this cake next time. Thank you and nannydeb.
Jestei September 27, 2011
may i come work there too?
LovelyVelocity September 26, 2011
This looks delicious! I can't wait to try it.
Jestei September 27, 2011
thank you
ashleychasesdinner September 26, 2011
This looks wonderful! This will be great to have my whole family eat, while I quietly giggle to myself that they have no idea!!
nannydeb September 26, 2011
Ha ha! I know people turn up their noses to prunes, but they're so sweet and delicious!
deanna1001 September 26, 2011
Prunes must be "trending" right now (see NYT Sunday for article about "trending")...I cooked lamb shanks with prunes and brandy yesterday and was thinking about what to do with all the prunes in that giant bag I bought (for a great price you know...) This looks like an obvious choice. Thanks for posting!
Jestei September 26, 2011
i hope you like it. i love prunes in lamb by the way.
strozyk September 26, 2011
So sorry for triple post! No idea why that happened. Please delete?
strozyk September 26, 2011
This is gorgeous - thank you so much for sharing. I'm going to GF it with blanched almond flour. Wish me luck! If any other GF folks have tried this, please post.
Jestei September 26, 2011
interesting idea. can't wait to hear the outcome.
nannydeb September 26, 2011
I'm so happy this cake brightened your day! Cake always does that for me...tee hee
Jestei September 26, 2011
can't wait to try more of your recipes.
Bevi September 26, 2011
This brings back memories of a prune cake my dad used to make. I will have to return the favor when I next see him.
Jestei September 26, 2011
awwwwww. that makes my heart light.
Susan B. September 26, 2011
Beautiful almost healthy cake, with the prunes and all :-) Thank you for delicious recipe. Would think you would NEED "night job" to balance "day job." Glad you do!
Jestei September 26, 2011
yes. it's so true. no blog, no jenny sanity.
Lizthechef September 26, 2011
Boy, it is only 8:00 here and I have everything in my pantry. Maybe I need to attack Monday morning after some prune coffee cake. What the heck...
Jestei September 26, 2011
i hope you love it liz!
teacupandteapot September 26, 2011
At first I thought prunes?? This cake looks lovely and worth the try.
Jestei September 26, 2011
yes i know. i had prunes around and was trying to think of a new idea for them when i stumbled on this. i had the same initial reaction but it is a lovely spice cake thing.