The stockings are nearly full, the gifts are either wrapped or en route to our home, and countless cups of cocoa have been consumed. There has been Christmas music playing for weeks, opening of advent doors, and readings of a humble birth. We’ve seen lights, reindeer, a Space Needle all lit up, and a camel named Curly. With only a few more traditions to cross off our list the day is approaching quickly and we all are counting the sleeps.


It’s true, I’m giddy at the thought of nine kidlets and cousins joyfully tearing into their presents, and thrilled to imagine the warmth of a fire I’ll sit next to for countless hours, but it’s this coffee cake that is making the days leading up to Christmas feel as if they are taking far too long to pass.

I made this cake last week to test if it was Christmas morning worthy. Since then I’ve resisted making it again and again. Now the anticipation is making me weak.

Let me assure you, it is Christmas morning worthy.

This coffee cake makes eating cake seem perfectly appropriate for a morning’s activity. And really Christmas morning needs no excuse to be eating cake, but this one avoids being overtly sweet with layers of tanginess from both creme fraiche and cream cheese. A subtle citrus flavor runs throughout complementing the soft bitterness from the cocoa nibs.

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Let’s pause there for a moment so I can convince you that your pantry needs cocoa nibs. It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago when I myself felt no need to have cocoa nibs be a part of my regular routine. Then a packaged arrived from the kind people at Theo chocolate. There were many delightful things inside but it was the nibs that intrigued me the most.

Cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted and cracked. They’re bitter and nearly savory and yet you can recognize that it’s chocolate. They look as though their texture could break your teeth but as you bite into them it’s a gentle crunch that softens as the cocoa butter melts. In this coffee cake they are the perfect accessory for texture and flavor and one of the many reasons that makes this cake worthy of a holiday morning.

Happy Holidays to you all!

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Cocoa Nib Coffee Cake


This recipe appears a bit daunting by the sheer length of it. I know I would roll my eyes at all the steps but I assure you all those messy bowls are well worth the trouble. I am counting down the days until Christmas morning when I will enjoy this coffee cake once again.

2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute half whole wheat if you prefer)

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) butter, soft

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)

Pre-heat your oven to 350*F. Butter a tube pan or a bundt pan.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugars together until creamy and light, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time while the mixer is on medium low. Add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again then add the creme fraiche. With the mixer on low add the dry ingredients. Stop the mixer while streaks of flour remain. Finish mixing by hand to prevent over mixing.

Set aside ½ cup of the batter.

Cream Cheese Filling

4 oz cream cheese, soft

1 Tablespoon butter, soft

¼ teaspoon orange zest

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup coffee cake batter (reserved from above)

Beat in a mixer or medium bowl until smooth. Stir in ½ cup cake batter.


½ cup almonds

¼ cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons butter, melted

½ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup cocoa nibs (can be found at fine grocery stores, specialty food stores or ordered online)

Add ingredients, except the cocoa nibs, to the bowl of a food processor and processor until coarse crumb. Stir in the cocoa nibs.

Add half of the cocoa nib crumble to the bottom of the pan. On top of that add half of the batter. The batter is stiff and hard to spread around without disturbing the crumble so I find that spooning the batter into the pan works best. Add a layer of cream cheese filling around the ring than cover with the remaining batter.Try and make sure no cream cheese is left exposed so as not to burn that layer.

Top with the remaining crumbling topping.

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 45-50 minutes until an inserted knife comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for about an hour before running a knife around the edge of pan then inverted. Invert the cake one more time so it’s back to the original baking position. Served warm is best but it’s also great the day after baking (even the day after the day after).


52 Responses to “Cocoa Nib Coffee Cake”

  1. Julie

    Ah! I picked up a jar of cocoa nibs not long ago, and just today pondered what to do with it. Voila! This may make it onto our Christmas breakfast menu. Thanks!

  2. darla

    did i miss where that 1/2 cup of batter that was set aside fits back in top the recipe? (or may i just eat that while i am waiting for the cake to bake?)

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Darla – It’s with the cream cheese filling (it keeps it from curdling) but I added it the cream cheese filling ingredients as well. Feel free eat it though. 🙂

  3. Jay Thrash

    This recipe looks amazing! I will definitely be making this for my family this holiday season.

    Quick question – where does the second half of the cocoa nib crumble mixture get used? Is it supposed to be mixed into the filling? Or is it for me to munch on while the cake is in the oven? 😉

  4. My Little Expat Kitchen

    This looks like a wonderful coffee cake Ashely. No wonder you wanted to make it again and again. I would love to make it myself but I can’t find cocoa nibs where I live. I would have to order them.
    Can you please suggest a worthy substitute for them?
    Thank you.

    • Joyce

      Try It is a natural food store on-line. You should be able to find cocoa nibs there.

  5. Clara

    I could stare at your photos and read your writing all day, Ashley. I wish I had something more creative to say, something to somehow attempt to match the quality of these photos and your writing… but I’m always left speechless! I suppose that’s a good thing! I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.

  6. Pake

    Can’t wait for Christmas either, Ash. Well, Christmas Eve I guess it is. Looking forward to tasting this wonderful cake. I wonder how many of your readers wouldn’t trade places with me on Christmas Eve. I’m a lucky man.

  7. Jody @ the hobby room

    The cake looks lovely! Theo Chocolate is the very best. You must absolutely go on their chocolate factory tour sometime, it’s so interesting. In addition to being fair trade and all that, they make the best flavor combinations, as you probably know from getting a box from them.

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Jody – I’ve been. It’s AMAZING. Their chocolate is so wonderful. So lucky to have them in Seattle. If you want any where within a quarter mile radius you are swarmed with a warm chocolate smell. It’s intoxicating. I must get my hands on the seasonal peppermint bar – it’s my favorite.

  8. Brenda

    Oh my goodness! I need to head over to Theo chocolate (a long drive – maybe should order online) and get a stash of cocoa nibs. Lovely pictures. When will you be teaching cooking classes next?

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Brenda – I’m teaching about once a quarter at The Pantry at Delancey and a little bit at Book Larder as well. I lost my kitchen space for the other classes but may put some on the books at my parent’s house which is up north a bit. Thanks for asking. 😉

  9. Kathleen

    Christmas coffeecake is a tradition in my family, but that tradition is going to change slightly! Bye, grandma’s recipe! You were treasured, but you don’t have chocolate. I might try the other half of the nibs mixture on top of the cream cheese, as a middle layer. Any reason this would be a bad idea? This was how my grandma did hers, so that helps preserve some of the tradition…
    (And my toddler now grunts like Curly did every time we say the word “camel” because he was so fascinated by his noises and, I assume, overall camel-ness.)

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Kathleen – That would work well. I like some on the top so that the almonds get toasted and there is a bit of crunch. I would suggest using toasted almonds if you are going to put them only the bottom and in the middle. I love that you know Curly too. 🙂

  10. joey

    Oh wow! How lovely to have this waiting for you on Christmas morning! I have a package of cocoa nibs in the pantry and this will be a great way to use them!

  11. Kasey

    Oh, my. I don’t bake coffee cake much, but this is getting made IMMEDIATELY. Happy holidays, friend!! I bet Christmas is even more magical with little kiddies. 🙂 xo

  12. tara

    now this sounds ridiculously great. new year’s day, you’ve met your match. here’s to the happiest of holidays to you and yours, dear friend.

  13. Lorna

    Hi Ashley, Just logged on to wish you and all your family a very Merry Christmas. Looking forward in advance to reading all your posts in 2012! I hope it’s a beautiful one for you and your family. Best Wishes, Lorna XXX

  14. Kathleen

    I wanted to make sure to return and thank you for this recipe. It was a serious hit at Christmas, from ages 14-months to 70! And the little bit that remained was equally delicious, if not moreso, 36-hours later. Thanks for a new tradition! (And I ended up layering the nibs mixture on top, middle and bottom. Thanks for the toasted suggestion, too!)

  15. Megan Gordon

    Oh, Ashley this looks wonderful! I just baked with cacoa nibs myself (cookies) and have a little bag left from my last visit to Theo. 9 little ones on Christmas morning sounds wonderful — it must be such a special way to relive the magic through their eyes. Hope you had a warm and restful holiday with the family.

  16. Victor

    Thanks for this new idea. What a delicious treat. Could become a tradition several times a year!

  17. Melissa

    Hmm, I LOVE cocoa nibs and wanted to try a recipe with them. Lately a close friend and I have been finding new recipe ideas for cupcakes and baking them once a week. I was curious how this can be converted into a cupcake I think were gonna give it a good try!

  18. Karma

    I used to bake something sort of like cocoa nibs. Except with out cocoa. I should try to make them cocoa. Thanks for the cool idea.

  19. Heidi Leon

    It´s already January and even with all that unwanted Post-Christmas extra weight, I wouldn´t mind to eat this cake any given day, it looks truly delicious and super fluffy!.

  20. Annalisa

    Been wanting to make this ever since I saw it, but couldn’t find the cocoa nibs in my area. Sent my husband on a mission for them when he was traveling and he found them (yeah for awesome husband!=) and made this cake yesterday. It was so, so good–I think my favorite coffee cake of all time. One question, though–I had a hard time getting it out of my bundt pan (and also found the layering in circles a little challenging…), so I was wondering if you had ever tried it in a loaf pan or 8 by 8 or something… Thanks for the recipe!

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Annalisa – I love the determination and am so happy you enjoyed the recipe. I haven’t tried it in a loaf pan but I don’t know why that wouldn’t work. Yes, the layering can be tricky as the batter is quite stiff but the reward is in the taste so I will happily put up with a bit of fuss for this one.


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