Berry Coffee Cake with Almond Topping

The weather outside is trouble. Hail and flooding rains attacking the garden, the same little plants that witnessed the heavy, steady, and unwelcome snow last week. Just a few days ago we enjoyed 70 degree radiant afternoons, tilling the ground and watching the pea plants grow and the lettuce beds populate. 

I’ve had enough. Winter, you had your chance, it’s spring! It’s May, and even the grass is tired of you. 

I’m ready for color explosions from poppies, columbines, calendula and chamomile flowers. I’m itching to plant tomatoes, peppers, beans and sunflowers; and for long evenings sitting on the patio with a chilled glass of anything, preferably a rosé but at this point i’ll take anything over a hot tea. 

To undermine the rude and constant interruption of spring, I made one of my favorite coffee cakes, fresh berries with almond topping. 


I first made this recipe a decade ago when I was working at the museum, it worked great for afternoon tea and coffee gatherings that didn’t require highly stylized desserts, but called for delicious and comforting baked goods. 

I found this recipe in the book from a once iconic bakeshop and cafe in New York City, Once Upon Tart. The shop still exist, but more as a staple of the SoHo neighborhood rather than the groundbreaking shop I, once, longed to visit. A clear representation of how quickly food businesses can go out of style and replaced by trendy, hipster new spots. 

This book remains one of my favorite cookbooks, even after a decade of paging through it and splattering vanilla extract and buttermilk on it. It’s full of tips and ideas on everything from simple salads and soups, to cozy baked goods, plus I like to read the headnotes that tell the story of each item. I like context when I read and cook a recipe, especially as I dive deeper into food as a cultural glue of people.  

The head note for this recipe says, “This is not your average coffee cake,” and I agree. I’m not a fan of coffee cakes because they tend to be too sweet, just cake with little fruit. This one is packed with berries on each bite, and it is the only coffee cake I ever make. I follow their advise in the fall and make it with apples, which are delicious with the almond topping and an added dash of cinnamon. 


I’m following the original recipe as spring calls for berries, well not in Colorado. Berries are available from California this time of the year, where crazy snow and hail are reserved for mountain tops. Here in Colorado, we don’t see strawberries until mid June, if the weather doesn’t destroy crops, but until then California fruit will have to do. 

Berry Coffee Cake with Almond Crumb Topping
From Once Upon a Tart 
Make one 13×9″ cake pan 

The original recipe calls for walnuts to make the topping, but I love almonds on everything, especially on baked goods. 
Also, I use a mixture of whole grain flour and AP flour to amplify the nutty taste of the almonds, and to add a bit more texture. You can use AP flour anywhere I have whole grain, if you don’t have it on hand. 
I also added fresh tarragon to the fruit because I love how the light anise flavor enhances the flavor of the fruit, plus the tarragon bush in my garden is growing fast and I’m looking for ways to use it as much as possible. You can skip this ingredient or add basil instead. 

For topping
1 tbsp whole grain flour
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup almond paste (store bought or homemade
Toss all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse until crumbles form. 

4 oz butter soften (1 stick), plus more to prepare the pan
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole grain pastry flour
1 cup AP flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (optional) 
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold buttermilk
1 cup each raspberries, blueberries, strawberries (cut to the side of the other fruit)
1 tsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped (optional) 

  • Heat the oven to 350F (180C)
  • Butter and flour the baking pan
  • Toss the fruit together and add the fresh tarragon
  • Sift or whisk the flours, baking powder and soda, spices and salt to break any lumps and combine the ingredients 
  • In a big bowl, beat the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment on a standing mixer or hand beaters, until light and fluffy, and creamy-yellow in color, about 3-5 minutes
  • Add the eggs, one at the time, scrapping the sides of the bowl after each egg
  • Add the vanilla extract
  • Stir half the buttermilk into the butter mixture, using the paddle on low, scrape down the sides of the bowl 
  • Stir in half the flour, then repeat with the remaining buttermilk and flour, mix just to combine
  • Do not overmix
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level it 
  • Cover with the fruit 
  • Add the crumb topping to cover all the fruit
  • Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, checking after minute 45. This cake does take a long time to bake and it can get unpleasantly soggy in the middle if not fully baked
  • Make some coffee and call me for an afternoon treat! 

~  Paula


4 thoughts on “Berry Coffee Cake with Almond Topping”

    1. Thank you! Farmers markets in the city open this week, and our garden is finally producing some tender lettuces and peas. I can’t wait for summer!

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