Food & Wine

A Brief History of the Coffee Crunch Cake

By Kendra Boutell

Mention the long-closed Blum’s restaurants to San Franciscans, and they speak in reverential tones
of its legendary Coffee Crunch Cake. The dessert, composed of light sponge cake layers smothered
in coffee-infused whipped cream frosting, was embellished with shards of broken hard candy.
The juxtaposition of smooth and crisp textures, along with the cake’s subtle lemon-vanilla flavor
in contrast with the bittersweet coffee frosting, made it a celebratory favorite.

In the 1940s through the 1960s, men, women and children dressed up in their best to visit Union Square. There, Blum’s eatery and candy store provided the perfect venue for suits and ties, hats and gloves—and well-mannered offspring. After a hectic day shopping at I. Magnin and Macy’s, San Franciscans treated themselves to savory sandwiches, fountain follies, handmade candies and Coffee Crunch Cake.

The late Flo Braker, “The Baker” columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote of the iconic restaurant and its signature cake: “The well-loved Blum’s pastry shops in San Francisco—primarily the one on Union Square—were places where people met on a regular basis to eat. … One reason that so many of us in the Bay Area remember Blum’s with such fondness is the Coffee Crunch Cake. It fit the bill as a special occasion cake as well as a midafternoon sweet.”

Blum’s started as a confectionery in 1892 when New Orleans native Samuel Blum opened a small candy shop on Sutter and Polk. After Samuel died, his son Jack ran the growing business. It fell to Jack’s son-in-law, Fred Levy, to drive the company’s success. In 1934, when Levy took over Blum’s management, the company still sold the same fin de siècle candies. The former securities salesman instructed his candy makers to produce a new confection every day.

A failed candy experiment inspired the creation of Blum’s renowned Coffee Crunch Cake. Originally spelled Koffee Krunch Kake, it was invented by accident by master baker Ernest Weil in the 1940s. When an employee overboiled soft coffee candy, Weil smashed the hard substance into pieces. The Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef repurposed the mistake, decorating one of his sponge and whipped cream frosting cakes with the delicious honeycomb fragments.

Blum’s shops closed in the ’70s, but their beloved Coffee Crunch Cake lives on in San Francisco’s Japantown. Nostalgic locals in the know seek out Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop, hidden inside Super Mira Market at 1790 Sutter Street. Bay Area natives Moses and Hatsy Yasukochi opened the Sweet Stop in 1974. Previously, Yasukochi owned a bakery on Ocean Avenue where a former employee of Blum’s taught him the secret to making the perfect Coffee Crunch Cake.

The Sweet Stop offers a full array of other delicious baked goods including Blum’s Lemon Crunch Cake, but it is the Coffee Crunch Cake that lures people in. The store opens at 10 a.m. and sells out of the dessert by noon. Behind the bakery’s counter, Hatsy greets visitors while decorating cakes. In the back, her husband bakes with grandson Kenji Yick. Coffee Crunch Cake aficionados fearful of the Yasukochis’ possible retirement can rest assured that Yick, 20, will continue the family tradition. “I’ve been in and out of the shop since childhood, so I already understood the fundamentals of baking the cake,” says the French Culinary Institute graduate.

Related Articles

Back to top button