Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Coffee Break Sweets

Why this recipe works:

This brunch staple is fraught with pitfalls—from dry, bland cake to lackluster fillings that sink to the bottom as they cook. We wanted a rich, moist cake with a texture that could support a tangy swirl of cream cheese filling.

We assembled a batter of flour, granulated sugar, salt, butter,… read more

This brunch staple is fraught with pitfalls—from dry, bland cake to lackluster fillings that sink to the bottom as they cook. We wanted a rich, moist cake with a texture that could support a tangy swirl of cream cheese filling.

We assembled a batter of flour, granulated sugar, salt, butter, eggs, whole milk, and baking powder and settled on a straightforward creaming method: Beat softened butter with sugar, then add the eggs, milk, and dry ingredients. The resulting cake was full of flavor and capable of supporting our cheese filling—but it was also a bit dry. To add moisture, we replaced the milk with rich sour cream, added baking soda, and upped the amount of butter. Our cake now had a lush texture as well as subtle acidity—a perfect backdrop for the cheese filling.

For the filling, we settled on a base mixture of softened cream cheese and sugar and added lemon juice to cut the richness and a hint of vanilla extract for depth of flavor. To prevent graininess, we incorporated some of the cake batter into the cheese. The filling not only stayed creamy, but it fused to the cake during baking, eliminating gaps that had afflicted our earlier tests. For a topping, we decided upon a crisp yet delicate coating of sliced almonds, sugar, and lemon zest. As it baked, the topping formed a glistening, crackly crust on our now-perfect coffee cake.

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Makes one 10-inch cake, serving 12 to 16

Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator, covered tightly with plastic wrap. For optimal texture, allow the cake to return to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

  • Lemon Sugar-Almond Topping
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • Cake
  • 2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 cup plus 7 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated zest plus 4 teaspoons juice from 1 to 2 lemons
  • 4 large eggs
  • 5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened

Instructions

  1. 1. FOR THE TOPPING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined and sugar is moistened. Stir in almonds; set aside.

    2. FOR THE CAKE: Spray 10-inch tube pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside. In stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and lemon zest at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 20 seconds, and scraping down beater and sides of bowl as necessary. Add 4 teaspoons vanilla and mix to combine. Reduce speed to low and add one-third flour mixture, followed by half of sour cream, mixing until incorporated after each addition, 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat, using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining sour cream. Scrape bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour.

    3. Reserve 1¼ cups batter and set aside. Spoon remaining batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Return now-empty bowl to mixer and beat cream cheese, remaining 5 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice, and remaining teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until smooth and slightly lightened, about 1 minute. Add ¼ cup reserved batter and mix until incorporated. Spoon cheese filling mixture evenly over batter, keeping filling about 1 inch from edges of pan; smooth top. Spread remaining cup reserved batter over filling and smooth top. With butter knife or offset spatula, gently swirl filling into batter using figure-8 motion, being careful to not drag filling to bottom or edges of pan. Firmly tap pan on counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any bubbles. Sprinkle lemon sugar-almond topping evenly over batter and gently press into batter to adhere.

    4. Bake until top is golden and just firm, and long skewer inserted into cake comes out clean (skewer will be wet if inserted into cheese filling), 45 to 50 minutes. Remove pan from oven and firmly tap on counter 2 or 3 times (top of cake may sink slightly). Cool cake in pan on wire rack 1 hour. Gently invert cake onto rimmed baking sheet (cake will be topping-side down); remove tube pan, place wire rack on top of cake, and invert cake sugar-side up. Cool to room temperature, about 1½ hours. Cut into slices and serve.

Technique

Tap Once, Tap Twice

Tapping the tube pan on the counter before and after baking eliminates any large air pockets in the filling.

Technique

Assembling Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

1. Reserve 1 1/4 cups batter, then fill pan with remaining batter; smooth top.

2. Beat 1/4 cup reserved batter with filling ingredients; spoon filling evenly over batter.

3. Top filling with remaining cup reserved batter; smooth top.

4. Using figure-8 motion, swirl filling into batter. Tap pan on counter.

5. Sprinkle lemon sugar-almond topping onto batter, then gently press to adhere.

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