Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake from Cook's Illustrated

Over the weekend we had some of Nat's friends over to say hello and see the babe.  Nat said that we couldn't just put out a partially eaten sleeve of saltines and sugared fruit slices; we had to pull something together for a brunch-ish crowd.

Now....I'm not normally the baker in our house - that's Nat's domain.  But with her having her hands full (with the child-rearing and all), it was time to play flour scientist and bake up a cake of sorts - a coffee cake.

For my birthday a few years ago, my mom started to give us a Cooks Illustrated subscription.  She renews it every April and I've come to enjoy thumbing through it each month.  I've occasionally referred to it when making something (like potatoes in the oven), but I've never baked anything from their pages.

Aside from the crazy quantities (you can sense that they really did tinker with them - I mean what's with all the 1/8 of a teaspoons!  We don't even have one of those!), we didn't have the right pan.  They called for a tube pan.  One with a removable bottom (like these).  All we have is a bundt pan - the type that you cook the cake upside down, then flip it over to pop the cake out after it cools.


The real issue is (as you can read below) that the recipe outlined has a specific sequence.  You start at the bottom of the cake and then move upwards to the top.  With the pan I had, I had to work backwards.  It wasn't perfect, but I think it turned out ok.

On the plus side, this gave me an opportunity to give our handmade organic vanilla extract a shot in a recipe where it called for 5 teaspoons.

As far as flavor goes, I'd recommend this if you up for a nice cream-cheesy coffee cake.  Doing it the right way (with the right pan) will probably make a difference looks-wise with the almonds and what not.

We also were fortunate because we were able to bring the 3/4 of it leftover to my in-laws where the caloric pain was shared far and wide.

The next time, we might nix the lemon and lemon juice and go with a cinnamon instead.  If we can borrow a pan, that is.

(The full CI backstory is here, but the recipe is behind a paywall.)
Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
Makes one 10-inch cake, serving 12 to 16
(Note:  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.)

Lemon Sugar-Almond Topping
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Cake
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons butter, softened but still cool
1 cup plus 7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened

0.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.


1.  For the topping: 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" tube pan with nonstick 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.  Scrap 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 1 1/4 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 1/4 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 to 3 times (top of cake may sink slightly).  Cool cake in pan on wire rack 1 hour.  Gently invert cake onto rimmed baking sheet; remove tube pan, place wire rack on top of cake, and invert cake sugar-side up.  Cool to room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours.  Cut into slices and serve.
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