I love getting that phone call. ‘Could you bring something? Something sweet?’ I try not to sound too eager as I accept, excited to be baking with a purpose, for someone near and dear.
I brought this coffee cake to a baby shower; a room filled with good friends and joyful hearts. While there was food and gifts overflowing, there was also the expectation of someone so little and so new, waiting to experience this life. And while my heart was shaken this week with front page stories of horror and reminders of our fragile mortality, this little gathering encouraged me to hope. To not stop dreaming. To wrap my life in as much beauty and wonder as I possible can. To not run from the hard things, but to walk through them. To bake a cake and give it away, piece by piece. To shine as bright as stars, and teach my children to do the same.
[By the by. I had several emails about my comments not working properly. I think I fixed it. If you are still having problems, please let me know!]
This recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen. Make sure to firmly tap the pan as called for to get rid of any air bubbles. This cake does have lemon in it, but the flavor is very light – mostly adding brightness. It’s a good, subtle addition. The cake itself is very moist, and the layer of cream cheese adds more richness – it’s a perfect coffee cake.
lemon sugar-almond topping
1/4 cup [1 3/4 ounces sugar]
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 1/4 cups [11 1/2 ounces] unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons [1 stick plus 2 tablespoons] unsalted butter, soft but still cool
1 cup [7 ounces] plus 7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cups sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese, soft
Stir the sugar and lemon zest until combined and the sugar is moistened. Stir in the almonds and set aside.
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350. Spray a 10 inch tube pan with vegetable oil spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder, soda and salt together. In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and the lemon zest at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, about 20 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add 4 teaspoons vanilla and mix to combine. With the mixer on low, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half the sour cream, mixing until incorporated after each addition, 5-10 seconds. Repeat, using half the remaining flour and the all the remaining sour cream. Scrape down bowl and add the remaining flour; mix on low speed until the batter is combined, about 10 seconds.
Reserve 1 1/4 cups batter and set aside. Spoon the remaining batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Return the now-empty bowl to the mixer and beat cream cheese, 5 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until smooth and slightly lightened, about 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved batter and mix until incorporated. Spoon the cream cheese filling mixture evenly over the batter, keeping the filling about 1 inch from the edges of the pan; smooth the top. Spread the remaining 1 cup reserved batter over the filling and smooth the top. With a butter knife or offset spatula, gently swirl the filling into the batter using a figure-eight motion, being careful to not drag the filling to the edges of the pan. Firmly tap the pan on the counter two or three times to dislodge any bubbles. Sprinkle the lemon sugar – almond topping evenly over the batter and gently press into the batter to adhere.
Bake until the top is golden and just firm and a long skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean [the skewer will be wet where it is inserted into the cream cheese filling], 45-50 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and firmly tap on the counter two or three times [the top of the cake may sink slightly]. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack 1 hour. Gently invert the cake onto a rimmed baking sheet; remove the tube pan, place a wire rack on top of the cake, and invert the cake sugar side up. Cool to room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours, before serving.