Oh, cream cheese…. I don’t know what it is that is so appealing about cream cheese, but man, it really knows how to turn the delicious dial up on things! haha Seriously, whether it is used in a savory casserole or a cake frosting, cream cheese wins me over every time. So it is no surprise that I have been eyeing this coffee cake for a long time now. I finally couldn’t wait another minute longer and had to throw it together as soon as I got back home to Germany from the visiting in the States.
It is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, which means that it was meticulously thought out and designed for a specific result. So what were they trying to achieve this time? The perfect consistency for a cream cheese filling. They wanted to be sure that the layer wouldn’t be lost in the cake, that it would remain fully intact and have minimal to no air pockets. Not to mention a perfect luscious texture (sometimes cream cheese layers can be kind of dense…) To achieve this they first created the cake batter then the cream cheese filling. Before assembling the whole thing, they took just 1/4 cup of the cake batter and added it to the cream cheese filling. This created the perfect level of cohesiveness to get the creamy texture they wanted and for the layer to be suspended perfectly. They also have you tap the cake. before and after baking, a bunch of times to work out any possible air bubbles. And for the most part, that works too. I love how clever and smart the people are over at the test kitchen!
This is a kind of “show-stopping” coffee cake. It comes out picture perfect- exactly what you want to serve to guests that you are trying to impress. And of course the best part is not only that it looks great, but it tastes wonderful. Everything is so moist and creamy, contrasting beautifully with the crunchy almond-sugar topping. You really win in every aspect with this cake.
A few words of advice with this cake- to get the absolute best results with the cream cheese filling, it is super important for your cream cheese to be soft! If it’s not soft enough, you’re batter will be lumpy and no matter how much you mix, there will always be lumps. I always beat the sugar into the cream cheese to soften it up really well before adding anything else, especially liquids. This usually helps quite a bit.
- Lemon Sugar-Almond Topping:
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1½ tsp lemon zest from 1 lemon
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- 2¼ cups (11.25 oz) unbleached all purpose flour
- 1⅛ tsp baking powder
- 1⅛ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp table salt
- 10 Tb (1 stick plus 2 Tb) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
- 1 cup plus 7 Tb sugar
- 1 Tb lemon zest plus 4 tsp lemon juice, from 1 to 2 lemons
- 4 large eggs
- 5 tsp vanilla extract
- 1¼ cups sour cream
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- For the Topping: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until well combined and sugar is moistened. Stir in almonds; set aside.
- For the Cake: Spray 10" tube pan with non stick 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 Tb 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 tsp vanilla and mix to combine. Reduce speed to low and add one-third flour mixture, followed by half 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.
- 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 Tb sugar, lemon juice, and remaining tsp vanilla on med 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" from edges of pan; smooth top. Spread remaining cup of reserved batter over filling and smooth top. With butter knife or offset spatula, gently swirl filling into batter using figure-8 motion, being careful not to 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.
- 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), 45-50 minutes. Remove pan from oven and firmly tap on counter 2 or 3 times (top of cake might 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, pace wire rack on top of cake, and invert cake sugar-side up. Cool to room temperature, about 1½ hours. Cut into slices and serve.