Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

This week's cream cheese coffee cake created a huge mess of my kitchen and pushed the limits of my hand mixer skills, but that tasty swirl of lemon cream cheese floating in rich but airy coffee cake made it all worth it in the end.

I have been putting off making the cream cheese coffee cake for a couple of reasons. First, I am not a huge fan of coffee cake or other sweet bread intended to be eaten for breakfast. In part it is a health thing… not that I am opposed to tasty treats, but I’d rather blow any extra calories on red wine and fancy cheeses in the evening than on cake for breakfast. Second, since I have not invested in a stand mixer (still not convinced I need one), recipes like this are very burdensome. I use a hand mixer and it works fine, just takes a little longer and makes a bigger mess… especially when you have to add ingredients one. at. a. time. ugh.

I am still slightly intimidated by some baking recipes. Baking is the most scientific form of cooking. Ratios matter for more than just taste: they can make or break a baked good. This cream cheese filled coffee cake is a good example of that. In order to get the cream cheese to stay in the center of the cake (and not fall to the bottom), the baking soda and powder ratios are important. At some point I am going to figure out why that is. But not tonight.

Another challenge to successfully completing this recipe was that my almost 3 year old daughter wanted to help. This adds a layer of complexity because I have to plan ahead by measuring the ingredients but NOT adding them to the bowl! She gets to do that. She also loves tasting things. This is part of the fun and I’m not opposed to it but when I caught her “tasting” a quarter of a cup of the egg and sugar mixture I began to worry that the end result would be negatively impacted by such helpful efforts.

This made me think for a minute maybe I should have picked more toddler friendly recipes to make…. But no, I’m not going to do that. Partially because so many aspects of my life have had to become “toddler friendly” since I had my daughter I wanted to preserve at least one area that is just for me. Toddler-friendly recipes would defeat the purpose of this endeavor. Also, we try not to eat “toddler” food, but rather teach her to eat with us and eat “normal” food… eat what we are eating. Plus, she’s smart. Why should I dumb down cooking for her?

The cake turned out almost perfect. It looked amazing. It was ever so slightly overcooked. I tried to time giving my daughter a bath and putting her to bed while the cake baked, and it took a wee bit too long to get her settled in. Oh well… The cheese did not sink! When I cut the first slice, that perfectly swirled ribbon of cheese floated through the cake signaling success! It was also delicious. Somehow fresh lemon juice and zest makes rich cake taste light. My husband loved it too. He suggested making it mostly cheese with a swirl of cake next time. Not a bad idea. I might double the cream cheese next time.

I can’t believe it but I have only one more recipe from the January/February issue of Cook’s Illustrated to do! It’s the baked apple recipe. I bought the 7 granny smith apples at the Greenmarket today (along with an amazing apple cider donut) so I plan to finish this issue this weekend! Woo-hoo.

Take Away Lessons

  • You don’t have to stick to simple recipes to cook with a kid. More complex recipes can be more fun and teach important things like patience and listening. The kid might learn these things too.

  • Don’t be afraid of baking! Don’t let all that science talk intimidate you. The worst thing that can happen is that it will be terrible and you’ll have to throw it away but hey… you learn from your mistakes. And it’s more rewarding when it does turn out good eventually.

  • You can always add a little more cheese.

The way forward

  • Next time I’ll make this when I’m expecting company. I ended up eating way too much of it.


  1. Think of this as early onset carbohydrate loading for Big Sur!

    Best wishes


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