Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

We're right in the thick of holiday season, which means a whole lot of cooking for people you love but only see once a year. Might as well go for the crowd-pleasers, right?

This coffee cake has hints of lemon and almond, and because there's cream cheese in it, it won't go dry. (Not that it'll last more than a couple hours in a full house.) It is a creation of America's Test Kitchen, so you can rest assured it's the Platonic Ideal of coffee cakes. Having said that, don't fret if you're without an electric mixer. Stirring it yourself just means buff arms to go with your brunch prowess.

Photo courtesy America's Test Kitchen
Photo courtesy America's Test Kitchen

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
Serves 12
1?4 cup sugar
1 1?2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1?2 cup sliced almonds

2 1?4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1?8 tsps baking powder
1 1?8 tsps baking soda
1 tsp salt
10 tbsps unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1?8 cups plus 5 tablespoons sugar
1 tbsp grated lemon zest plus 4 teaspoons juice
4 large eggs
5 tsps vanilla extract
1 1?4 cups sour cream
8 oz cream cheese, softened

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°. Spray 10-inch tube pan. Stir sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined and sugar is moistened. Stir in almonds; set aside.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.

Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and lemon zest on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Add 4 teaspoons vanilla and mix to combine. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of sour cream, scraping down bowl as needed. Give batter final stir by hand.

Reserve 11?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 1 teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until smooth and slightly lightened, about 1 minute. Add 1?4 cup reserved batter and mix until incorporated.

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Spoon cream cheese mixture evenly over batter, keeping filling about 1 inch from edges of pan; smooth top. Spread remaining 1 cup reserved batter over filling and smooth top. With butter knife or offset spatula, gently swirl filling into batter using figure-eight 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 sugar topping evenly over batter and gently press into batter to adhere.

Bake until top is golden and just firm, and skewer inserted in cake comes out clean (skewer will be wet if inserted in cream 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). Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 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. Let cool to room temperature, about 11?2 hours, before serving.

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