Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Two Ways

Jordan: I always want to make coffee cake. Well, actually, I always want to eat coffee cake, but that often requires first making coffee cake, especially nowadays.

Kitra: And I always want to eat coffee cake batter, which always requires making it. Ugh. (Not that it’s hard. It was just 77° in my kitchen today.)

I’ve been pushing for us to make a sour cream coffee cake for probably a month now, but it hasn’t quite happened. It turns out making cake is more complicated when it requires both of us to do this wild and complicated thing called “going to the store in advance.”

Especially since we’re going to different stores, and tend to have different ideas of basics. (Sure, there’s always eggs, but I always grab salt and vinegar chips and only grab something like sour cream if I know I’ll need it.)

You may recall that Kitra has strong feelings about sour cream.

I would like to be clear that I think it’s a valuable component of other things, but I just don’t want to eat it straight. I put it on chili, in baked goods, and plenty of other things, but I don’t lick the spoon like Jordan does.

Fortunately for Kitra, sour cream coffee cake doesn’t taste like sour cream; it’s just there to… Actually, I don’t know what it does for the cake. I’m not a scientist. All I know is that it’s delicious.

“Sour cream coffee cake” is basically just classic coffee cake. Streusel inside or out, it’s pretty much the one most of us grew up with.

And for the record, this is cake that goes alongside coffee, not cake made with coffee. I’m given to understand that this is a point of confusion on many food blogs, and also once with Kitra’s former roommate. (Who, to be fair, was also confused about literally everything.)

I mean, Jordan said it not me. (RT=endorsement)

We actually made two different coffee cakes today. I’ve been cooking from the newish Tartine cookbook this month, and it includes a recipe for a sour cream coffee cake that is also gluten-free, which is how I’ve been more or less eating for a while. It’s a delicious coffee cake, and though it doesn’t taste exactly like a regular one, I don’t know that I could put my finger on what was different if I didn’t know it was made with almond flour.

I made a regular one. Complete with assessments of which coffee cake pages in the heavy-rotation cookbooks from our childhood seemed the most well worn, and texts to our dad.

Honestly, while I will probably make the Tartine one again in the future, if you eat gluten you should absolutely make the traditional one. It’s basically the Platonic ideal of a sour cream coffee cake. Even if it doesn’t taste like childhood to you like it does to us, you’ll still love it.

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Our 3rd Birthday Cake

A cake with chocolate frosting with a sparkly sign reading "happy birthday" in cursive, on a blue glass cake stand

Kitra: Happy birthday to us! Not as people, but to the ritual of biweekly cake days.

Jordan: This was definitely not the Cake Day Birthday we had imagined. Last year we made a lovely towering cake together, and our plan was to do something similar this year while continuing our hunt for the perfect fudge frosting.

But, you know, *gestures vaguely* this.

So instead we made two cakes, each in our respective homes, with Google Hangouts going and whatever assortment of candles/sprinkles/etc. we had in our kitchens.

We’ll *probably* stop offering you takes on yellow cake with fudge frosting after this, but we hadn’t yet shared the one I actually make for birthdays (mine, friends, coworkers, everyone gets this cake). It’s SO CUTE. And fast. And looks great in pans that have their own lids for easy transport on the metro. (Remember the METRO? Jeez it’s been a while.)

It’s from the Smitten Kitchen Every Day party cake builder, which is honestly just so great. If you make a lot of cakes for things—which seems weird as I type it, but Kitra is presumably not the only person who has been appointed Designated Cake Baker in their office—then the book is worth it for that alone.

Jordan originally wrote “Designated Cake Baker in their friend group” and let me tell you, the one true dream that I have in this world is for my friends to let me make them cakes for their parties. Casual housewarming cake? I got you. Brunch cake? Yep. Birthday cake? PLEASE GOD ASK ME TO BRING A BIRTHDAY CAKE TO YOU. I’VE BEEN TRAINING MY WHOLE LIFE FOR THIS AND NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED.

As you can see, Kitra has Many Feelings about cake, and this cake in particular. But let’s talk frosting. We’re still on the hunt for the perfect canned-style fudge frosting. No chocolate frosting either of us has made has ever been as good as eating that straight out of the can on graham crackers.

The frosting I default to is the one we put on our birthday cake last year, and the one I put on mine this year. It’s very easy, and I’ve had half a dozen self-proclaimed frosting haters ask me for the recipe. And since it is a different style from that dense fudgy canned stuff, I don’t find myself comparing them. I’m content.

I wanted something a little different, though, so I tried the one in Dining In, Alison Roman’s first cookbook (and the source of the cake from last year). It’s a bit of a richer chocolate flavor, with some tanginess from the sour cream. If you want a more nuanced frosting, this is a good option. It’s still no canned frosting, but it’s pretty good. It was also very forgiving of my realization that I had no powdered sugar and had to use regular sugar instead.

As we all know, the thing that makes a birthday cake a birthday cake is what goes on the frosting. Silly candles are ideal. Fancy cake toppers are cool. I have been stockpiling all of the above, but really all you need are rainbow sprinkles. Always rainbow sprinkles.

*Ranibow sprimkles.

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Nutella Crepe Cake

A slice of crepe cake filled with Nutella cream on a plate, with the remaining cake in the background

Jordan: This is a tale of two cakes.

Kitra: For the first time in decades, marmalade has wronged someone. And that someone is me.

Our plan here was to offer you two beautiful crepe cake recipes: One Nutella, and one with alternating layers of marmalade and pastry cream. But instead we have a beautiful Nutella crepe cake and… a cautionary tale.

I would like to say, for the record, that my cake was stellar at first. Pastry cream and marmalade taste great together, and it was a tall, ruffled dream. Until I came back after an hour in the fridge and all the marmalade had turned into… water? I still don’t understand what happened.

So as not to scare you off, we’ll start by talking about the good things that are happening here. There’s browned butter. There’s pastry cream. There are 16 or so delicious mini crepes that you can make with any flour you have on hand.

It’s not all wedges of egg, covered in orange water and cream. You, dear reader, will not end up with a pile of wet crepes, where every one of its component parts would be better off in anything else. You will have the cake I could have had if I hadn’t put my trust in marmalade.

Kitra put all of her photos in a folder and titled it “Tall stack egg bois.” Her cake slice fell apart when she tried to eat it, so when she took a bite all I heard her say was “mmm, triangles.” Meanwhile I was over here shaving chocolate and trying not to flaunt my lovely, not-sad cake. You can do this, reader. You can make a crepe cake and not be disappointed.

I may have brought this upon myself by being VERY showy about how perfect and easy my crepes were. Not a single bad crepe, just the 19 most beautiful crepes I’ve ever made.

Don’t say that, Kitra. No one deserves that mess. Not even a crepe show-off.

Y’all, I have this cake on a paper towel in the fridge to soak up all the marmalade runoff. Just make it with Nutella. (I would have been better off with even the vaguely chocolate peanut butter that I got at the store when there were no Nutella-adjacent options.) If you’re like me, and you think flavoring a pastry cream is a waste of mankind’s greatest creation—pastry cream—let me tell you: It is not. But a wet marmalade egg puddle sure is. Add the Nutella.

We’ll also give you some other options too, if Nutella isn’t your thing but pastry cream is.

I’m going to go stick my finger in the jar of leftover pastry cream now.

We just have so many questions about what happened here. Was Kitra’s particular brand of marmalade the problem? Would this have happened with any jam we tried because crepes aren’t really absorbent? Is marmalade just that much thinner than other jams? If you’re a marmalade-ologist, please call us. We need answers.

A crepe cake filled with Nutella cream with one slice missing
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Almond Sponge Cake

A slice of almond cake with whipped cream sitting on a plate next to the full cake.

Kitra: Hello to everyone from our separate homes which we do not intend to leave any time soon! I hope there’s cake where you are.

Jordan: It’s been a weird couple of weeks, huh? Kitra and I are both working from home and have been for about two weeks now. DC recently shut down all non-essential businesses, so there’s a lot of not leaving our apartments going on, and that’s about it.

So it’s like every Friday night in my house, but lasting for weeks on end.

Was that a… self-own?

Nope! I love being at my house alone. It’s my ideal day.

Not all of us are quite as thrilled, but we’re both pretty lucky that we’re getting paid and aren’t also trying to homeschool children or ignore terrible roommates or take care of high-risk relatives.

And we’re not really struggling to find food in our areas. We’ve got basics in the pantry, options to get fresh produce, and neighborhood favorite restaurants that are delivering.

So this is our recognition that we’re both in a pretty good place, all things considered. But we’d be lying if we said this wasn’t also a little bit terrible. Like, you know that crushing anxiety about the world that you sometimes get? It’s a little more crushing than usual, and I think everyone feels that right now.

Also, it feels like I’m doing dishes every second of the day somehow.

So many dishes.

Also, there is nowhere that isn’t out of flour. Sure, I’ve got some, but not much. So I’m looking to keep myself entertained by baking, and by not using the 6 cups of all-purpose flour I have left.

We picked this cake today because it fits most of our needs for being home all day in this situation. First, no flour (which also means it’s gluten-free, and Passover friendly if you’re looking ahead to that). Second, it doesn’t take all that long to make. Third—and perhaps most importantly—it’s the kind of cake you can eat whenever. Breakfast? Afternoon snack? Dessert? Yep!

Added bonus: While we both used the almond flour that lurks in our respective freezers, you can use whatever nut you discovered a ton of in the pantry when cleaning it out. (I have 5 kinds of almonds, and a ton of all of them, somehow? I don’t remember buying any of them.)

The one downside is that it requires two bowls to make, but we promise it’s worth it. And I hate doing anything involving egg whites and Kitra hates doing dishes, so if we tell you it’s worthwhile, you know it’s true.

True. It’s also pretty infinitely adaptable, so whatever taste you’re hoping for you can probably get. Add a zest! Add spices! (I added many, many spices.) Add an extract! Mix it up. You can also top it however. It’s a blank slate of a cake. Chocolate glaze! Fruit! Whipped cream! Yogurt for breakfast! Jam!

But to be clear, it’s also great plain. I didn’t add anything fancy to mine, and while I did put whipped cream on top, I would happily eat it on its own. It’s got the texture of a standard sponge cake but a beautiful almond flavor if you leave it unspiced.

All in all: great cake to eat in its entirety, alone in your house.

So here’s a cake for you—whatever situation you’re in right now. We hope it makes things a little less terrible.

Two slices of almond cake on a small plate
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Elementary School-Style Spice Cake

A square spice cake with white frosting and star-shaped sprinkles. Several pieces have been cut from the cake to be served.

Jordan: The elementary school Kitra and I went to had one, and only one, variety of celebratory cake: spice cake. I always found this to be completely inexplicable.

Kitra: I don’t know, it makes sense to me for an elementary school. It has applesauce in it! It is the most wholesome of the cakes! Chocolate feels too over-the top. Vanilla feels too overtly like sugar. Spice cake is a middle ground. And it’s no one’s favorite, so you can serve it to children without them losing their minds.

The thing is, I have almost never encountered spice cake outside of my elementary school cafeteria. I know, vaguely, that it exists, but it doesn’t show up on restaurant menus or in cupcake shops or anywhere else. No one actually eats it. It’s not that they dislike it; it’s just that the opportunity is never there.

I feel like spice cake just… is. But in the same way the place that you put mail when you walk in the door just is. You’re aware that it exists if you think about it, but you don’t really think about it. You’re never surprised to find it, because it makes perfect sense.

Kitra and I are struggling to properly express the conundrum that is spice cake, but the point is this: of all the basic cakes, spice cake is the most underrated, and that should change.

But, because spice cake is some sort of cryptid, I only ever understand its presence on or around March 2nd.

Known and beloved by millions of children as Read Across America Day, or Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The day when you wear pajamas to school, wear silly hats, and most importantly for us, eat spice cake at lunch. (Even if you brought your own lunch—what a glorious day!)

I forgot almost all of that stuff (I only remember our beloved local news anchor wearing fun ties for it [moment of silence to remember Ron Brown]), but I. Remember. The. Spice. Cake. Damn. It.

Consider this our nostalgic contribution to bringing spice cake back into the birthday cake rotation. It’s a simple, no-frills cake that is still far more interesting than your standard vanilla or chocolate.

Plus, when you’re not endeavoring to recreate an elementary school experience, it’s a great opportunity for a straight up cream cheese frosting. And those rock. (If you are endeavoring to recreate an elementary school experience, then we’ve got you covered here with good old fashioned shortening.)

Put on your pajamas, grab a book to read while the cake is baking, and get ready for some good old-fashioned cafeteria cake, in the best possible way. Sprinkles optional, but strongly encouraged.

A square spice cake with white frosting and star-shaped sprinkles.
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Black Forest Cake

A chocolate cake with black cherry whipped cream, with a slice cut out and sitting on a plate with two forks.

Jordan: Let’s start by talking about what this cake is not. This cake is NOT made of beans.

Kitra: This cake does NOT taste like beans beans and nothing but beans.

Gif of James Corden and Emily Blunt in "Into the Woods" saying "Beans?" and looking concerned

BEANS.

BEANS.

This is all to say that we started our last Cake Day by trying to make a white bean cake, which we will not link because a) we don’t want you to even think about attempting it, and b) I kind of feel bad for it? Someone loved it! There was at least one enthusiastic comment! It’s not the cake’s fault that we thought it tasted like warm sweet bean dip.

It… kind of is though. It was a pile of beans trying to be something it had no right to be, and I resent it for that.

I think you mean “no right to beans.”

I DO.

Anyway. Once we’d thrown out the bean cake, we felt like we ought to make something of the day (other than 150 groundhogs, which we cannot share here because it is Kitra’s one sacred secret recipe), so we turned to Julia Turshen.

I finally got a copy of Now & Again, and I love it so much. I read every word, cover to cover, and also I want to eat my way through the whole thing. (Not literally though, because paper is probably almost as hard to eat as solidified sweet bean mush.)

This is her take on a black forest cake, which checked a lot of the boxes we were looking for. Relatively simple! Gluten-free! Not too sweet! Kitra refused my modifications that would have made it a one-bowl process, which is probably for the best.

If we failed at two cakes in one day, we’d have to rename this blog “Meh Cake Trash.”

Fortunately, I listened to Kitra and this cake was not! trash!

AND, I had the brilliant idea to flavor the topping when our black cherry juice powder turned out to taste like pretty much nothing. While Jello is terrible in general (Watery! Gross texture! Slimy! Transparent in a way that is TROUBLING for a food! WATERY!), it is great for 2 things. 1.) Stabilizing whipped cream and 2.) Drinking hot like cocoa. Seriously. Try it.

(Let it be known that Kitra’s attitude toward all other forms of Jello is not endorsed by all members of the Yay Cake Day editorial board.)

I have some fancy cherries in my fridge right now, but let’s be honest, Jello is easier to find and it allows this topping to do two things at once. I will accept my Nobel prize now, thank you.

As for the cake itself, it is a very chocolatey chocolate cake. The phrase “not for the faint of heart” is overused in food writing, but seriously, start with a small piece and work your way up.

The whole situation is so cute, also. I love a cake that slouches, and it’s wearing a pink hat! What a good little cake!

This is a lovely cake for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, or to bring to the office for platonic Valentine’s Day, or to make for yourself and eat in small slices while binge-watching something on Netflix this weekend. Or just for a random day when you feel like you could use some cake.

A chocolate cake with black cherry whipped cream, and some cute string lights in the background.
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Classic Cake Day: Caramelized Almond Cake with Spiced Poached Pears

almond-pear-1.jpg

[Classic Cake Day revisits some of our favorite cakes from the first year or so, before the blog. We made this cake in November 2017.]

Jordan: We spent the entire process of making this cake convinced that it was going to be terrible.

Kitra: The process of this cake is a little bonkers to start with, and then you bake it until done, up the temperature, and bake it for another 10 minutes so it should be dry and sad. But it’s not.

Honestly, this is possibly my favorite cake we’ve ever made. Definitely in the top few. I did not share.

Neither did I. This makes a great dessert, snack, breakfast, lunch, etc. It’s a perfect cake for every occasion except for a nut allergy convention.

The cake is light and pleasant, but the real star here is the topping. Don’t be afraid of the caramel—you’re not actually caramelizing anything on the stove, just heating it all up and letting the oven do the work.

Because this is a fairly simple cake, we also decided to add some fruit! Poached pears make your apartment smell great, and they taste even better. One note though: if you try to decorate the cake with just two pears, they look like a butt. This was a really hard cake to photograph.

The cake and pears are both great on their own, but together they’re even better. If the words “caramelized almonds” didn’t sell you from the start, though, I’m not sure what else we can say.

almond-pear-collage.jpg
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