Recipe Review

Ina Garten’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake Is a Brunch Stunner

published Mar 16, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Headshot: Getty Images

When I’m in search of a basic but company-worthy recipe, I often turn to Ina. My copy of her Back to Basics cookbook automatically flops open to a plum crunch recipe that I’ve used countless times. When I saw that she had a top-rated coffee cake recipe that I hadn’t tried yet, I knew I had to give it a go.

Ina made this recipe on an old episode of Barefoot Contessa and it’s also featured in her Barefoot Contessa Parties! cookbook. As you may have guessed, she wrote this recipe with the intention of sharing — slicing and serving it to guests at brunch, tea time, or another festive occasion. I can only assume she served mimosas alongside. 

The photos of the cake certainly made it look guest-worthy. The tall, impressive-looking tube cake is studded with cinnamon and brown sugar streusel and drizzled with icing. The slices are pretty too, with a ripple of streusel running down the middle. I decided to put the coffee cake to the test and see if it tastes as good as it looks.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Headshot: Getty Images

How to Make Ina’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Start by creaming room-temperature butter and sugar together in a stand mixer until light, then three eggs (extra-large eggs, per Ina’s usual style) are added one at a time followed by the vanilla and sour cream. The recipe calls for cake flour, which Ina says makes the cake lighter. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together before adding to the wet ingredients and mixing just until combined. Then set the batter aside and make the streusel. 

Combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and cold, cubed butter in a mixing bowl and press the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a crumble. Add chopped walnuts if you like nuts; leave them out if you don’t.

Add half of the cake batter to a greased and floured tube pan and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup of the streusel, then top with the remaining cake batter. Smooth the top and sprinkle with the remaining streusel. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.

I found the process of removing this cake from the tube pan puzzling and a step Ina conveniently skips. Because it has streusel, I didn’t want to flip the cake for fear I’d risk ruining the pretty top. My solution was to remove the sides of my pan and transfer the cake sitting on the center tube on the cooling rack. I let it cool completely, which took at an hour, then slid a flat baking sheet under one half of the cake and used my hands to hold the other half while carefully sliding it up and off of the tube and onto a plate. A second set of hands helps. If your pan doesn’t have a removable bottom, you’ll just have to flip the cake out onto the rack and hope you don’t lose too much streusel.

Once your cake is cool and out of the pan, top with a drizzle of the simple glaze, which is a mix of powdered sugar and maple syrup.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Ina’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

The cake emerged from my oven looking pretty spectacular and smelling great, too. I had high hopes as I impatiently let it cool and then carefully removed it from the pan. I cut and tasted a slice before I realized I forgot the icing, and promptly drizzled it on the remaining cake.

As I mixed up the cake batter (and, let’s be honest, tasted it), I realized it was really a sour cream pound cake batter. Sampling the finished cake confirmed my suspicions. The cake has a dense but light and buttery crumb, with a predominant vanilla flavor with a slight tang from the sour cream. It’s moist and sweet and certainly nothing to shake a stick at, but not exactly what I envision when I think of coffee cake. It’s what I think of when I think of pound cake.

The streusel is pretty standard with brown sugar and a light cinnamon flavor. It is especially good on top, but loses some of its luster in the center layer since there’s no crunch factor. Thanks to the flour, it ends up a bit paste-like. Still, it’s nice having some of the cinnamon and brown sugar in every bite. If you’re into nuts, I would recommend including the walnuts, which add a nice texture.

Ina’s coffee cake is relatively easy to make considering the presentation and is sure to satisfy anyone looking for a sweet treat to accompany their coffee. However, because the cake is pound-cake-like and the streusel is lacking in flavor, this isn’t my favorite coffee cake recipe.

A Few Tips If You’re Making Ina’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

  1. Make the streusel first. Ina calls for mixing up the cake batter and then making the streusel. Flop this, as the streusel will be perfectly fine sitting around while you make the cake, but the cake batter should be baked as soon as possible once it’s mixed to ensure the leavening can do its job properly.
  2. Don’t worry if you don’t have cake flour. You can swap it for a mixture of all-purpose flour and cornstarch with minimal difference in the finished cake.
  3. Skip the icing. The coffee cake is sweet enough on its own and doesn’t need a sugary topping. It looks pretty, though, so feel free to include it if you want a little extra pizzazz.
  4. Punch up the flavors. While the cake has a lovely vanilla flavor, the streusel is a little bland. Try using dark brown sugar instead of light and adding more cinnamon — I’ll double it the next time I make this coffee cake.

Rating: 7.5/10