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Strawberry-Cream Cheese Coffee Cake, Breakfast or Dessert?

For a recent private party held at the new restaurant where I'm pastry chef, I was asked to make some sort of special little package of goodness for each guest to take home after the party.

Because it was to run fairly late, and the event menu already included dessert, it was likely that guests wouldn't consume this treat before the next morning. Therefore, it had to be sturdy enough to withstand sitting in its cellophane wrapper for a while, and be satisfying as a dessert or snack with morning coffee. That's why I decided on some sort of coffee cake.

Truth be told, I'm generally not a coffee cake fan. They're either too dry, too heavy, or too characterless to be worth my while. There is, however, one exception: the cream cheese coffee cake at a local café. I'm fanatical about their banana walnut pancakes, so it's not often that I can bring myself to forsake said pancakes for said cake, but when I do, I'm never disappointed by the moist, cakey bottom surmounted by a thick layer of cheesecake-like joy, crowned by a tasty, cinnamon-flecked crumb topping.

20080924strawberry_coffee2.jpgWith that wonderful specimen in mind, I had a starting point. I also had three pints of impeccable local strawberries sitting in my refrigerator, and if cream cheese and strawberries aren't meant to be together, I don't know what is. So it was decided: strawberry cream-cheese coffee cakes.

Having no recipe for such concoction, I had to feel my way through. I began with Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri (the same author of this week's Cook the Book) an excellent source for good, reliable, straight-forward recipes. Malgieri has a recipe for Blueberry Crumb Cake, essentially a simple crumb-topped coffee cake enriched with a good helping of fresh blueberries. That gave me a base and a crumb topping that would work with the moisture-rich strawberries and cream cheese.

For the cream cheese layer, I made a pretty basic cheesecake batter, which I layered over the berries and the cake batter before topping with crumbs. With a few test runs to get the proportions and timing right, I soon had a countertop of extremely moist, excessively rich, but nonetheless sturdy strawberry cream cheese coffee cakes.

Because I failed to take pictures at the party, I made another batch last night for the sole purpose of providing you with an image. Instead of strawberries, I used a mixture of fresh peaches and a handful of frozen raspberries. This combo worked well too, and I'm sure you could substitute just about any type of soft-fleshed fruit or berry in this recipe. So far, strawberries win.

About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.

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