lemon-scented pull apart cake.

I am working, little by little, on overcoming my crazy, irrational fear of baking with yeast. My parents sent me a bread machine on my 19th birthday and I made Hawaiian sweet and cinnamon raisin  bread all in the illegal confines of my dorm room, but I kept it pretty safe with boxed mixes and fail-proof heating settings thanks to the beautiful folks at Oster. I've failed miserably on the few occasions I did try my hand at yeast, a batch of homemade raisin rolls were heavy as lead, and a recipe from Jamie Oliver (Oh Jamie, my hometown is grossly overweight, too. Please visit us.) for banana-honey bread. I distinctly remember the recipe saying something along the lines of, "6-8 cups of flour." Okay, people. It's one thing if you're varying flour levels by a few tablespoons, but a 2 cup gap? I don't think so.

I considered writing Mr. Oliver a stronger worded letter, but then I remembered how darling cute his accent is and decided just to push the recipe into the depths until a craving hits and it rears it's ugly head again. I flagged this recipe from Flo Braker a few months back when I first got the book, mostly because it was one of the few recipes that actually included a photo (c'mon Flo, don't you know 99.9% of people choose recipes because of the photo?) and the citrus-striped layers of sweet dough were completely enticing.

But there was yeast involved, and I'm just not okay with that. Yeast is the stuff of Halloween, of nightmares, if bumps-in-the-night. I distracted myself from those pale brown pebbles of active-bacteria-horror and busied myself with birthday baking in between rises. Yeast does require a bit of patience and a humid room to ensure it rises, which is quite difficult to find in my house since my Dad likes to keep the thermostat at a frigid sixty-five degrees. I happen to live the magical corner room where it's sweltering year round, and bread baking is about the only time I am thankful for it. It starts with a rich, eggy batter that wishes to cling to your countertops like Velcro, you mustn't let it have it's way. Scold that dough into submission and demand it do as you say. No mercy for misbehaving bread.

After a quick rise, you roll it out until it's just before the see-through stage, slather on a decent helping of melty butter, then rub a good amount of lemon and orange scented sugar onto the sweet dough. Cut into strips and stacked like a deck of cards, the individual pieces bake up next to each other with just enough split at the top to make the pulling-apart magic happen.

The recipe includes a cream cheese glaze, but with the glaze it was entirely too sweet. Next time, I may scale back on the citrus-sugar - it became cloyingly sweet after the first few bites and as someone who likes sweetened hot tea, my poor tastebuds were cringing from sugar-shock during breakfast. This bread has quite a bit of potential, and I'd encourage you to adjust the sugar to your taste and give it a go.

Lemon-Scented Pull Apart Coffee Cake

For the sweet yeast dough:
About 2 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (2 1/2 fluid ounces) whole milk
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the lemon paste filling:
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (3 lemons)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted

For the tangy cream cheese icing:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup (1 1/4 ounces) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Make the sweet yeast dough
Stir together 2 cups (9 ounces) of the flour, the sugar, the yeast, and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm (120 to 130°F [49 to 54°C]), about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract.

Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Attach the bowl to the mixer, and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stop the mixer, add 1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) of the remaining flour, and resume mixing on low speed until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.

Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and center the dough on the flour. Knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if necessary to lessen the stickiness. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 70°F [21°C]) until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step. While the dough is rising, make the filling.

Make the lemon paste filling

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and the lemon and orange zests. Set the sandy-wet mixture nearby (the sugar draws out moisture from the zests to create the consistency).

Make the coffee cake

Gently deflate the dough. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Using a pastry brush spread the melted butter generously over the dough. Cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips, each about 12 by 4 inches. (A pizza cutter is helpful here.) Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture over one of the buttered rectangles. Top with a second rectangle and sprinkle it with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining dough rectangles and zest-sugar mixture, ending with a stack of 5 rectangles. Work carefully when adding the crumbly zest filling, or it will fall off when you have to lift the stacked pastry later.

Slice the stack crosswise through the 5 layers to create 6 equal strips, each about 4 by 2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and side by side. (While there is plenty of space on either side of the 6 strips width-wise in the pan, fitting the strips lengthwise is tight. But that’s fine because the spaces between the dough and the sides of the pan fill in during baking.) Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place (70 °F [21°C]) until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for baking.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Lightly butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Or, lightly coat the pan with nonstick spray.
Bake the coffee cake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make the tangy cream cheese icing

In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula, vigorously mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the mixture is creamy and smooth.

To remove the coffee cake from the pan, tilt and rotate the pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert a wire rack on top of the coffee cake, invert the cake onto the rack, and carefully lift off the pan. Invert another rack on top, invert the cake so it is right side up, and remove the original rack.

Slip a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the icing. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the warm cake with the icing to glaze it. (Cover and refrigerate the leftover icing for another use. It will keep for up to 2 days.)

Serve the coffee cake warm or at room temperature. To serve, you can pull apart the layers, or you can cut the cake into 1-inch-thick slices on a slight diagonal with a long, serrated knife. If you decide to cut the cake, don’t attempt to cut it until it is almost completely cool.


  1. Great looking cake. I like all the layers. It must have been fun to eat.

  2. Hi Brittany! This lemon bread looks absolutely divine! I really like your blog - you have got a great thing going on here. Good luck with everything and happy baking!

  3. Thanks Gillian, I'm so glad you enjoy it! :)

    Mark- It was sort of a string-cheese affect to pull it apart. Then you're thinking, "Just one more slice..."

  4. love the idea of a pull apart cake...looks involved but so worth it!

  5. Anonymous27.3.10

    Congrats on dominating that yeast. It looks like it paid off in the end. I want to make that so badly right now...

  6. first of all, tremendous little cake--it's so impressive!
    secondly, i have to compliment your blog name--very clever!


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