How Ina Garten Amps Up The Flavor Of Sour Cream Coffee Cake

It's hard not to love a sweet, moist layer of coffee cake covered in a cinnamon streusel crumble (and often a delightful glaze, too) that can be devoured morning, day, or night. Even in its most basic form, coffee cake is delicious, but chefs like Ina Garten also enjoy adding extra ingredients to make this breakfast treat truly special. The Barefoot Contessa's recipe not only includes a maple glaze and sour cream — a popular addition for tons of moisture and a light tang — but another ingredient that levels up the streusel topping: walnuts.

While they're not a traditional addition to streusel, Garten adds the chopped nuts to her crumble topping to amp up the flavor of the entire cake. Think about the deep, buttery flavor and lovely crunchy texture you get from a toasted walnut, then put that on a cake that's made moist and tender by sour cream. The walnuts put another upgrade on top of the boost provided by the dairy product.

Ina Garten's tips for making coffee cake

With decades of experience as a celebrity chef and home cook, Ina Garten loves to share her kitchen wisdom with her audience, and she even has advice for cooking a recipe for the first time, so you can tackle her coffee cake recipe with ease. Garten deliberately chooses certain ingredients to help her coffee cake stand apart. You know about the walnuts in streusel, the sour cream in the batter, and the maple syrup in the glaze. The Barefoot Contessa also chooses cake flour over all-purpose flour because she finds that it makes for a lighter and fluffier cake. 

Garten also keeps it easy and forgoes any kitchen tools to mix together the crumb topping. She combines the sugar, flour, cinnamon, butter, and walnuts by hand. She chooses to use a Bundt pan for this cake, and butters and flours the surface of the pan to make sure the batter doesn't stick. For an extra dose of walnut flavor, Garten layers her batter and walnut streusel so that the crumb topping isn't just on top of the cake, but also in the middle. Pour in some batter, scatter streusel on top, add the rest of the batter, then top it off with the rest of the nutty topping.

Why use sour cream in a coffee cake?

While walnuts are an easy-to-love addition to a cake, and a warm maple glaze hardly needs to be talked up, you might be wondering about the presence of sour cream in a sweet, sugary breakfast cake. This dairy product is often used to top bowls of chili or add creaminess to casseroles, so less experienced bakers may feel skeptical.

Ina Garten includes a little more than a cup of sour cream in her coffee cake because it makes baked goods extra moist. But plenty of more traditional ingredients can also add moisture, so why use sour cream over something like milk? It comes down to the texture and thickness of sour cream — it doesn't just add moisture, but it also does so without thinning out the consistency of your cake batter. 

Sour cream is mostly made up of acid and fat, and the acid works to tenderize baked goods, while the high amount of fat contributes to an overall richness of texture and flavor. The lack of excess liquid in sour cream ensures that your batter doesn't turn runny and your cake doesn't come out soggy, making it a highly versatile and useful addition to virtually any coffee cake recipe.