Where have I been? In the operating room, twice in 7 months. Two shoulder repairs and a lot of one-armed baking. I’m sorry to have abandoned you, but I’m about at the end of rehab and physical therapy, so we can get back to making some tasty stuff together.
The staff at the outpatient surgery unit were amazing, and so much fun. I arrived for each surgery with lots of baked goods; for the second shoulder it was a bunch of molasses cookies and apple spice whoopee pies with brown butter filling. The molasses cookies really struck a chord with people; I think it’s a flavor with a powerful cultural taste memory. You know you’re doing well as a chef when you have the privilege of hearing people point your food out to each other, then talk about what it reminds them of, and how they’re going to hoard/save/share it with someone they care about. Complements of the highest order, all.
Ever since my dad gave me my first peanut butter and molasses sandwich, I’ve loved it. My lunchboxes were a little odd in grade school: cream cheese and molasses sandwiches, sardine sandwiches, liverwurst on squishy white bread with Miracle Whip.
As an adult I’ve branched out and discovered other intensely flavored liquids: sorghum and it’s grassy-noted pleasures, as well as what used to be grade C maple syrup and boiled cider. All of them are seductive in their own ways, with mineral base notes, and the effect of causing an instant party for all of the pleasure neurons connected to your taste buds.
While spring is well underway in the southern part of the country, here in Vermont we’re seesawing between snow, rain, wind, ice, and mud. Which means it’s still completely time for winter spice and coffeecake indulgences, like molasses crumb cake with cream cheese filling and streusel. With the thermometer in the teens and 40mph wind gusts outdoors, I look for reasons to fire up the oven just to keep that part of the house warm. Either that or park myself in front of the wood stove, doing the slow pivot like a human sacrifice on a rotisserie spit.
This is a great treat with coffee, but warm spiced cider or even just a class of milk make good partners for a slice. Molasses is also an ideal partner for whole wheat flour; between the molasses and spices, you’d never know this was a whole grain cake. That said, keep the all-purpose flour in the streusel; if you want to add some more fiber there you can always throw in a half cup of oats.
Molasses Crumb Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup (64g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup (57g) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water
2 1/4 cups (266g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or White Whole Wheat flour
1/2 cup (106g) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each ginger and cinnamon
1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (170g) molasses
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (170g) buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9” square pan with parchment and clip it to the pan’s edges. Grease the inside of the lined pan.
For the filling: In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
Add the flour and baking powder and mix until combined. Mix in the egg until the mixture is smooth; set aside.
For the streusel: in a medium bowl whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the melted butter and water until the mixture is uniformly crumbly. Set aside.
For the cake: Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices.
Melt the butter in a large measuring cup. Add the molasses to the cup, then pour into the dry ingredients, stirring to moisten.
Whisk together the eggs and buttermilk and stir into the batter until smooth.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Pour the filling in three generous stripes over the molasses batter. Use a table knife or thin spatula to swirl the two batters together with 2 or 3 passes. Sprinkle the streusel over the top.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a paring knife inserted in the center comes out clean. I find paring knives to be much more reliable than toothpicks or cake testers. Remove from the oven and put the pan on a rack to cool for 15 minutes.
To serve, either cut and lift from the pan or loosen the edges and use the parchment sling to transfer the cake to a serving plate. Dust the top with confectioners’ sugar before slicing, if desired.
Good things to know: Cream cheese mixes much better if it’s at room temperature. Forgot to take it out of the fridge? No problem. Take it out of the box but leave it in its foil wrapper. Give it a swim in a bowl of hot tap water for 5 minutes. Fish it out, dry off the wrapper, and put it in your mixing bowl
•For smooth cream cheese fillings, combine the warmed cheese and the sugar together at low speed, until the cheese is smooth. This is the single most important step you can take to avoid lumps. Add the rest of the ingredients one at a time, mixing well after each.