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I love breakfast, and it’s a shame because Nathan is not a breakfast person. At first I considered his defect something to be overcome — get used to eating breakfast every day, and eventually you’ll want to eat breakfast every day, right? — but after a few years together, I realized, like any person in a long-term relationship eventually does, that there are some things about people you cannot change, morning eating habits included.

That said, nowadays I’m not unhappy being the sole breakfast eater in our household; I cherish it. Having an entire meal every day eaten only by me means I get to choose what’s for breakfast every day! I can have eggs! I can have oatmeal! I can have biscuits and toast and yogurt and granola and even leftover birthday cake, if I want to. It’s great.

Because breakfast is “me time” and I don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone but myself, I often make things that I know Nathan doesn’t like. Eggs, onions, and plain yogurt drizzled with honey are all on that list, as is cream cheese, which is what this recipe is all about.

Cream cheese frosting is one of the greatest culinary inventions of all time — sweet yet tangy, fluffy yet dense — and it’s my icing of choice for any number of carrot cakes, spice cakes, red velvet cakes, and the like. The issue with cream cheese frosting, for me, is that 1) Nathan’s not a huge fan of it, and 2) it’s a bit of a stretch to justify eating it for breakfast.

But regarding issue No. 2, I realized something a while back: cream cheese frosting is wholly unacceptable for breakfast, but cream cheese “frosting” baked inside of a breakfast cake or muffin? Perfectly all right, somehow.

This recipe takes a basic streusel-topped coffee cake, loads it up with cardamom and espresso powder (it is for breakfast, after all), and then layers it with a lightly sweetened cream cheese “filling.” You can easily remove two of the five “c’s” from the recipe and make the cake without the cream cheese filling (Nathan will thank you for it), but I don’t think it’s as special that way; not only does the tangy cream cheese provide an excellent contrast to the cardamom cake, but it’s a fun way to treat yourself for breakfast. You can tell everyone it’s a filling, but you and I both know what we’re really eating.

cardamom cream cheese crumb cake

for the streusel

  • ¾ cup (3 ⅝ ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (3 ¾ ounces) brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (1 ¾ ounces) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes

for the cream cheese filling

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ⅓ cup (1 ⅜ ounces) powdered sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

for the cake

  • 2 cups (8 ½ ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (3 ¾ ounces) brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (1 ¾ ounces) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg white (left over from the cream cheese filling), at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Depending on if you want to take the cake out of the pan to cut it or just cut it in the pan, you may line it with parchment paper.

First, prepare the streusel: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, sugar, and salt. Add the butter to the flour mixture and blend with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the biggest pieces of butter are about the side of peas. Set aside.

Next, make the cream cheese filling: In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla until combined. A stand mixer or hand mixer will make quick work of this, but I usually just do this step with a sturdy fork and some elbow grease. Set aside.

Finally, make the cake batter: In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, espresso powder, and salt. In a measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, butter, and vanilla until combined. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

To assemble the cake: Pour approximately half the cake batter into the bottom of your prepared pan. Add the cream cheese mixture in an even layer over the cake batter. (Depending on how cold your cream cheese mixture is, this may be easier said than done. I usually drop the cream cheese out by the spoonful evenly over the batter and then smooth it out with a spatula.) Next, pour the remaining batter into the pan. Finally, sprinkle the streusel in an even layer over the entire cake.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until the center of the cake is no longer jiggly and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely in the pan, then slice (either in the pan or out) and serve. Leftover cake can be stored, sealed, in the fridge for four or five days. The leftover pieces are particularly good zapped in the microwave for 10 seconds or so.