Lemon Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake

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Do you remember those Little Debbie Pecan Wheels? I used to loooove those as a kid. My favorite (and ONLY) way to eat them was to unravel the little roll. Slowly peel it away and eat it layer by layer. I used to do the same with cinnamon rolls and flaky layer biscuits.

Not much has changed by way of my odd layer quirk. If there are layers… I must peel. I can’t simply take a large bite out of something that can clearly be unraveled or picked apart. I would be cheating myself. And I’m not ok with that!

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So it should come as no surprise that I ate this bread layer by layer. Standing up next to my counter grabbing piece by piece of warm, gooey, lemony, sugary goodness and shoveling it into my mouth.

I’m still a 5 year old at heart. I’m ok with that ;)

This bread takes a bit of time to make and seems lengthy in steps but there is nothing difficult about making this bread at all. And your reward will be soft, pillow-y layers of lemon scented, sugar crusted, delicious bread. I followed the recipe as-is and it was perfect. You can make an orange, grapefruit, or even cinnamon-sugar version of it. But no matter which flavor you choose… make it and promise me you’ll try the layer-by-layer method of eating it. :)

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Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake Recipe
Adapted from here
Yields 1 9×5″ loaf


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
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract


Note: for process photos of some of the trickier steps, head on over to my Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bread post. Same process, different delicious flavor.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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

4. 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

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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 widthwise 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.

8. 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

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

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62 thoughts on “Lemon Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake

  1. Well I am not really sure how this will turn out lol I followed the filling directions on the top and then by the time I got to the directions part, I saw that I messed up :( I melted the butter then added the zests. Seemed to actually be okay. Letting it rest again now in my mini-loaf stoneware.


    • Renee, I might be willing to do that! I do want to make the cinnamon-sugar pull apart bread that uses the same recipe. If I do that, I’ll link them together :)

  2. karen says:

    I love the looks of this and I am also a pull apart and treasure each bite person. I LOVE flaky biscuits. I am also a very visual person……i learn best by looking. Do you know when you will post the pictures of the pumpkin bread version? I look forward to seeing them and hope its real soon as I would like to try this…..Now LOL!
    Thanks for sharing !

  3. Angelina Aurora says:

    Made this today as a cold day project :) ‘Lemon scented’ is a perfect description because it’s not overly lemony. The dough was soft and amazing to work with. One day I’ll try the pumpkin spice version.

  4. Hey, I found your blog through pinterest. I am going to have to try this bread. I often make homemade cinnamon rolls and could probably make this as a variation on my own sweet bread recipe. Thanks for posting!

  5. holly says:


  6. Angela says:

    I have a really beginner question: in the pumpkin version, you use bread flour instead of sifted flour. Can bread flour be substituted in this recipe’s dough? Thank you!

  7. Lu says:

    i just took it out of the oven! i am so so happy with how it came out because it was my first dough with yeast ever! i hope i didn’t underbake it because it feels a bit too soft on the sides but the crust on top began to become very very dark! I can’t wait to taste it with my friends, thank you for this lovely and unique recipe!

    greetings from germany

  8. graymockingbird says:

    hmm, mine didn’t turn out very well; wouldn’t rise, and didn’t get very fluffy like yours looks. was a lot of work for a disappointing result! oh well :( would like to see an easier lemon bread recipe to practice with!

    • Chelsea says:

      I made this recipe as well as followed and mine did not rise. I think it was because I mixed the yeast into the dry ingredients. To make this dough rise make yeast mixture FIRST by mixing 1/4 warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 packet of yeast, and let it sit until it’s frothy, about 10 minutes. If it doesn’t become frothy the yeast is no longer usable. Then follow the other directions as followed. When I did it this way, my dough rose sooooooo much ( I let my dough rise for 5 hours so it would be very fluffy). Hope I helped :)
      16 year old baker

  9. Ginger says:

    Delicious! After trying the first time, I substituted the lemon with 3 bars of chopped dark chocolate and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Also replaced the lemon in the frosting with a teaspoon or two of cinnamon. It was a hit and is now frequently requested!

  10. Chelsea says:

    made this today, but made a yeast mixture 1st (1/4 cup warm water, yeast packet, 1 teaspoon sugar), and followed the recipe as stated. Came out EXACTLY like photos. Melt in your moth & so yummy.
    16 year old baker :)

  11. yourmomdesigns says:

    super impressed with this recipe, the instructions were really thorough and my end results were amazing, definitely trying to keep from eating all the amazing layers in one go. thanks for the recipe!

  12. Catherine says:

    I found this via pintrest…. And I’ve just stood in the kitchen and eaten 1/4 of the loaf straight out. I’ll be making it again. And again. And again.

  13. Linda Burt says:

    The method I use for these types of breads is to stand your loaf pan on end (narrow end down) and place the individual layers in the pan (instead of trying to pick up the stack and put it in the pan). Much easier.

    • I have chilled it overnight and baked the following morning. I put the dough in the fridge for the second rise, loosely covered with greased saran wrap (I sprayed Pam on it). In the morning, remove from the fridge and let it come to almost room temp (15-20 minutes) and bake per the recipe.

  14. Do you think it would be advisable to replace all or part of the milk in the dough with lemon juice to make it super lemony? I love the idea of a lemon pull apart but I want it to be super lemony, not just lemon scented :)

  15. Anne says:

    I have had this pinned for a long time and was very excited to try it. It was a stucky mess and barely rose. I’m so dissapointed. I’m tempted to try again but I don’twant to waste more ingredients.

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