Spinning J

Spinning J, a bakery and cafe in Chicago’s beautiful Humboldt Park neighborhood, is located down the street from The Chicago High School for the Arts. At the beginning and end of the school day, Spinning J serves as 60622’s Peach Pit and is full of fresh-faced teens sharing pastries and milk shakes. I love these kids and I wish I had a place that cool to hang out in when I was in school. And they make me love Spinning J more, because they prove it to be a place that is comfortable and fun for the truly diverse group of patrons who walk through the door each day. Old curmudgeons like me, future stars of Disney musicals, millennials, neighbors, foodies—we all love Spinning J.

It is easy to talk about how good the food and drinks are at Spinning J, all served from behind its beautiful vintage soda fountain bar. The breakfast pastries are perfect—the platonic ideal of a scone, a coffee cake. Their giant peanut butter cookie is the best I have ever had. The breakfast sandwich is the stuff of legend. The pies are inventive, seasonal, and always satisfying. And nobody can ever tell me the nutritional information on the peanut butter and jelly milkshake, because it is too good to quit. Even the soda syrups are all incredibly good and will convince those of you who would normally dismiss these drinks that they are worth considering. As if all of that was not enough, recently they have started serving pizza on Friday nights. It has my vote for the best deal in town. For $10 you get a slice of pizza, salad, and a homemade soda of your choice. I plan to spend as many Friday nights there as possible, the pizza is better than most places that specialize in pizza.

But food will only ever get a restaurant so far.

The people at Spinning J really make it so great. The staff is always friendly and good humored, they make us all feel welcome. The patrons have all come to eat pie or a milkshake, so they tend to be friendly and relaxed, adding to the good vibes. If you happen to be there when the high school crew is in residence, you will find yourself wondering: was I ever so young? and perhaps picking up some new slang.
The space itself is scrappy and lovable. Pieced together with love and a good aesthetic sense. The more time you spend there, the more you notice. The lights are hanging from soda taps! And don’t even get me started on the floor. Ask about it the next time you are there—it is a good story! It all comes together to make Spinning J the place it is, and one of my favorite spots in Chicago.

Dinah Grossman, who owns and runs the joint with her husband Parker Whiteway, is the source of a lot of the good vibes at Spinning J and agreed to share her recipe for the perfect coffee cake. She also completed the Lottie + Doof food quiz.


Sweet or salty?

  • Both together!

Chocolate or vanilla?

  • Chocolate

Hot (spicy) or mild?

  • Hot

What won’t you eat?

  • Octopus. They’re just too smart. Can’t do it. And veal.

Most memorable meal?

  • Turkish breakfast on Bozcaada Island. A spread of soft and crumbly cheeses, strong honey, tomatoes sprinkled with dried oregano and salt, cucumbers, sweet preserved cherry tomatoes, soft boiled eggs, and chewy bread covered with sesame seeds. The island is full of stray cats. One particular kitten followed us around for our entire trip and lay at my feet during meals.

Favorite object in your kitchen?

  • Toss-up between my well-seasoned cast iron skillet that my husband gave to me for our first Valentine’s Day together, and the French rolling pin I bought at TJ Maxx years ago that was the rolling pin I used to start my business, rolling pie dough alone at my kitchen table for years.

What are you scared of in the kitchen?

  • Overcooking things. Almost anything, but especially an expensive piece of meat.

Do you prefer to cook alone or with others?

  • Cooking with someone is like traveling with someone–if you can have a good time without too much stress, wonderful, but there aren’t a lot of those people out there. Otherwise, alone.

Where would you like to travel to for the food?

  • So many places! Sicily, Greece, back to Turkey, China, South Korea…

If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?

  • This is corny, but…Artichoke–a little prickly on the outside, tricky to get to the heart but worth it in the end  (Bonus for this happening to be my husband’s favorite vegetable).

If you were not running Spinning J, what would you be doing?

  • Opening a cement tile business in my hometown in Maine.

What are some of your favorite places to eat in Chicago?

  • Bari for Italian subs, The Snack Corner at Joong Boo for instant ramen with an egg that’s somehow so much better than anything I could ever make at home. Qing Xiang Yuan Dumpling in Chinatown. Tank Noodle for pho. Spacca Napoli for pizza and a bottle of wine. Lula Cafe for a special night out.

It has been a while since we had a coffee cake recipe around here! This one uses the ole’ reverse creaming method which I am almost always a fan of. It is a bakery recipe, so ingredients given in weights. More encouragement for you to get a kitchen scale? I hope! Thanks to Dinah for sharing the recipe.

Cinnamon Sour Cream Coffee Cake

“Streusel” Filling:

  • 15 g all purpose or cake flour
  • 25 grams granulated sugar
  • 25 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cake batter:

  • 4 large eggs + 1 yolk
  • 340 g sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 350 g pastry or cake flour
  • 250 g granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 160 g European butter (they use Plugra) cut into 1/2 dice and softened but still cool to the touch

Maple glaze:

  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

To Make the “Streusel” filling:

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

To make the cake batter:

In a small bowl whisk together 2/3 of the sour cream, eggs, yolk, and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and butter cubes, and remaining 1/3 of the sour cream. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase mixer speed to medium and mix for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Decrease mixer speed to low and add the egg mixture in three additions, mixing for 20-30 seconds after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl as necessary, but at least once after the final addition. Increase mixer speed to high and beat for an additional minute until batter becomes paler and aerated.

To assemble the cake:

Add about a third of the cake batter to the bottom of the prepared pan and spread to the edges using a rubber spatula. Sprinkle half of the streusel over batter. Add another third of batter on top, and carefully spread over streusel layer bringing batter all the way to the edge of the pan and making sure it makes contact with the pan. Add the remaining half of streusel. Add the final layer of batter and spread in the same way as the first two layers, bringing all way to the side of the pan including the tube in the center.

Bake on lowest rack of oven for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for ten minutes, then remove cake from pan and cool on a parchment-lined cookie sheet (or a cooling rack set over a parchment-lined cookie sheet) until just slightly warm.

While cake cools, make the glaze:

Whisk the glaze ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. It should be thin enough to spread easily, but thick enough to coat cake in an opaque-ish layer. Adjust consistency with more confectioners sugar or a splash of water as needed. But don’t sweat it, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

When the cake has cooled, but is still slightly warm, use an offset spatula to spread the glaze evenly over the cake. Allow glaze to set before slicing and serving.

Store at room temperature.

9 comments to “Spinning J”

  1. I’m so glad to read your review of this spot! I drive/run by it often and always comment that I have to stop in and try it out, but then seem to forget about it when I’m looking for a new place to go. This will make me remember!

  2. I don’t eat veal either….and maybe I need to rethink the octopus thing….I had no idea they were so smart!

  3. Thanks for the recipe. I will be trying this, for sure. I had never heard of the reverse creaming method. Saturday evening, when cooking for friends, I overcooked my beef rib roast on the Weber. I was showing off the app on my phone getting temp readings via my blue tooth meat thermometer. It must have been the glass of wine and/or my failure to inspect the meat. Ugh!!

  4. “But food will only ever get a restaurant so far.” TRUTH. This place sounds superb.

  5. This makes me nostalgic for Chicago! (When I was in grad school at MSU, my sister lived there, and we’d visit all the time – TOAST!). I love the reverse creaming method, AND weights, so will make this soon. Thanks!

  6. Love this, and love her quiz answers. Pinning…

  7. So I stopped reading/scrolling at the picture of that heavenly coffee cake, and opened another window and quickly googled for a recipe for cinnamon sour cream coffee cake. Nothing looked like worthwhile or different than what I already have. But now I was seriously jonesing for coffee cake like that. Imagine my delight that if I would’ve just read a few mere more minutes, I would’ve been rewarded!! Bonus: I have a scale!! Bring on the weekend.. thanks for a great read. Wish I lived closer!

  8. Reporting back to say I made this awesome coffee cake this past weekend and brought it in for coworkers to rave reviews. I was so excited to use a bakery recipe given in weights since i love using the kitchen scale. I was expecting a dense and close crumbed sour cream cake (which i love) and was so pleasantly surprised at how light this turned out. A definite keeper with a unique maple syrup glaze as well. Thank you for sharing and showcasing the awesome bakery.

  9. I’m making this this weekend – but wondered why they don’t give a weight for the conf sugar? There’s so much error for measuring that w. volume… THANKS!

What do you think?