The Scent of a Coffeecake

After double-checking the turkey roasting timetable in my handy-dandy Better Homes and Garden Cookbook last night, I figured that in order to serve up a perfectly roasted bird to my 20 guests, I had to get it in the oven at 5am.

Before heading to bed, I made sure everything was in order. The roasting pan was placed on top of the stove, the baster and electric knife on the counter by its side. An onion sat patiently on the cutting board, waiting to be quartered, and the celery stalks were washed and set out to dry.

I set my alarm, allowing for my oven’s baking time idiosyncrasies, and was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Springing out of bed seven hours later, I tiptoed downstairs to retrieve the bird from the fridge. Turning it on its side, I checked the cooking times on the label – just for kicks. According to the brand I bought, my 21.5 pound bird only needed 5-6 hours of roasting time, not 6-7 as my trusty cookbook advised.

A choice lay before me – I could go back to bed for an hour or, since I was up, I could make something for breakfast before my boys woke up.

I have fond memories of waking up on Thanksgiving morning to the warm, just-made buttery-walnut-cinnamon scent of my Grandma’s German coffee cake.

My mother always got up at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving. I could never figure out why. That she seemingly whipped up her mother-in-law’s coffee cake with no effort at all was a completely misguided assumption. To this box mix loving plate spinner, this recipe (below) is down right labor-intensive. Especially first thing in the morning.

Nonetheless, when my boys were little, I tried making it, hoping to replicate the same yummy-smelling memories for them.

What a disaster.

The streusel top had clumped into the middle of it as it baked and the cake itself was just this side of solid. The house, however, did smell lovely.

But that was years ago. I’m older and wiser now. And, I have reading glasses! The time has come to give it another try.

Scanning the recipe, I was certain that I had all of the ingredients and began filling my counter top with them. Sugar, butter, cinnamon, eggs, and flour – check, but where was my little tin of baking powder?

Realizing that I was completely out, I scurried to my laptop, pulled up Google and asked, “what can I substitute for baking soda in a recipe?”

The answer was simple – two parts cream of tartar (which by some miracle I actually had in my spice rack) to one part baking soda.

The recipe call for two teaspoons of baking powder. Let’s see. So that means I have to mix 2/3 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/3 of baking soda twice, right?

This is too much math so early in the morning. I glanced at my cup of coffee cooling on the counter across the room and decided to give it a shot. Before long, I slid the pan in the oven and hoped for the best.

Forty minutes later, the timer dinged and I pulled it out.

Seeing that the streusel topping had once again clumped, I cursed at my oven and set it on the counter to cool.

Well, at least my kitchen smells yummy.

Now about that turkey…


German Coffee Cake

Preheat oven to 375o

2 cups sugar                                                              2 sticks butter, softened

4 eggs, separated (will whip whites)                       2 tsp vanilla

1 cup milk                                                                   3 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder
Streusel Topping:
½ cup sugar                                                               2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts                                             1 stick butter, melted

Combine dry topping ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.  Melt topping butter and let cool while mixing cake ingredients.  Cream sugar, vanilla and softened butter.  Add egg yolks and beat. Add milk, flour, baking powder until blended.  Batter will be thick.  Add whipped egg whites and combine until well blended.  Pour into prepared 13×9 pan and sprinkle dry topping mixture over batter. Drizzle melted butter on top. 

Bake for at least 35 minutes or until tester comes out clean (may take up to 45 minutes). Cover with foil if browns too quickly before batter is baked all the way through. Serve warm. Can be frozen and reheated morning it is served.


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