For many people, the early years of parenthood are mostly about survival, and cooking becomes about getting small people and yourself fed and asleep as soon as possible. My parents had five children under seven and a half (I’m the eldest), so getting us fed and asleep was the focus for quite a few years. My mother made bread regularly, and basics like pancakes and scones, but from quite an early age, I was probably the main baker of biscuits and cakes. I can’t remember my first solo baking production, but it was quite possibly this cake. It’s written in my mother’s handwritten little recipe book as Jenny Murphy’s German Coffee Cake after the long-ago neighbour who passed on the recipe. Many of our family recipe names include the name of the giver, and I love how each time you recreate a dish it also recreates memories, and the connections between people that make sharing food such a powerful activity.
One of my clearest memories, at the age of about 10, is of baking this cake when friends of my parents came to visit, bringing a visitor from the US. He seemed to enjoy it, but after morning tea, he asked me if he could give me a tip. I remember thinking that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the cake, but extra advice is always useful, so I said yes, and was totally confused when he handed me 50c!
This cake has been shared at many, many family events. It was our ‘go-to’ cake for picnics, BBQs, house parties etc as it’s baked in a large baking dish and can easily be transported and cut into 30 pieces or so. I actually bake it less frequently now because of the size (though of course I could halve it!) but every time I do, I’m reminded what a delicious straightforward cake it is.
Basically, it’s a rich butter cake with a streusel topping. The original had walnuts, and I sometimes use them, sometimes don’t. These days more often not, as so many venues don’t allow nuts. [Edit: I just have to pause and cry and hit my keyboard a bit because I had actually finished this post, and a very detailed recipe, and saved it as a draft, and WordPress decided to simply not save anything after what you see above <sob>.] Anyway, I think what I had said was that what makes this cake particularly delicious is the contrast of the strongly spiced topping, with freshly ground cinnamon, nutmeg and mace plus lemon essence; and the rich but plain butter cake underneath. As the cake rises in the oven the blanket of streusel becomes a dimpled quilt, with crisp top bits and moister spots where it has slumped. I’ve always like those bits the best! I might have originally written something after this but I can’t remember now, so on to the recipe…
[Update 6/17: it’s also delicious with a layer of fruit under the streusel – below is stewed apple]
German Coffee Cake
makes approx 30 pieces
- 225g butter
- 400g (2 c) sugar
- 4 eggs
- 450g (3 c) SR flour
- 1 c milk
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 150g (1 c) plain flour
- 200g (1 c) sugar
- 115g unsalted butter
- 1/2 cinnamon stick (approx 1 1/4 tsp ground)
- 1/2 nutmeg (approx 3/4 tsp ground)
- few pieces of mace (approx 1/2 tsp ground)
- few drops lemon essence
Preheat the oven to 190C (180C fan forced). Get out the butter, eggs and milk to come to room temperature. Grease and line a large rectangular baking pan. Mine is a chunky and very battered aluminium pan that I think I baked my first ever cake in. It measures 33x27cm, but if you don’t have one of those exact dimensions then aim for something of a similar area – this pan is 891cm2, so anything between 850 and 900 should be fine.
For the streusel, stir together the flour, sugar, spices and salt in a medium bowl with a fork, and rub in the butter with your fingers until it forms uneven crumbs. Carefully stir in a few drops of lemon essence to taste. If you make the streusel in advance and refrigerate, ensure it is room temperature before sprinkling over the batter or it will sink.
Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in one third of the flour and the salt, followed by half the milk, the next third of flour, the other half of the milk, and the final third of the flour and combine until smooth. Spread the fairly thick batter evenly in the pan, and sprinkle over the streusel.
Bake for about 40-45 minutes, covering loosely with foil if it’s browning too fast, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack. I tend to cut and serve in the pan, but you can remove the cake once it’s fully cooled, though I’d cut in half first.
[Edit 22/10/14: based on a few comments below and questions from a friend I’ve added a reminder about the temperature of the streusel. Unless you’re aiming for a streusel surprise cake with the streusel on the bottom! the streusel needs to be room temperature or it will sink as the batter rises in the oven. If you like pockets of gooey streusel in the batter as well as the streusel topping, I suggest chilling about a third of the topping and clumping it together a bit before sprinkling over before the other two thirds of room temperature streusel.]
From a seasoned blogger to a soon to be seasoned (no pun intended) I always try and write in word before transferring the content across….how delicious those pictures look though! Loved the trip down memory lane though I can’t help wondering who this interesting American was..?
Yes, I think I’ll do the word thing from now on, and the formatting seems to translate fairly well.
I’ll have to ask if Mum remembers who my American tipper was…
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Racking my brains… American? Can’t have been a close friend if he was tipping you. Random visitor? Friend of a friend? No, the name escapes me, but the incident rings a bell. Yes, it’s a wonderful cake, and so easy and so ample! I remember making it before you were old enough to take on the job. I initially queried the lemon essence, but if added sparingly, it really contributes a lemony fragrance to the streusel that would be missed if omitted. We never tried it with lemon zest. I wonder if that would have been good, as well. Yes, I love the photos too. Is that my old baking dish? The original German Coffee Cake baking tin?
I remember him as a friend of a friend, and not someone local… Yes obviously you must have made it, and Jenny Murphy before you! but I honestly don’t really remember eating it before making it if you know what I mean. I’ve thought about an alternative to the essence, but I really don’t think zest would work unless you did a bit of thermomixing and pulverised it into the sugar so the oils were spread. Yes it’s your old baking dish, the original still going strong – though I think you had two and this is the very slightly less battered one!
I’m wondering whether it would work to seed the finished batter with streusel bits using a biscuit forcer, because they were definitely the best bits. 😉
Ahhh, the solution is even simpler, just press the streusel slightly into clumps when making rather than breaking them up, then chill half the streusel in the freezer for half an hour before scattering over. The clumps all sink. Now, ask me how I know this, and why I don’t make the topping ahead and chill anymore 🙂
I am loving these meanderings down Memory Lane. And this German Coffee cake is truly a worthy inspiration for idle, wanton meanderings… Do you not remember, my dear Golden Pudding, that your humble offering was the only picnic item that made it to the New England National Park that day of our excursion with Mere and Tom (all other food having been left on the table by me)? It is robust, generous in its proportions, and, apparently, unforgettable! Jenny would have been delighted. And who knows which (no doubt German) South Australian “Mutter” adapted its proportions to sustain her numerous progeny a century or so ago?
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