My Grandmother's Coffee Cake
It's that time of year when all the women in my family dig out Marguerite's coffee cake recipe. Strictly speaking, there's nothing remarkable about this recipe. That is, unless you consider the holiday traditions associated with it. Then it falls into a category all its own!
My earliest memories of this cake are of my mother making it in our little house in the woods in Western North Carolina. I think I was seven. She'd have this assembly line going with two in the oven, two more in the mixer, and two cooling on racks. I honestly don't know how many she made -- dozens, for sure. All I know is that we would have quarts of sour cream in the refrigerator for weeks. For Christmas, every teacher at the school where my dad worked got one, and so did a few of our luckiest friends.
Along with the Christmas coffee cake tradition, there was the delivery tradition. While not more impressive than the cake, it was certainly more memorable. Like Santa, we usually delivered on Christmas eve. First, we situated each cake on a pretty Christmas paper plate, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and stuck a peel-the-back bow to top. Then we'd load them in the car, balanced on our laps and wedged between my sister and me in the back seat. Only then would dad drive all four of us around town (very carefully), house to house, in our Plymouth Duster.
When we'd arrive some place, we'd quietly organize ourselves on the porch -- my sister and I in front, mom and dad behind -- ring the bell, and when the door opened we'd sing a verse of "We wish you a Merry Christmas" before relinquishing the coffee cake to its new home. Luckily we only did one verse: we could never remember the other words -- something about figgy pudding -- and, well, dad couldn't carry a tune.
This tradition continued despite our many moves over the years -- North Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Oregon (although I think we put the brakes on singing at some point). Once my sister and I left home I can't be sure my parents continued the deliveries. But I know my dad's secretary would often get one of Marguerite's cakes at the holidays each year. Hopefully, he didn't sing.
Every year, I still make this cake and sometimes even give it away. I know my sister does too. For sure, one of us always makes one to eat on Christmas morning.
My grandmother probably had no idea what kind of tradition she was starting for the women in our family when she passed this recipe along. When I bake it, she is never far from my thoughts because I use the recipe she gave me, typed on her manual typewriter. I also think of my mom and her seasonal coffee cake factory when I see her handwritten note at the bottom.
I've made slight changes to it over the years but it is delicious exactly the way it appears. Feel free to use it to start a tradition of your own.
- I always use unsalted butter instead of margarine.
- I often use a mixture of walnuts and pecans in the topping.