After crashing an alumni food and wine event at Christian Brothers High School here in Sacramento last Friday, I could not shake a lingering feeling of homesickness. Boozing classmates overcome with nostalgia and excitement as they ran into former friends and peers sent me into a state of longing to see a crowd of familiar faces myself. Unfortunately, when you live more than 400 miles from your hometown, that’s not an immediate possibility.
Instead, I sifted through my makeshift cookbook of magazine clippings and uncovered the recipe for Millie’s Coffee Cake. Millie’s Coffee Cake is an effortless dessert that really only requires remembering to pick up a tub of sour cream at the super market for those occasions when you crave a cinnamon-sugar crunch sensation. It’s as easy to make as opening a box mix and adding three eggs, oil, and water. My Mom baked this after-dinner delight for those Sundays my family and I would eat at my grandmas. She was a busy woman, but would wow us all with this abstract order of a dessert.
It’s not meant to look pretty, except for the center. A slice of Millie’s Coffee Cake reveals marbled sediments of cinnamon-sugar layered within the fluffy and slightly tangy cake. For me, I’m at home when I dig into a piece of Millie’s Coffee Cake. I remember those nights sitting to the left of my grandma, who was the head of the table, and savoring every bite as I let the prospect of a pending school day ruffle my nerves.
On this particular Millie occasion, I tinkered with the recipe a bit. Don’t worry, I didn’t make any drastic changes. I used cake flour as the recipe calls for, while my Mom stood by the classic unbleached all-purpose flour – you can too, the velvety consistency won’t turn coarse. I also folded low-fat sour cream into the batter, and I can’t decide yet if it drastically affects the taste. Right now, I’m leaning toward no.
Finally, I found a recipe for espresso whipped cream at epicurious.com that would sit heavenly on top of a slice of Millie’s cake. I haven’t tried it yet, but I highly recommend you do, especially if you require some sort of caffeinated cohort to go with it. Or, you could reach for some chocolate milk. Many options abound, but a knitted cardigan is not one of them.
Millie’s Coffee Cake
Adapted from the L.A. Times circa 1970s
½ cup butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1 ½ cups sugar, saving ½ cup for the cinnamon sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups sifted cake flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
2 ½ tsp. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9-inch baking pan with butter. Mix together ½ cup of sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, set aside. In another small bowl, sift cake flour with baking powder. Then, mix baking soda and sour cream in a separate bowl and add butter and cream together. (Don’t worry if you see clumps of butter, the batter will eventually even out.) Continue beating, adding 1 cup sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add flour and baking powder alternately with sour cream mixture.
Pour about ¼ of the batter into the pan. (It may or may not cover the entire bottom of the pan depending on how much you add.) Sprinkle a layer of cinnamon sugar over the mixture. Add another fourth of the batter, then sprinkle again. Continue to layer the two mixtures until both are used up. I generally add a heaping layer of cinnamon and sugar at the end. Depending on your own taste preferences, you may not want to use up all of the cinnamon sugar, and that’s fine. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Insert a clean fork into the center to determine if cake is set.