I like to equate cake with happiness. Why? Maybe because I’ve grown up in a household where regularly baking from scratch is just as important as finishing your homework. Or maybe it’s because my favorite indulgence in the world is a large piece of cake. Either way, I have developed a passion for baking cakes and now have a vast repertoire under my belt.
I never met my maternal grandmother, Jetta, although every time I bake in my home kitchen, she is with me in the nuggets of baking wisdom that originated from either her or my great grandmother, Betty. I have a small collection of old postcards with a fruit pattern around the edges, each and every one with one of Grandma Jetta’s favorite recipes scribbled on it. The handwriting is barely legible, but my mom knows how to decode her script, and I slowly learned how to as well.
Her most acclaimed recipe, also scrawled on a yellowing sheet of paper, is a luscious sour cream coffee cake baked in a Bundt pan. When it comes out of the oven, it is a perfectly tan brown color, and the aroma penetrates the air, filling the kitchen with a sweet scent of sugar. The cake itself is studded with chunks of dark chocolate and pieces of walnut. My mom often mentions how Grandma Jetta would make it for her on any given day to brighten her mood, and I can vouch that it works. This cake is a token of joy, and I have always enjoyed diving into thick slices of it on any occasion.
Jetta’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Blend and set aside:
For me, taste is a sense that can evoke some of the strongest thoughts and memories, and although I do not have any memories with my grandmother, taking a bite of this coffee cake is as close as I get to understanding her. The real truth is that I’m sure there was a story behind how this cake came to be a treasured family recipe, but I’m not exactly sure of that backstory. I am sure, though, that baking this cake in a warm kitchen, with the right company and a nostalgic sentiment, brings me happiness. Every time we would visit my great-grandmother Betty’s apartment in Florida, my mom and I would bake the signature cake, cover it in boatloads of plastic wrap, and carry it with us on the plane in order to deliver it straight to her kitchen table. As we all sat around the table, the conversation was irrelevant, as long as we were all together and had our slivers of coffee cake, all was good.
Who doesn’t need a little more sweetness in their life?
Stella Ginsberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.