Do you have a sensory memory of a particular food from your childhood, which a beloved family member would make for you? For my wife and her family, Grandma Sadie’s Cinnamon Coffee Cake is that much loved recipe which had not been baked by anyone in the family in decades.
My mother-in-law recently stumbled across a handwritten copy of the recipe with its charmingly vague quantities (such as “add raisins, sugar and cinammon”), and handed it to me to give it a whirl. Using common sense and past baking experience, I decided to give it a try: the result was exactly the dense, moist textured crumb of my wife’s childhood memory with the right flavor profile. The only thing needed was to ramp up the level of cinnamon and sugar to create a more pronounced line within the cake. My wife’s Aunt Marilyn, teared up when I brought over a freshly baked version of her mother’s cake.
I think it’s important to share family recipes across time and space, so that they are not lost as people pass. Since this is a simple cake, every ingredient needs to be as fresh and high quality as possible. I recommend that you don’t skimp on the quality of your butter, eggs, milk, vanilla or cinnamon.
2.5 cups All-purpose flour (sifted)
2.5 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups of whole milk
2 large eggs (room temperature)
3 heaping teaspoons of baking powder
1 generous teaspoon of vanilla (preferably high-quality vanilla)
2 pinches salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter (room temperature)
3 tablespoons of cinnamon (high-quality cinnamon is best)
1 cup black raisins (I usually prefer golden raisins, but the family insisted that black Thompson raisins are the type Grandma Sadie used).
1 Angel Food Cake Pan (if your cake pan is very large, you may need to double the recipe).
Pre-heat your oven to 350 (or 325 if convection).
Take a little butter and grease the inside of the angel food cake pan.
Take the rest of the butter, and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and place into a mixing bowl. My mother-in-law Joan insists that you should hand mix each step (she states that the texture is not the same if the batter is machine mixed). Once I have creamed the butter and the sugar, I added the flour/baking powder/salt and again hand mix to gently incorporate the dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, beat the two eggs, milk and vanilla. Then pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl and gently hand mix with a spoon, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, until the batter is fully emulsified.
In a small third bowl, take the remaining cup of sugar and the three tablespoons of cinnamon and blend the two together until the cinnamon is evenly dispersed.
Pour or ladle 1/3 of the batter into the bottom of the angel food cake pan.
Take a spoon and gently sprinkle about 1/3 of the sugar/cinammon mixture onto the batter. Then take about 1/3 of the raisins and also gently sprinkle them onto the batter. In the photo below, I have not completed adding as much cinnamon/sugar/raisins as I recommend in the recipe: this is one time where you can’t be timid with sugar.
Pour or ladle the 2/3 of the batter, then repeat with the cinnamon/sugar and raisins.
Pour or ladle the final 1/3 of the batter, and again repeat with the cinammon/sugar and raisins. There should be a nice coating of cinammon/sugar on top of the batter (which will then carmelize and form a lovely crunchy crust once baked).
Bake for approx 1 hour (if you double the recipe, you will need to bake for at least 90 minutes). You really need to check the cake every 15 minutes after the 45-minute mark, to ensure the cake is cooked thoroughly. I use a long wooden skewer to check all the way through the cake to ensure it is thoroughly done. Any wet batter means it needs longer. For my double recipe, it took at least 90 minutes for the cake to cook all the way through.
Let the cake cool on a baking rack before removing from the pan. Enjoy!