When I was a little girl, my grandma had a house not far away from ours, upon which her flock of grandkids would descend on Saturdays while their parents went shopping, playing cricket or running errands. On Saturdays we watched Grandstand, put bets on the horses and ordered dinner from the chip shop (chips and two battered sausages, if you must know). There were people in and out all day, and someone was always falling over, getting hurt or hitting another cousin in the face. It was hectic, but it was fun.
However, the best days where when I was sick from school – or at least when I had convinced my mum that I was ill enough to stay home. “Staying home” actually involved going to Gromma’s house, where instead of the cascade of faces, there would just be me and Gromma. We would watch old videos of Dad’s Army, Rising Damp and Open All Hours before building a fort with the dining room chairs and a blanket. Gromma would also get in the fort, which was a lot of fun – but the best part would be when she made her classic coffee cake, as she seemed to do every single day (she did have a lot of kids and grandkids, after all).
Gromma’s coffee cake was plain and completely unostentatious. It was a simple two-layer cake, with a coffee icing which I think was just icing sugar, instant coffee and water – I can’t remember buttercream being involved, but I could be wrong. Yet it wasn’t even eating the cake that was the best part; the best part was licking the bowls after she’d made it.
As every child knows, licking the bowl is the single best thing that can happen to you in your prepubescent life. You don’t have to wait for an age (in actuality 20 minutes) until the damn thing rises and cools; rather, you get a straight shot of sugar and fat, right to the heart. She would also let me lick the bowl when she’d made the icing, and even left some extra in there for me to eat, which probably explains why I was a slightly hefty as a child and why I was bouncing off the walls by the time that mum picked me up after work.
Now, in my adulthood, I’ve tried to make coffee cakes before, but my burgeoning pretentiousness towards coffee has always made me use real coffee instead of the terrible instant crap. It never worked out. It turns out that the terrible instant crap is what makes coffee cake so delightful – and it was the key to Gromma’s raison d’ bake.
Though this is a bit of a Heatherization of Gromma’s coffee cake (slightly healthier, full of nuts, vegan), this cake has the spirit of my grandma in every bite. The flavour takes me right back to those gorgeous lazy days watching Countdown from our living room fort – and yes, I still lick the bowl.
(Makes one two-layer cake)
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups vanilla almond milk
1/3 cup coconut oil
2 tbsp instant coffee
1/3 cup walnuts
1 tbsp instant coffee
2 cups coconut cream
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius and lightly grease two round, 8-inch cake pans
In a bowl, pour the almond milk and the vinegar, and set aside for 5 minutes
In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and a pinch of salt. Stir well
To the milk mixture, add the instant coffee, stirring to mix, then the coconut oil
Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the milk mixture
Stir to mix, but stop when just combined
Stir in the walnuts evenly
Divide the batter evenly between the two cake tins, tap each one gently on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles, and place both into the oven
Bake for 20-30 minutes; remove when a toothpick comes out clean. Both cakes should be fairly flat
Allow to cool, then turn out of the cake pans
While the cakes cool, whip the coconut cream and add in the instant coffee, being sure to mix thoroughly. Place this into the fridge to let it harden a little
Choose the flattest cake*, and spread half the frosting on top of it evenly
Top this with the other cake, and top this with the rest of the frosting. Top with some decorative walnuts if you like
*If necessary, you can flatten out the cakes by gently cutting off any “mountainous” bits with a serrated knife
Keep this cake in the fridge, otherwise the frosting will melt. If you prefer to use a less healthy frosting that’s better at room temperature, you can use this recipe:
1 cup Earth Balance / vegan margarine
3 cups icing sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee
Cream the Earth Balance and sugar together until smooth and then add in the coffee. Use as directed above; this cake will not need to be kept in the fridge
The coffee taste of this cake is mild enough to be delicious even to non-coffee drinkers, but still has that distinct flavour that all us coffee-lovers desire. The walnuts add a beautiful texture, and for me, this still has the soul of that simple cake that I so loved as a child. Family traditions always mutate and change with time, but their spirit stays the same. This is one recipe that I’ll be keeping very close to my heart.