One thing that Jewish women do especially well is gossip (there is a dominant gene for this running in my family), and nothing goes better with gossip than coffee, well, except for cake. It turns out this tradition of getting together for coffee, baked goods and conversation has a long history, that began somewhere in Central Europe. The Germans have a word for such a gathering, “kaffeeklatsch” which was later Americanized to coffee klatch. The Germans called the cake they served with coffee, bundkuchen and the Hungarians called it gugelhupf, but most shared the trait of being cooked in tube pans that created a hole in the center of the cake. One of the first coffee cake recipes to appear in an American cookbook was for bund kuchen in The Settlement Cookbook (speaking of, check out Gordon’s faithful recreation of schnecken from the 1931 edition) which calls for “a deep, round, fancy cake pan with a center tube”. Sometime in 1950 the women of the Minneapolis chapter of Hadassah asked a designer from Nordicware to create a pan that would allow them to recreate the cake recipes that their mothers brought over from the old world and the result was the bundt pan that served as the mold for cakes served to gossiping women and Shabbat Onegs everywhere and eventually became the best selling cake pan in America. Somewhere along the line the kutchens came to be called coffee cakes for the beverage they are served with, as most of them contain no coffee. Nowadays you cannot enter a Starbucks or Peets without a wide array of coffee cakes from bundt pans to accompany your non-fat, half-caf, chai latte, and you have a group of mid-western Jewish ladies to thank for it. I personally find coffee cakes to be a fantastic excuse to eat cake for breakfast.
I was inspired to make coffee cake by this months issue of Cook’s Illustrated which called for a regular tube pan to support an almond sugar topping on a lemon cake with a swirl of cream cheese in the center. Since cream cheese is the Jewiest of cheeses, and I love lemon cake, it seemed the perfect start to a new year of cooking. It turned out to be a complete disaster with the total collapse of the cake onto the filling. After consulting with the master cake baker, my stepmother, rather than torture myself I decided to go with the more tradition cinnamon crumb style with a some extra topping thrown in the middle, for version 2.0. I mistakenly put double the baking powder in version 2.0 and it bubbled over on itself and the topping sank to the bottom, so you are witness to version 2.1. Cake is clearly not my thing … Actually, the thought of all these cakes is making me a little verklempt, so talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic: coffee cake is neither coffee nor a cake… discuss.