Tag Archives: settlement cookbook

Coffee Cake

coffee cake

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.

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Filed under Ashkenazi, Breakfast, Dessert, Holidays, Jewish, Shabbat

Schnecken, really old school snails

Schnecken, snails that every Jew can love

Schnecken, snails that every Jew can love

Schnecken, is a German word for snails. This spiral shaped sweet bread is the grandfather of the pecan roll, the morning bun and even those awful Pillsbury cinnamon biscuits that come in the cardboard tubes. As an aside, according to my brother-in-law, a long serving police officer in the mid-west. A schneck is any sweet baked snack, as in “I went over to the Mister Donut, there’s a box of schnecks in the break room”.

I was leafing through my copy of Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America and started reading about schnecken. She described how the Settlement Cookbook revised the recipe over the years as reflection of the gradual assimilation of the dish from the plainer German version made in a cast iron skillet to the nut and cinnamon laden version made in a muffin pan. As someone who grew up in Milwaukee (home of the Settlement Cookbook Co.) I own a few different copies of this book, including a 1931 edition from my New Yorker mother of all things. My curiosity piqued I pulled it off the shelf and after several minutes of hunting through the index (at the front of the book no less) I found a recipe for cold water schnecken. I was confused since the recipe didn’t call for cold water, in fact no water at all.

Instead it called for a heart attack’s worth of eggs, heavy cream and butter along with a cake of yeast. The cold water it turned out was part of the chilling process, of either 3 hours on ice or overnight in cold water. A reference to the lack of home refrigeration in the late 20’s. In addition the slightly cryptic instructions advised me to, “Bake light brown in a moderate oven 350 F. Watch carefully.” Intrigued I knew I had found a project to share.

I decided that I would try to stick to the recipe as much as possible making a few changes in light of changing materials.Yeast now comes dry, not in cakes and the call for 5 egg yolks was evaluated as to the size of those yolks in 1931. Also, I used up all the cream in the house making butter, so I used milk instead. My last thought is that you should line your sheet pan (I use a Silpat), when I was in college I worked as a dishwasher and I remember how many trips through the machine it would take to melt the sugar off the pecan roll pans.

Recipe after the break.

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Filed under Bread, Dessert