Sometimes a cake is much more than a cake. This particular Cinnamon Loaf, which my family usually calls coffee cake, is a good case in point. I know that whenever I serve it to my children, someone will ask, “Is that Petje’s cake?” Just this Thanksgiving I made it for our family brunch, setting it out without any fanfare. Sure enough, the question was asked and the reminiscing began.
The most cherished recipes carry history and emotion. I often made Cinnamon Loaf when my parents came to visit. I don’t know how Mom came by the recipe, but it was a staple in her repertoire and I copied it out on a 3×5-inch recipe card before I left home long ago. Unlike many of the other recipes in my stuffed-to-bursting recipe box, this one has been used frequently, as the state of the card testifies. Stained, torn and rumpled, the card stock is softened by repeated handling over the course of almost 40 years.
Why? Well, it’s a good cake, of course. A standard coffee cake, easy to make, great for dessert or a snack or even breakfast on the run (much better for you than a doughnut). The recipe is forgiving and I’ve used it as the basis for many coffee cake variations over the years, like this apple cranberry coffee cake and this orange cardamom version.
More important, though, this is an iconic family recipe because it was one of my Dad’s favourites. Bless his fussy meat-and-potatoes-hold-the-seasonings-dinner-at-five-o’clock insistence on food on his terms. He was a sweet man and he enjoyed this cake so much. In a family where love was rarely expressed in words, making this cake for Dad was a symbolic act for me, and now I make it in memory of him. I know it won’t be long before his great-grandchildren, who never had the privilege of meeting him, will be asking, “Is that Petje’s cake?” Such is how we live on through food memories.
Cinnamon Loaf Coffee Cake
Over the years I’ve made this cake with milk soured with vinegar, buttermilk, kefir and even sour cream. Despite what the recipe says, I never make it with margarine anymore, although that was all the rage back in the misguided heyday of my youth.
Preheat the oven to 350℉. Butter and flour a tube pan or bundt pan.
For the Cake
- 1/2 c. butter
- 1 c sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 c sour milk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 c flour
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3 tsp baking powder
For the Topping
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- pinch salt
Stir the topping ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
Combine the dry ingredients for the cake in a bowl. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the beaten eggs and half of the dry ingredients, then half of the milk. Mix well, then stir in the rest of the dry ingredients followed by the remaining milk, taking care not to overbeat. Place half of the batter in the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle on half of the topping mix. Then add the rest of the batter and sprinkle on the rest of the topping. Bake at 350℉ for about an hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Depending on your oven, I suggest checking for doneness at 50 to 55 minutes.