Coffee Cake with a Few Surprises

It’s a cold January day and after coming in from snow shoeing I thought it would be nice to bake something from Aunt Lil’s recipe book. The book opened to a recipe called “Rich Coffee Cake.” The page is incredibly stained, so I assume Aunt Lil liked this recipe and used it.

Stained and faded - from use!

Like many cake recipes, the origins of Coffee Cake goes back quite far. According to Food Timeline, Coffee Cake has its origin in honey cakes from ancient times, French galettes, medieval fruit cake, yeast rolls, and Danish cakes made with coffee. As immigrants arrived in the New World, several groups introduced their version of Coffee Cake including the Germans, Dutch, and Scandinavians.

English coffee house

Why the term Coffee Cake? Two reasons. In the 17th century coffee took Europe by storm as a drink and sweet cakes were eaten with coffee. And of course, adding coffee as the liquid to make Coffee Cake was the second reason. Today, you don’t find Coffee Cake recipes that call for coffee. But Aunt Lil’s recipe did, which helps me date the recipe.

The term Coffee Cake wasn’t used in recipe books until the late 19th century. Here’s a link to a Fannie Farmer, Boston Cook Book, recipe from 1896 that is very similar to Aunt Lil’s. Just a quick look through my cook books and I found two other similar recipes. One dated 1924 from Everybody’s Cook Book. In this recipe it calls for “strong back coffee, cold as the liquid. Coffee of the usual strength for drinking is not strong enough, and left-over coffee should be strengthened if used.”  My New Hood’s Cook Book from 1939 has another similar recipe also called “Rich Coffee Cake.”

But Aunt Lil’s recipe has one more surprise – brandy! Only the Fannie Farmer recipe called for this “secret” ingredient. I find it amusing to even think of Aunt Lil having brandy in the house. But there it is. By the way, don’t be put off by the list of ingredients. This recipe was VERY easy to make.

Here’s Aunt Lil’s recipe:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbs molasses
  • 1 tbs brandy
  • 1/2 cup strong cold coffee
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup currents
  • 2 tbs citron (I left this out)

Mix and sift flour, baking powder, salt and spices together. Cream butter until soft. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy. Add beaten eggs. Blend well. Add molasses and brandy. Add flour mixture alternately with cool coffee, beating until smooth after each addition. Add fruits.

I then deviated from Aunt Lil’s recipe to create a simple topping to sprinkle over before baking. This consisted of 1 1/2 tbs melted butter, 4 tbs sugar, 1 tbs flour, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.

The baked cake - the topping didn't come out quite right. I forgot the butter!

I baked the coffee cake in a greased 9″ round cake pan because I was looking at directions for making Coffee Cake from my cook book All About Baking,1933. Other recipes call for a greased loaf pan. Bake in a hot oven at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. (or if you use the loaf pan it is suggested to make it at 350 for one hour).

The result was delicious! It was not overly sweet or gooey, which is often the cast in today’s coffee cakes. It was a light taste – sort of spicy because of the molasses and other spices that were added. I encourage you to give it a try and let me know what you think.

We both went back for seconds!

4 Responses to “Coffee Cake with a Few Surprises”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Bev says:

    Yum! Looks like Aunt Lil did it again! I’d like to try it but don’t buy brandy1

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Bev – I’m sure that you could still make the recipe without the Brandy. I’d just add milk instead. Its a very small amount. Certainly coudldn’t taste it.


  1. [...] Lil and took out the history of coffee cakes) and check out the recipe? You can find it here at my earlier blog post from January 2013. Categories: General – Tags: Aunt Lil's recipes, coffee cake, food history, historic cooking, [...]

  2. [...] Matt, their freelance photographer, came to photograph me, Dan and Aunt Lil’s wonderful Rich Coffee Cake. The photos will be used to illustrate an article in their September/October [...]

Leave A Comment...