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(Not So Great) Coffee Cake

By Alyna O'Hanlon

May 6, 2020

"What was your highlight today?" 

This is a text I often receive from my dear friend Janice. It is such a nice reminder to consider the things big and small that brought joy to the day.

I've been thinking about this in broader terms as this quarantine period rounds the second month. What have the highlights been?

Surely one highlight was receiving a gift of flour and walnuts. A few weeks ago, I shared a recipe for carrot corn bread in which I mentioned I had to improvise with corn meal when flour was nowhere to be found. And then, like magic, a 5lb bag of precious all purpose flour (plus walnuts and baking soda!) was delivered to my door (thanks Roy and Laura!) 

I wanted to use the flour and walnuts to make something special and as I was brainstorming recipes, coffee cake floated into my mind as one of the very first things I remember baking and loving as a youngster. 

It was circa 1994. We visited my grandmother's cousins on the magical Olympic Peninsula.


Some vivid memories include: picking fresh berries, swinging on a giant swing, and watching seals pop up next to us as we rowed a boat out on the Sound. My grandmother's cousins made a most delicious coffee cake that basically blew my and my sister's little minds. Before parting, they shared the recipe with us. I remember making it at home after our trip and loving it.

Last week I messaged my mom to see if we still had the recipe. My mom reminded me that when my brother got married, we compiled a cookbook of family recipes, which included the coffee cake. She scanned the recipe and sent it to me. 


As I excitedly looked over the recipe, I was disheartened to find it rather vague. No measurements for the cinnamon, no size for the pan...I guess many of the best family recipes often look this way. Alas, my attempt to recreate this cake produced something rather dry and, well, not as grand as the confection of my memory.

This cake was edible and consumed in its entirety, to be sure, yet I wondered if I should make another baked good to share with you. But while not the most successful in terms of taste or consistency, this project was not without noteworthy aspects. Firstly, it was inspired by the kindest gift. It encouraged me to touch base with my mom and revisit the memories of our trip to Olympia so many years ago. Also, as my mom pointed out after I informed her that the recipe had proved somewhat disappointing, perhaps a dry cake works well for dunking into your coffee? Recipes/life things don't always work out as we plan and I think that is worth acknowledging, too…

I'm still wealthy with flour and am eager to keep baking. We'll see if I can create something a touch more scrumptious this coming week (I feel confident about this!) In the meantime, what were your highlights today? This quarantine? Also if you might happen to know of a great coffee cake recipe, do send my way!

Here are my photos:

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