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  • Amy Minichiello

Grandma's Coffee Cake

My love for family recipes holds a special place in my heart. Recipes that have been handed down from one generation to the next, with little tweaks here and there to put my own little creative spin on them, sometimes, its not always necessary and sometimes I feel that I should just stick to what is written down and not "play" around with them! For the Nanna's and the Granny's may just think they are perfect the way they are and most of the time I think that they would be right!

I have a couple of my Nanna Joy's and my Granny's handwritten recipe books. The pages splattered with cake batter, oil marks and scribbled notes. Some are falling out and the little black book that belonged to my great-grandmother is held together with a rubber band, just like mine is. Its these handwritten pages that I love so dearly with their "old-fashioned" scrawl. My Granny had the most beautiful handwriting, its so lady-like, just like she was.

Whenever I cook or bake with one of my grandmothers' recipes I am always transported back into their kitchen's. I imagine the way they would have gone about creating each one and what they would have done whilst waiting patiently for that cake or that batch of scones or that tray of biscuits to be pulled from the oven when they were done. The aromas would fill their homes with all of those delicious home-baked and home-cooked goodies.

When we would go to visit my Grandma & Grandpa (my Dad's Mum & Dad) we were always treated with biscuits, I think from memory that they were gingersnaps. I remember that their home always seemed so big and that it had this distinctive smell. Dad tells me that it was from the briquettes that they would burn in the fire-place. My brother and I would sit on the floor in front of the fire during the Winter and when Summer came around it was all about the pool. Which used to be absolutely freezing! And come to think of it a little scary, it was quite dark and always seemed so, so deep!

Grandma was quite the lady, always dressing in beautiful frocks, she was also a beautiful baker. Which may explain why my Dad has such a love for sweets especially for her coffee cake. She would make it with a mock cream icing, but I am a little unsure about this so here I have used a Maple infused swiss meringue buttercream topped with shards of dark chocolate. I do hope that she would approve of this variation and that she would have enjoyed a slice or two with a cup of tea.

Back in those days, I guess people used to watch their wastage a lot more, which we could all take a few hints from in this present day. Grandma was very frugal when it came to using up every little bit of something and this wasn't just with food but even going as far as collecting the little bits of soap scraps and binding these all together to create a mish-mash ball of soap. Maybe this is where I get my awareness of the whole waste-not-a-thing from?

I do hope you enjoy baking Grandma's coffee cake, its a simple treat that is perfect for a sneaky little afternoon or morning tea treat. I have doubled her recipe here so that it makes a lovely high 20cm cake. It also works particularly well as little individual cakes too, either in cupcake pans or smaller square ones. I used to use the latter at the café and top them with a simple espresso icing, piping a little rosette of dark chocolate ganache and finishing with a walnut popped on top for something extra special.


120g softened butter

2 tablespoons of golden syrup

2 Free-range eggs, at room temperature (I always use 60g)

1 cup of caster sugar

2 dessertspoons of black coffee (Grandma used to use the coffee essence, but I prefer using espresso)

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon fround cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2 cups plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch salt

2 teaspoons bi-carb soda

1 1/2 cups milk

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees, fan-forced. Grease and line your 20cm cake tin.

Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until the mixture turns a lovely creamy colour and fluffy texture. Add the eggs one at a time, then add in the golden syrup. Beat well. With the mixer on a slower speed, pour in the coffee and beat until just combined.

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together, then fold these through the batter. Dissolve the soda in the milk and stir to combine. Then add this in too, mix until everything is combined.

Pour into your greased and lined 20cm cake tin (I use a springform tin for this but its not absolutely necessary) and bake for about 40-45 minutes. I have found that whenever I bake this in different ovens the timing does vary, so just keep a close eye on her and you may need to cover with foil if the top is colouring too quickly.

Remove from the oven when ready and cool in the tin for about 10 minutes. Then take her out and place onto a cooling rack to cool completely. I always place my cakes in the fridge overnight before icing so that they are nice and cool, but if time is not on your side you can always pop it into the fridge once its coolish to speed up the process and then ice that same day.

For the Maple Swiss meringue buttercream

This makes quite a large amount but is very easily halved and it can be frozen too, which is great when you need some icing on hand. Just divide it up into containers and bring back to room temperature and then give it a good whisk with the stand mixer until its lovely and glossy again.

10 free-range eggwhites

2 1/2 cups caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1-2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

900g unsalted, softened butter

In the bowl of a stand mixer placed over the top of a saucepan of simmering water, whisk the eggwhites and sugar until soft peaks form just like a meringue. I used to do this by hand and boy oh boy is it good for the arm muscles. However, if you do have a handheld electric whisk it does make this process a whole lot quicker and less taxing on your arms!

Once you have reached the meringue-like stage, remove off the saucepan and place under the stand mixer with the whisk attached. continue to whisk for about 10 minutes and then add the vanilla, maple syrup and the butter bit by bit until it is all incorporated. Sometimes it has the tendency to look curdled, but never fear, just continue to whisk for about another 10 minutes and you will end up with the most beautiful silky-smooth texture that just melts in your mouth.

Dark chocolate shards

Have two pieces of baking paper ready to go on your bench, about 50cm long.

150g Dark couverture chocolate (I love Callabeaut) but buy the best you can afford, it really does make a difference.

Place into a heatproof bowl set over the top of a saucepan of simmering water and stir until its completely melted. Pour this onto one of the pieces of baking paper and smooth out with a palette knife until its even. Place the second piece of baking paper on top and carefully, using your hands, smooth the air bubbles out.

Starting from one end, roll it up into a sausage, being careful not to press too hard or roll it too tight. You don't want the chocolate escaping from the sides. Pop this onto a baking tray and place in the fridge overnight to completely set.

When your ready, take it out of the fridge and carefully start to unroll the baking paper, as you do this, the chocolate will break into shards. carefully pick them up and pop them into a container in the fridge until you are ready to use them.

They will last a while in the fridge, so if you do have leftovers they are great to have to add a little something special to a wide range of things, from toppings on ice cream, in cookies or even just melting it again to use in something that calls for melted chocolate. Or you could just eat them as they are!

Assembling the cake

Once you are ready to dress your cake, place onto a lovely platter and dollop on a good amount of buttercream and spread out with a palette knife, then place the shards on top. Take to a gathering, a party or just have it in the fridge for when that unexpected guest drops in. It also freezes really well. Just slice it up into serves and wrap well in cling wrap.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do and that it too brings back memories of your time spent baking away in the kitchen with your grand-parents. xx

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