Grandma Rita’s Jewish Coffee Cake

Grandma Rita's Jewish Coffee Cake

Food and family are a perfect combination; like peanut butter and jelly on white bread at midnight or mozzarella and tomato in a Caprese salad in summer. To me, family means a blend of recipes, fit for five or fifty, passed down through generations and adapted along the way.

My mom has seven siblings, so growing up in Ohio mealtime was not about the food itself, but the social event and being with the entire family. My Grandma Rita raised eight kids and while she was a simple cook, she proudly fed her large family with a limited budget every night. My mom once told me how grandma used to cut peanut butter with butter to make it go further. This kind of fight, creativity, and undying love is what my family is known for. We all get it from Rita.

Grandma Rita didn’t have a ton of regular family recipes. Some of my fondest memories with her were eating Kraft Mac & Cheese while watching Wheel of Fortune. She once made ambrosia cups for my 3rd grade class and we found out that most other nine year olds much prefer chocolate cupcakes. I recently realized while watching a Hellmann’s commercial that the parmesan chicken bake she regularly made probably came from a recipe on the back of the mayo jar.

Grandma Rita's Jewish Coffee Cake

However, for holidays and even some weekends while both my mom and her siblings and me and my cousins and brothers were growing up, Grandma Rita would make Jewish Coffee Cake. This is Rita’s recipe and everyone in my family knows it and loves it.

This coffee cake is simple. It has three sticks of butter. Pecans, walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon make it sweet and coffee cake-y. This topping is layered throughout and creates a crispy crust that this cake is known for. It’s baked in a bundt pan, because I assume that’s how many cakes were made in in 50’s. It’s super moist because it has sour cream in it. Which is also how it got its name.  When asked why she called it Jewish Coffee Cake, she didn’t know why, except “Because there’s sour cream in it.” But before she met my dad, my grandma had never met a Jew before.

That was the best answer she could come up with, and though it didn’t make much sense, that’s what Jewish meant to her: a particular infamous and unfamiliar-to-her ingredient. I never identified with any one religion or just one heritage, but to me, Jewish (and Italian and Irish) means food and family. And this simple recipe represents the melding of my backgrounds in a cake (which happens to be my favorite food).

Grandma Rita passed this weekend but her legacy lives on in all her children, her grandchildren, and even this cake. It’s one of my all-time favorite recipes and I look forward to making it and thinking of her for many years to come. For my family, here is the recipe and I hope you will make it often and think of our wonderful family often. For everyone else, this recipe is truly delicious so I do hope you try it. And when you do, I hope you make your own memories over it and share with people you love. That’s what Rita would have wanted.

Grandma Rita's Jewish Coffee Cake

Grandma Rita’s Jewish Coffee Cake

Cake Ingredients:
3 cups flour
15 oz sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cup butter (3 sticks), softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup chopped nuts (walnuts + pecans)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a bundt pan with butter very well.
  2. Make the batter: In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir in sour cream.
  3. In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, white sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Slowly incorporate flour mixture into sugar mix.
  4. Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine nuts, sugar, flour, cinnamon.
  5. Sprinkle topping at the bottom of the bundt pan, layer with half of the batter, the rest of the topping, then the rest of the batter.
  6. Bake for 1 hour. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert and let cool on wire rack.

Grandma Rita's Jewish Coffee Cake


Sunday Pasta: Uncomplicated Bolognese

Cupcakes for Breakfast: Sunday Pasta Bolognese

A simple bolognese comes with many food memories for me. Mostly involving boys. Boys like meat sauce. It’s just a given. It’s hearty and manly, yet also comforting like something mom would make to feed them while they were growing kids. See? It’s all about the memories.

I made my first bolognese when I was 14 for Aaron, my high school boyfriend. I shopped for all the ingredients myself – especially confused that you’d put carrots in tomato sauce. I studied my mom’s Joy of Cooking recipe with each step: the chopping, sautéeing, sweating, browning, simmering, stirring. I was on my own on this cooking endeavor. I was so anxious about doing it right and if he would like it. I learned so much that afternoon.

I didn’t know I would want to become very familiar with this kind of adventure as an adult. It’s still a treat to me when I learn in the kitchen. I really should do this more. In addition to the joy I get from cooking, there’s also a zen that comes with it. Life isn’t complicated in here. Men aren’t confusing. Work isn’t overwhelming. It’s ok that I’m not doing something more or making more plans. I crave these moments of uncomplicated. Thank you, food.

This bolognese is not a challenge. It’s uncomplicated. At least I hope it’s not for you if you would like to try it. I threw this together within in hour when I made impromptu plans to have guest over for dinner. Running to the market for supplies (don’t forget a crusty baguette for garlic bread), swiftly getting the ingredients into the pot, cleaning as I’m going (I rarely do this, but when I do I love myself), teeing up the pasta to cook and the dishes for serving, saving a minute to check your hair isn’t a complete mess. Brush off your shoulder. Damn nice work.

It doesn’t take much to impress me or bring me joy. I’d like to think this bolognese is the same way. A simple way to impress and bring joy. We ate comfortably on the couch with a bottle of pale rosé. With a salad of torn local lettuces and heirloom tomatoe slices. We sopped up the sauce with thick pieces of garlic bread. Casual. Easy. Memorable. Uncomplicated.

Cupcakes for Breakfast: Sunday Pasta Bolognese

Sunday Pasta – Uncomplicated Bolognese

In a heavy sauce pan, heat about 1/4 cup olive oil. Sauté onion (about one whole, chopped) and a few cloves of chopped garlic. Once onions are soft, add carrot (about 2 whole, shredded) and stir. Add ground beef, break up pieces, and stir until browned. Once the beef is browned, add a can of whole peeled tomatoes (squish tomatoes in your hand to break up before adding) and a can of crushed tomatoes. Simmer on low for a while. If needed, add some tomato paste to thicken. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, basil. Spoon over thick pasta & sprinkle with Parm.

For garlic bread – melt butter and a few chopped cloves of garlic in a small sauce pan. Pour over bread that’s halved lengthwise. Bake for about 10 minutes in a 400° oven or until browned.

Cupcakes for Breakfast: Sunday Pasta Bolognese

Portland, Maine

Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – Eastern Promendade

From a New Years post about resolutions: See the world. It’s time to go exploring. It’s a great feeling to realize you’re accomplishing little goals set months ago. Last weekend I escaped the humidity and wacky DC weather and went to Portland, Maine with Jenna and Tammy.

It’s a quick flight up from DC, but you’ll feel far and away. Our weekend was centered around food – no surprise there, it’s how I met these good friends. But there’s something great about traveling with people who all feel the same way about something. A second coffee shop to compare beans and baked goods? Absolutely. A third lobster roll? Duh. Naps before dinner? Of course.

Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – Eventide Oyster tunaCupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – Oxbow beerCupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – Eventide Oyster pork Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – Lobster Roll at Eventide Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine

Places to go, things to eat in Portland, Maine

Eventide Oyster Co.– the four photos above are from this seriously special spot. We loved it somuch, we went back twice. Order: brown butter lobster rolls, fried chicken rolls with homemade buttermilk ranch, crispy pork, tuna tartare, fried oyster rolls with tartar sauce, giant homemade ice cream sandwiches.

Oxbow – local Portland brewery. I loved the Grizacca

Speckled Axe – cute coffee shop with the nicest people, wood roasted coffee, and killer cake doughnuts. I didn’t make it to Tandem Coffee, but would have liked to also.

Hugo’s – same (brilliant) owners as Eventide. Tasting menu. Pricey but fantastic, especially if you’re a seafood lover.

Piccolo – a charming little Italian restaurant. The cavatelli pasta with lamb neck ragu, eggplant, orange, and Pecorino was stellar – I want to put orange in all of my pastas now.

Eastern Promenade – loved our long walk along the water here, even on a cloudy morning. We didn’t go, but I heard great things about the Front Room restaurant nearby for brunch.

Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – Standard Baking Co

Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – Becky's Diner Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – East End Beach

Standard Baking Co. – fresh bread and baked goods from one of the best. Their cookbooks are fantastic too.

Portland Hunt & Alpine Club – great cocktail bar, cute dudes, awesome decor.

K. Colette – obsessed with this home decor shop downtown. It’s a must-visit for colorful bedding, beautiful gifts, and fun kitchen accessories.

Becky’s Diner – reminds me of NJ diners and summer vacations (Downeyflake on Nantucket) all at once. Perfect on a rainy day. Homemade hash and pancakes were seriously excellent. I wish we all had a Becky’s nearby.

Ok, and just one more lobster roll at Eventide, please.

Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – Eventide Oyster Co Cupcakes for Breakfast: Portland Maine – East End Beach

Taste of Summer

Taste of Summer: Peach Cobbler Taste of Summer: strawberries Taste of Summer: proscuitto Taste of Summer: spring onions Taste of Summer: chaia dc tacos Taste of Summer: whiskey cocktails

A few favorite tastes of early summer:

homemade peach cobbler and vanilla bean ice cream

strawberries fresh from the farmer’s market

thinly sliced prosciutto – served with basil, melon, or burrata 

these bright onions that remind me of the sea

veggie tacos in the park

summer smoke: whiskey cocktails + fire pits

Trying to savor every bit of it. Need more moments like these. S’mores and peaches and beer outside…these things just taste better.