Grandma Cake (Sour Cream Coffee Cake)

I am going to a potluck tonight where we have been asked to bring a dish that was traditional in our family. This is the cake that was at every occasion. It was at holiday dinners (okay, not Passover) and at casual family gatherings. There was usually some left over to be eaten later for “coffee with a little something”.

My Grandma Fredyl, being from the “old country”, never used a recipe when she cooked. She threw in a handful of this and a pinch of that until it felt right. Whatever she made always turned out fabulous, especially the baked goods. My memory of my grandmother’s little apartment is that it was full of long taffeta gowns (she was a seamstress) and always smelled cozily of baking butter and cinnamon.  Family legend has it that Aunt Gladys, fearing that the formula for her mother’s wonderful cakes and cookies would vanish when Grandma passed on, shadowed Grandma around the kitchen as she baked. (My image of this is rather funny, Gladys being a large woman about 6 feet tall, and Grandma a diminutive white-haired lady, barely 4’10”.) Each time Grandma threw a handful or a pinch into the bowl, Gladys stuck out a measuring cup so she could codify the ingredients.  This cake is one of the results of her efforts.

I was surprised when I dug out the recipe that it wasn’t all that high  in fat. It doesn’t have as much butter as some cakes, and all I did to lighten it up was to use egg substitute and non-fat sour cream. I also used fewer nuts, although my memory of the cake is that it only had a sprinkling of nuts. I toasted the nuts to bring out their flavor.  It also makes a lot of servings without the slices having to be paper thin. Given that this was a dish to take to a gathering, I didn’t try to bring the fat down to 2-3 grams/serving by substituting applesauce for some of the butter, but it is still reasonably low fat/serving.  And when I baked it the whole house smelled like a memory of home,

Grandma Cake (Sour Cream Coffee Cake)

Cooking spray
1/4 pound butter (1 stick) softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour (plus a little for the pan)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup non-fat sour cream
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (my mother used walnuts, but I knew that someone at the gathering tonight was allergic to them)
cinnamon sugar mix (see hint)

Preheat oven to 325. Spray a tube pan (the standard size) with cooking spray and dust lightly with flour. Be sure to tap the pan so that excess flour comes out.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until smooth and well blended. Add egg substitute and vanilla and beat until well blended.  Add flour and sour cream alternately, starting and ending with flour. (I usually add the flour 3 times and the sour cream twice. I used to think that this alternate adding was the result of Aunt Gladys’s recipe recording technique, but I’ve actually seen it in other recipes.) Beat on low speed after each addition until combined. Don’t over beat.

Put I/2 of batter in tube pan and spread more or less evenly. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar mix and then sprinkle nuts evenly over cinnamon and sugar.

cake batter

Spoon remaining batter over cinnamon-sugar-nut layer, spreading gently so the batter more or less covers that layer. Bake at 325 for 40-45 minutes or until a wood pick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes. If you have the kind of tube pan with a removable center, loosen the cake around the sides with a knife, and cool for 20 more minutes otherwise cool in pan for 30 minutes.  Remove from cake from pan and sprinkle  top with cinnamon-sugar mix (my mother sprinkled the top with more chopped nuts, but that would have added another gram or so of fat, and besides, it’s my recall that most of them fell off when you cut the cake. Cool completely on a wire rack.

cake on rack

This makes  20 servings at about 6 grams of fat/serving.

cake on grandma plate

Grandma cake on Grandma’s glass serving plate.

cake on my plate

Grandma cake on my plate. Ooops, it didn’t make it to the potluck. And it tasted just like my mom’s.

Hint: If you don’t keep cinnamon-sugar mix handy, you should mix some up.  It’s useful for sprinkling on so many things – oatmeal, toast, bananas, whatever.  There’s no recipe – just add enough cinnamon to the sugar to make it as cinnamony as you like.  I keep mine in a shaker right on the table.

cake cinnamon


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I have lost 200 pounds. I did not do it through surgery – I don’t like knives and needles – or by joining a club, vigorous exercise, or rigorous dieting. I did it by gourmet cooking. To be precise, by cooking low fat, really delicious food. I love to cook as much as I love to eat. Food magazines are some of my favorite reading. I would feel deprived if I couldn’t have the sensuous experience of good food crossing my lips. This blog is about my perpetual feast, my passionate love of food, with recipes, photos, and occasional advice and principles that I have learned along the way.

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