Hell's KItchen © Elizabeth G Fagan, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigan's Left Coast

Baking Bread in General

Grandma Grace’s Coffee Cake

Paul Hollywood from The Great British Baking Show told me that German cakes are unique because they are made with yeast. Everyone else, throw in the eggs, soda, powder, salt, and the cake will rise. Figures Germans had to over engineer.

My German Grandmother, my Mom’s Mom, made a yeasted coffee cake. When we were little, we looked forward to that coffee cake on the drive to Grandma’s. The next morning we had a coffee-cake feast. We added a wad of butter when Mom wasn’t looking. In the afternoon, we would sneak into Grandma’s pantry to scarf breakfast leftovers. My sisters and I still bond over scant coffee-cake memories.

Women in my family have attempted to duplicate that yeasted coffee cake. We have all failed.

I like to practice yeast breads with Paul Hollywood. For the first time I know what rising bread should look like. I also know what Paul’s Technical Bakes must be like. That’s when they give the bakers ingredients but no instructions. Grandma Grace bestowed a recipe card that listed neither directions nor salt.

My German antecedents had children, so they must have participated all the related activities. Then they sat around in their homes, which were small. Wisconsin winters were brutal before the climate started changing. The stove was nearby, especially if was wood burning. They could easily keep an eye on what they were cooking/baking.

They could knead; prove on instinct; knead again; prove again—this time overnight in pans put in a cold place—knead more; push into shape; add sugar, cinnamon, and generous pats of butter; then bake at the right temperature for the right amount of time. All this mishigas is required for Grandma’s coffee cake.

In the way back olden days, our German ladies didn’t drive—or didn’t drive much. Many didn’t even have cars. They didn’t have to drive to Costco, run to the hardware store, take a German Shepherd puppy to a dog park for at least an hour, have an uninterrupted Zoom yoga class, or get a doctor’s appointment in the Covid-struck health industry. I guess that’s why Betty Crocker was invented.

Still, I’d rather bake like Paul than Betty. What I really want is to bake a spot-on resurrection of Grandma Grace’s yeasted coffee cake.


Elizabeth G Fagan and Ruby, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigan's Left Coast
Elizabeth G Fagan and Ruby, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigan’s Left Coast

About the Author

Elizabeth G Fagan resides on Lake Michigan’s shoreline in southeastern Wisconsin—a place she calls Lake Michigan’s Left Coast. She is a professional writer and editor. She operates her own consulting business. In her spare time, she makes art and takes her German Shepherd puppy to the dog park.

Contact Elizabeth G Fagan

In her teens, Fagan attended The Hammonasset School, a private arts school on Connecticut’s shoreline. She created visual art in various media. She took photos with her Minolta and developed them in the school’s dark room. She wrote stories and essays.

She got a BA in English at Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa) and the University of Illinois, Chicago. She went on to get an MA in Linguistics, specializing is TESL. Later she attended DePaul University in Chicago for a Web Development degree. Her professional career has long and successful.

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