Blueberry Coffee Cake: Nostalgia Foods

I was just home visiting my parents last weekend, so the cooking theme on my mind this week is nostalgia foods.

For me, these are usually recipes that my Mom made for me when I was a kid. There's an extra joy in eating childhood foods as an adult. Somehow it unlocks just a little bit of that childlike happiness that we tend to lose as we get older. For me, it's the combination of taste, smell and memory that brings these feelings rushing back.

Now that we're all serious, baggage-laden grownups, it's an all too rare occasion to reach that childlike state of happiness--that flowing mental state where you don't worry about the future or dwell upon the past, but instead you experience the simple joy of the present moment. And it feels all the sweeter when you also happen to be eating something really good.

Adult life--so often full of worries, obligations, tight schedules and vague sources of stress--doesn't let you get there too often, does it?

But of course nostalgia foods can be from any period of your life, not just childhood. I have plenty of nostalgia foods from my teens, my 20s and even my 30s.

I think maybe the best and simplest definition of nostalgia food is any food that reminds you of your past in a happy, simple and heartfelt way.

And the more I think about it, maybe the entire reason why I'm on a cooking journey to try new recipes and new cuisines is in order to create salient and memorable food experiences that might someday become tomorrow's nostalgia foods!

Today I'm going to share with you a favorite from my childhood: my Mom's blueberry coffee cake. It's perfect for this time of year because blueberries are in season right now in the Northeastern US.

We'd have it on occasional Sundays when I was a kid, either before or after going to church. It was always a special treat that I looked forward to. Funny how I never asked my mother for the recipe until now. But now that I have it, I'd like to share it with you too.

Blueberry Coffee Cake

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (note: be sure to sift flour first, then measure. Also don't use plain white flour--be sure to use cake flour--you can find it in the baking aisle of any grocery store)
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter (half a stick, or 4 Tablespoons)
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup blueberries (note: you can use frozen or fresh blueberries; if frozen, be sure to thaw them out first--don't add frozen blueberries directly into the batter or you'll have "cold zones" in the coffee cake that will come out undercooked and gooey)

Topping mixes:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 1/2 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon butter

Measure sifted flour. Add baking powder, salt and sift again.

Cream butter and sugar well, add egg and beat thoroughly.

Add flour, alternately with milk, beating well after each addition (note: my mother suggests adding about 1/4 of the flour, then alternate with 1/3 of the milk, then 1/4 of the flour, then 1/3 of the milk, etc, until you finish with the final 1/4 of the flour last).

Hand stir in the blueberries.

Pour batter into generously greased 9" layer pans (note: these are round pans usually used for layer cakes--at Casual Kitchen we actually don't own pans like this! You can use a 9" square baking pan instead with no problems).

Sprinkle the top of the batter with the "dry topping" mix of sugar and cinnamon.

Bake for 20 minutes at 375F. While the coffee cake is baking, warm the butter and milk (the "wet topping" mix) on low heat on the stove until the butter is melted. Stir well and spoon over the top of the coffee cake.

Then, bake for another 15 minutes at 375F. Serve warm.



Anonymous said...

This was a great topic. Too bad I can't channel any of your youthful bliss from this coffee cake.

And I loved the link to Heid's in Liverpool!

Dan P.

Daniel Koontz said...

Thanks for your post Dan!

Heid's rules. Absolutely rules. A coney at Heid's might just be one of Syracuse's most glorious foods... I have to do a post on that at some point.


Thomas said...

The problem is that the actual taste of the nostalgia food sometimes doesn't live up to the memory.

When I was a kid we lived down the block from a Baskin Robbins. I then moved to a series of locales w/o Baskin Robbins. In that time their "World Class Chocolate" flavor built itself up to mythical quality in my memory.

Now that I'm in NYC surrounded by Baskin Robbins? It turns out that World Class Chocolate is just mediocre chocolate ice cream mixed with a "white chocolate" that literally tastes like they're trying to save money by mixing it in there.

Daniel Koontz said...

I think that's just the Ben & Jerry's talking.

I used to love Howard Johnson's ice cream when I was a kid (ohhhh the ignorance of youth!)--I loved their mint chip ice cream.

And then when I was in high school, a friend of mine took me to the first Ben & Jerry's to open in Syracuse, NY. Their mint chip ice cream wasn't electric-green colored!

I asked the scooper guy "Why isn't the mint chip ice cream green?"

He told me "that's because we don't use any artificial colors--you ice cream lowbrow." (I think he muttered the "you ice cream lowbrow" part under his breath).

Anyway, one taste and I never went back to Howard Johnson's again.


Madeleien said...

If you use frozen blueberries, I've found it's best to rinse them well before adding them to the batter, otherwise your entire coffee cake will turn blue, giving lie to George Carlin's famous observation.

Daniel said...

Hi Madeleien, and thanks for your comment! I've found that rather than rinsing the blueberries, that it's better to just gently stir in the blueberries with only one or two stirs. That way they don't fall apart or overly-color the batter.

Thanks for reading!