May 30, 2021

HERITAGE RECIPE: Nan's Coffee Cake

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I really messed up the heritage recipe I'd chosen to make this week; I wanted another try, though! I was pretty sure I knew exactly what I did wrong (even as I was doing it). I tried again today, and I'm pretty sure I got it right this time ;)

I picked this recipe from my grandma's recipe book. It's called "Nan's Coffee Cake" and when I saw "Nan", I was very curious of who that was. (When I hear "Nan", I immediately think of "Nana", a term of endearment for grandmother--so I thought it sounded like an old recipe!) I asked my mom and she told me that "Nan" was actually her dad's brother's wife.

This led to my learning some very cool stories about my grandfather and his family, but I'll share that at the end of this post in case you are just here for the recipe. I am going to share how I screwed this up, though, because it was pretty funny!

As always, I followed the recipe exactly as written, interpreting the unclear parts to the best of my knowledge. I will write out the recipe here exactly as-written by my grandma, but I'll decipher it it for the printable copy so that it's clear.

If you JUST want the recipe, then just click on the printer-friendly version link below.

Here is a printer-friendly version!

Nan's Coffee Cake

Dissolve 2 yeast cakes in 1 C. water
1 C. milk heated to scalding.
Add 1 stick margarine, 2 tsp. salt
2/3 C. honey
Beat 2 eggs--add liquid and yeast
Add 3 C. white flour and 2 C. WW
Double in bulk
Divide in 4 and roll in rectangles.
Melt margarine. Sprinkle with sugar
and cinnamon to taste. Roll and cut
to put in pan that has been greased,
spread with nuts, syrup (maple).
Place in 9" cake pan--double in bulk.
Bake 10 to 12 min. in 400 degree oven.

Soooo, there you have it! That's the recipe as written by my grandma. Below, I'll write out the steps that I did and then reveal the mess it turned out to be. And finally, how I corrected it the second time around.

I bought fresh yeast after learning my lesson with the sweet rolls I made (when I substituted dry yeast and the rolls did not rise AT ALL). This is what the fresh yeast looks like. It's in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, near the biscuits and butter and all that.

Note: There are two different sizes of yeast cakes. I am glad that I looked at the label before using it! I bought two cakes (as shown above, which are 2 oz. each), but each is the equivalent of three smaller ones. A small yeast cake is meant for a recipe that uses about 3 cups of flour, so it made sense that the recipe called for two small cakes. I used 2/3 of one of the (2 oz) yeast cakes that I bought.

I scalded the milk and then added 1 cup of cold water to it, which would make it warm rather than hot (in order to dissolve the yeast without "killing" it? I don't know--in most yeast recipes, it says to use warm water, so that's what I did.) I added the yeast and stirred it until it dissolved.

In my mixer, I beat two eggs, then added the margarine, salt, honey, and milk/yeast mixture. It looked kind of gross at this point, but I knew it would look better after adding the flour.

I measured out the flour carefully. I tend to use too much flour when baking, so I wanted to be very careful that it wasn't too packed down in the measuring cup. I added the flour to the mixer, and after stirring with the dough hook, the dough was still VERY sticky. See photo below:

I knew there was no way I was going to be able to roll this dough out at this texture, so I figured that when making the recipe, maybe "Nan" just added flour to get the right consistency and estimated the amount when she gave my grandma the recipe. I know when I cook, there are a lot of things that I can't accurately tell you the measurements--I just have to see how it looks or feels as I am cooking.

Anyway, I added some more flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, until the consistency was more like bread dough--where I could knead it and roll it out. It ended up taking 2 extra cups of flour!

I let it rise for a while (and thankfully it did!).

I wasn't sure what type of pan to use--it says a 9" cake pan, but I didn't know if that meant a round pan or a square baking dish, or something else. When I saw how much dough there was, I decided to go with a square baking dish because it's taller. There was a LOT of dough for such a small dish!

I divided the dough into four and rolled each into a rectangle. Then I melted 4 Tbsp. margarine in the microwave and brushed it onto the rectangles. Then I sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar (I can't say how much, but I made sure that the whole surface was coated.

Then, I rolled up each rectangle. This was another thing that wasn't super clear in the recipe--but I guessed that I was to slice it like you would when making cinnamon rolls and then put the slices next to each other in the pan. Well, this is where I definitely doubted myself.

With all of that dough, I was going to have to CRAM it into the pan. But I decided just to go with it and see what happened. I made the slices very wide so that they would stand up tall in the pan, giving more room across the bottom to squeeze in more slices.

I chopped up about 1/4 cup of pecans and sprinkled them on, and I drizzled about 1/4 cup of maple syrup over it. It looked like a disaster waiting to happen when it went into the oven:

But I put it in the oven at 400 F, and set the timer for 12 minutes. When the timer beeped, I could clearly see that it was nowhere near baked through. I kept resetting the timer in 10 minute intervals, and it took over an HOUR to bake! When I pulled it out of the oven, I literally laughed out loud.

Jerry saw it and said, "Holy shit! What happened? Noah, come see this!"

Noah comes in and says, "Ohmygosh, what the heck did you do?!"

Eli (the sweetheart) came in and said, "I bet it tastes good!"

He was right--it actually tasted really good.

But I clearly had done something wrong, because I was sure it wasn't supposed to look like that. Since I had another fresh yeast cake, I decided to try it again today.

I guessed that what I was supposed to have done was to make four separate cakes out of the four portions of dough. Slice the rolls thinner and lay them out in the pan so they aren't crammed in there, but close enough to bake into each other, making one cake instead of several cinnamon rolls.

I followed all the same steps as before, but I was heavier handed with the four (I ended up needing to add 1 cup to the recipe, plus the flour that I sprinkled on the counter when rolling it out). Once I had rolled it into a log shape, I sliced it on the thin side (maybe 1/2 to 2/3 of an inch?) and placed the slices in the (greased) pan. Oh! And I used a round cake pan this time. It made more sense to me.

Popped it into the oven for 12 minutes, and it was perfect! I cut it like a cake rather than pulling it apart like cinnamon rolls (I think that's how it's meant to be done). The slices aren't very tall, so I would say you would get about 4-6 servings out of one cake pan. With a full recipe of dough, you'd get four cakes, meaning 16-24 servings.

My family LOVED it. Noah and Eli ate a whole pan of it right after I took it out of the oven. It's an interesting recipe, too--the only sweetener in the dough itself is honey. I've never seen a recipe like that. Of course there is sugar when you roll it up, but even that was probably only a couple of tablespoons. 

Because I'm counting calories, I entered the info into FatSecret, and it has about 200 calories per piece if you slice each pan into 6 pieces or 300 calories if you slice it into 4. Not bad at all! It was tempting to make cream cheese frosting for it, but I restrained myself ;)

Below, I've written the story I mentioned about my grandfather's family...

Unfortunately, I never got to meet my mom's father. He passed away from a heart attack on Father's Day, June 21st, 1970 (my mom was only 18; and coincidentally, my dad had asked her dad for her hand in marriage that day!).

From everything I've heard about my grandfather, I really wish that I'd had the chance to know him. His name was DeLand, but was affectionately known as "Pippi" in my family. And I could do a whole series of posts just about the things I've learned about him--he was very well-known in the area where I grew up and did a ton for the city and community (I just learned today that he even purchased the very first firetruck for the Rockwood Fire Department).

I have some very cool stories about Pippi, but I'll save those for another post. When I decided to make "Nan's Coffee Cake", I learned about Pippi's brothers, and my mom showed me a very interesting news article about one of his brothers that I'll summarize here.

Pippi had three brothers: Donald (who passed away at just 17 months old); LeGrand, who was 10 years older than Pippi; and Ronald, who was 10 years younger than Pippi. LeGrand married a woman named Nancy--which is where the "Nan" comes from in regards to the coffee cake. I don't know anything about her (LeGrand married her and lived in Georgia, but my grandma would go visit them sometimes).

Here is a photo of LeGrand, Ronald, and DeLand (Pippi):

This story has nothing to do with Nancy or LeGrand or Nancy's coffee cake; but I still wanted to share it. It's about Ronald, Pippi's younger brother, as well as their father, Daniel. There was a write-up in the Monroe Evening News on February 22, 1935, but I'll summarize here...

Daniel had arrived home from work in the late afternoon when he learned that Ronald (who was 10 years old at the time) needed help on a bridge. So he brought DeLand (Pippi, who was 20 years old) with him. Ronald had been out walking with his dog, Rex, and they were crossing a bridge when the dog slipped. Rex didn't fall, but was he then too scared to move and go back to Ronald, who was on an adjacent bridge tie. Ronald balanced on on the tie and steadied the dog for more than half an hour. If either of them moved, they would have fallen into the river. (I'm not sure how Daniel heard of his son's predicament).

Daniel and DeLand arrived and together they laid narrow planks out to Ronald and Rex, allowing them to be able to safely get back on solid ground. The boys' mom, Gertrude, had driven over in another car, and arrived just after Ronald made it across. Daniel told her that they were lucky to still have their son. He and Gertrude got into one car, while DeLand drove the other car home.

They had joked about the heavy snow and how slippery the roads were, but Daniel assured her that he would get them home safely. They drove only a short distance when Daniel slumped at the wheel. Gertrude shut off the motor and brought the car to a stop so it wouldn't go into a ditch. Daniel was carried into a nearby house (I'm assuming by passers-by) but never regained consciousness--he'd passed away from a sudden heart attack just after rescuing his son and dog. He was only 56 years old.

Isn't that a tragic story? Ronald must have felt terrible after that--it was not at all his fault that his dad suffered a heart attack, but I can imagine that he may have felt that way. When I read this article, I wanted to learn more! So I'm actually getting together with my mom and my Aunt Mickey on Wednesday to learn what they can tell me about my family.

Anyway, like I said--not related to Nan's Coffee Cake! But the coffee cake recipe is what led me to learn of this story of how my great grandfather died.


  1. Interesting stories about your family. I love reading and hearing family histories. :)

    And your "fail" looks absolutely delicious!

  2. Just curious: Is there a story behind their names? DeLand & LeGrand, Ronald & Donald seems such a bizarre set of names for 4 brothers (the similarity between some of the names and 2 such exotic names vs. 2 common names).

    1. I had the same thought! I'm not sure where the names came from. From what I can see in the family tree, they aren't names that have been passed down generations. I've never heard of another DeLand or LeGrand--interesting names! I wish I knew if there was a story behind them.

  3. That is a crazy story! It's so cool for you to be able to learn more about your family. That recipe looks delicious!

  4. This was a very interesting and tragic story! I love learning about history like that. I'm intrigued by their names too! DeLand and LeGrand are both such interesting names! The coffee cake looks delicious!


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