It’s become a tradition in Minnesota, every Sunday after church, for my parents and I and whoever tagged along that morning to go back to my grandparents’ house for coffee and a treat. Before this, the last time we regularly spent our Sunday mornings with them was about 16 years ago, so I can’t say I remember what we did after church back then, considering I was seven years old and probably only wanted to come home and eat something. So, yeah, we probably have a similar tradition back then.
This simple hour of coffee and snacking and chatting means the world to my grandparents, and the same to me. Each time I’m in Minnesota visiting, I look forward to spending time with them most. My grandpa tells stories about being the Navy while my grandma cracks a few jokes to draw attention and make sure everyone no one has gotten too serious for even a minute. If he were here, my brother would laugh his distinct, oh-so-genuine and contagious giggle (you know what I mean if you’ve heard it before). Dad just kind of rolls his eyes across the room and Mom and I always laugh along.
It’s just coffee and a treat, so how these simplicities are so powerful in bringing us all together in such rich joy, multiplying our love as a family, amazes me every time. I’m beyond thankful for a finally clear mind and peaceful relationship with food that lets me focus all my attention on the people I love, rather than the food I’d restricted; for a family united, though maybe not completely; for Minnesota, where we’re all tied together, the incredible place we call “home”.
Alright, this is getting sappy. Let’s talk treats.
One of the last treats I remember my grandma made was a traditional Danish pastry. Everyone sat down at the table as I put the last few finishing touches on the pastry, as Grandma instructed, and poured the coffee. I set the pastry down and Dad’s lit up. He look at the beautiful twisted delicacy, humbly woven with a sweet, creamy filling and then up at me, pointing to indicate (without the need for words) that he wanted a replica of this at home, made by yours truly.
Then there was the time a few of the young girls had a bake sale at church, and they were selling caramel rolls - not a cinnamon roll, not a sticky bun, but something somewhere between the two: unbelievably soft and sweet and a little sticky and cinnamony. We all still talk about those and wonder when the next bake sale is because my grandma might just be their #1 customer.
And another time, I brought the final test of these scones, which I was a little bit nervous about because scones weren’t my thing back then (in the days before I started working as a baker, making 8-9 batches of scones per week). They weren’t the caramel rolls, but that’s okay because I was pretty proud of them and everyone seemed to enjoy the healthier vegan twist on a classic breakfast pastry. In fact, my uncle still asks about them and when I’ll make them again, and honestly, that’s all the approval and gratitude I need.
So, come July, when I’ve moved from my home of almost five years in San Luis Obispo to my forever home in Minnesota, this tender, crumbly, sweet and lightly spiced coffee cake is happening and I know everyone will love it. Dad loves blueberries and butter, so he’s already in. Grandma, Mom, and my uncle will eat just about anything I make, and Grandpa is butter’s biggest advocate. I’ve got ‘em all.
Makes 1 cake, about 6 slices
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. ginger
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup Lifeway Whole Milk Kefir
5 tbsp. grass-fed butter
2/3 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup organic frozen blueberries
Organic powdered sugar, for garnish (optional)
For the crumble:
8 tbsp. grass-fed butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup + 2 tbsp. whole-wheat flour
Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the 5 tbsp. grass-fed butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. If you’re new to browned butter, here’s a step-by-step tutorial with helpful pictures to guide you. Remove the skillet from heat and transfer the browned butter to a small bowl when it is bubbly on top and golden brown. Use a spatula to lightly scrape some of the bits off the bottom of your skillet to check the color. It goes from browned to burnt quickly, so keep an eye on it. Let it cool before adding it to the wet ingredients.
Repeat the browning butter process with the butter to be used in the crumble. Set this aside to cool while you prepare the cake.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and lightly grease a 9x5 loaf pan with grass-fed butter. Set aside.
Prepare the cake. In a large mixing bowl, “cream” the browned butter, coconut sugar, and maple syrup until fluffy. I say “cream” because this process won’t be identical to creaming room temperature butter and granulated sugar - rather, the two will form an almost homogenous mixture. You’ll see granules of coconut sugar, but the majority of the mixture will be smooth. Next, add the egg and vanilla extract and beat again until smooth.
Combine the dry ingredients - the flour, baking powder, spices, and sea salt - a small bowl. Add 1/3 of this mixture to the butter-sugar-egg bowl, followed by 1/4 cup of the kefir. Repeat this alternating process just until the batter comes together. Don’t over-mix - keep the cake tender and crumbly! Set this aside.
Prepare the crumble. Combine the cooled browned butter, sugar, flour, and spices just until some lumps remain - keep it “crumbly”.
In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with a sprinkle or two of whole-wheat flour until they are coated. This prevents them from sinking through the batter to the bottom of the pan while baking.
Pour half of the cake batter into the greased pan and top with floured frozen blueberries. Sprinkle about half the crumble over the blueberries. Pour the remaining batter on top, followed by the rest of the crumble.
Bake for 40-45 minutes. At the 40-minute mark, poke a toothpick through the center of the cake, pull it out and check for any wet batter - if the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is finished baking. If it comes out with some batter on it, continue baking for 2-3 minutes, then check again with a new toothpick.
Cool completely before cutting into the cake. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to two months.
Adapted from here.