My baking career started when I was a kid and became was obsessed with making no-bake cookies. Yes I realize that’s not even something you bake but it was a good start for a 10 year old. I quickly progressed to chocolate chip cookies, blondies, biscuits, and brownies. A few years into baking and reading cookbooks and I came across a recipe for coffee cake. I was fascinated! What was this exotic sounding cake?

A woman I babysat for had given me a stack of old Cook’s Illustrated magazines. This was a whole new world! I realized there were people who cooked and baked for a living. They then wrote about their cooking discoveries for the rest of us. I read those magazines over and over.

One day I decided I was going to make this divine sounding coffee cake. I had grown up eating cakes made from mixes and by this time I had even baked my own share of box cakes, as we called them. This coffee cake was something else though. The cake itself was described a buttery and called for buttermilk. It had a crumb topping with cinnamon, brown sugar, and pecans. What could be better!

I gathered the ingredients, even walking to our neighborhood grocery store for buttermilk. Since it was the 90s, I was using margarine. We hadn’t discovered yet that butter was the best thing ever. We always had pecans although it would be several years before we moved to the farm that would become a pecan orchard. Even now I buy pecans at Sam’s to use as decoy pecans so I can hoard my dad’s fresh cracked Kanza pecans.

I measured and mixed carefully following all the instructions. After smoothing out the rich batter, I sprinkled on the crumb topping. Proud as can be, I slid the coffee cake into our old gas oven and set the timer. Anxiously I waited as the smell of butter and sugar filled the kitchen. When the timer dinged I opened the oven to check the cake.

The instructions said to test the center of the cake, it should be firm. I obediently reached out to press the center to see if it was firm yet. This is the moment I learned an important baking lesson. If the cake or whatever you’re making has a sugary topping and you touch that sugary topping it will weld molten sugar to your fingertip. If you then freak out and wildly shake your hand to dislodge the sugar lava it might just fly off and attach itself to your upper lip. This is guaranteed to give you a second degree burn on your upper lip. This will be impossible to cover with a bandaid or anything else. Your poor little teenage self will have no choice but to wait around for this glaring wound to heal.

Back to the cake. Once I safely decided the coffee cake was done I took it out of the oven to cool. Already I was feeling pretty resentful toward the cake and the recipe that didn’t warn you of the dangerous crumb topping. However, the cake looked and smelled delicious. Maybe I could forgive it after all.

Finally it was time to serve the cake to my waiting family. Each slice was beautiful, the soft cake with it’s layer of buttery sugary nutty topping. We took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. Something was not right. The taste was off, the texture wrong. It wasn’t terrible but it also wasn’t good. To this day I have no idea what the problem was. I didn’t accidentally swap the sugar for salt or anything. It was a mystery!

The cake was put away in one of my mom’s cookie tins for later but after a few days I found it languishing, untouched. It was good and stale by this point. Admitting defeat, I took the remains of the cake out to feed our old dog Rocky.

Now before you say that a dog shouldn’t eat cake hear me out. My dad was raised by depression era parents and they instilled in him quite a few values related to their experience. First and foremost you don’t throw food in the trash. You eat it, freeze it for leaner times, feed an animal, or something along those lines. You never throw it out! Secondly, dog are outside pets and can eat anything. If it’s remotely edible a dog can eat it. My mom is less than thrilled when their farm dogs drag part of a carcass into her front yard but that’s what farm dogs do.

Rocky was my little brother’s dog, an old blue heeler we found abandoned as a puppy years before. He was white and grey with light blue eyes. His tail started wagging as soon as he saw me with a dish in my hand. I set the coffee cake down by his bowl so he could start enjoying it. As I walked back into the house I looked back over my shoulder. What I saw was astounding.

In a flash Rocky had carried the cake a few feet away from his bowl, quickly dug a hole, and was pushing the cake into the hole with his nose. At that exact moment he stopped and looked over his shoulder and saw me watching him. I swear that a look of pure guilt came over his face. Needless to say my family found this to be hilarious. To this day they will tease me about baking a cake that even a dog wouldn’t eat. It was many many years before I gathered the courage to make another coffee cake. Thankfully it was something I was able to overcome and my family loves my coffee cake now.

Coffee cake recipe.

Above you can see a photo of the infamous recipe. A couple of years ago I was on a trip to Kansas with some friends and came across these Cook’s Illustrated books at an antique shop. I quickly flipped through one and found a copy of the exact issue with the Quick Crumb Coffee Cake recipe. Obviously I had to buy it for my cookbook collection, aka research materials. I’ve yet to try it again but who knows, maybe soon I’ll make another one. Hopefully it will turn out better than the last time!