Finally, Project Childhood Redux is up and running. I was hoping to start last weekend, but I ran into some unanticipated roadblocks. One unanticipated roadblock, actually: cheapo coffee cakes aren’t widely available where I live.
The staple of celebratory childhood Saturdays, the cheese Danish coffee cake (henceforth referred to as “coffee cake” — you all know I’m not referring to any other kind) is the stuff of bakery-aisle lore. Essentially a family-sized cheese Danish, the cake base is doughy, filled with sweet cheese, and drizzled with ribbons of ice-white frosting. (Alternately, the cake may be given a generous dusting of powdered sugar, but the kind we bought always, always had frosting.)
Once in a great while, my parents would pick up a coffee cake for Saturday breakfast. The purchase of the cakes was never associated with events — they weren’t bought to celebrate occasions, per se — but rather was the result of my parents’ whimsy — that, and the acknowledgement of my family’s deep and deeply-understood love of this rare treat. For it was a rare treat: my mom sought to instill in my sister and me healthy eating habits (which took, for the most part). Weekdays, we breakfasted on “adult” cereals like Raisin Bran, Cheerios, Corn Flakes, or Grape Nuts — no marshmallows here. Weekends were reserved for pancakes, scrambled eggs, or the occasional waffle. Coffee cake Saturdays were special: not only did my family buck its healthy breakfast habit, but cake days were never planned. The mere possibility of coffee cake kept me and my sis salivating like Pavlov’s pets, rapt in a state of constant expectation for that which might (or might not) be delivered.
Because we were kids, Ali and I had our cake with milk. Our parents must have had coffee. We ate our slices on saucers, using forks and knives, seated at our dining room table. (Note: weekend breakfasts were most always eaten in the dining room. During the course of a normal week, our kitchen table became a dumping ground for water bottles, junk mail, keys, purses, and so forth; by the time the weekend rolled around, it was unusable as a table.) I remember trying to savor my slice, using a Cutco steak knife to sliver off wedges with proportionate amounts of frosting and cheese. As a rule, seconds on cake were discouraged. But it often happened that one or the other of us would leave a knife in the coffee cake pan so that whoever walked by the kitchen counter could cut him or herself a tiny piece without drawing the attention that rustling in the cutlery drawer would certainly raise; so that the same person could nibble from the cake all day on the sly until, by late Saturday afternoon, the aluminum tray, mostly empty, was striated with knife cuts and crusted with frosting goo.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when I hit up the local Lucky last Saturday to purchase one such cake and found the bakery bereft. I was deep in disbelief: what kind of bakery department [in a marginal grocery store] doesn’t carry cheese Danish coffee cake? Or coffee cake at all, for that matter? There were stale-looking cookies, cheesecakes marbled with fudge and slathered with pectiny fruit topping, birthday sheet cakes adorned with Dora the Explorer and Miley Cyrus AND the cast of Shrek. But no coffee cake. Undeterred, I checked the Entenmann’s shelf for what might be a suitable replacement. Chocolate-dipped donuts: check. Plain donuts: check. Other products I was too distraught to fully take note of: check. Again, no cake.
I did find an Entenmann’s cheese-filled coffee cake eventually, and in the unlikeliest place: Andronico’s. When I saw it, I almost dropped my almond milk and St. Benoit. I clutched it to my chest as I waited to check out and pretended to ignore the cashier’s smirk as he scanned the two aforementioned items, the cake, a bottle of seltzer, and the new Harper’s. (I win the award for randomest grocery purchases.)
Tonight, Sabina and I put our beloved cake to the [taste] test. Like me, Sabina has fond childhood memories of cheese-filled coffee cake. Where my family bought the kind produced in-store, Sabina’s family always bought Entenmann’s, and so this test was also of great importance to her.
After work on Friday, I headed to Sabina’s, cake in tow. As soon as she opened the box, Sabina smiled at the sight of the crumbs of aggregated powdered sugar.
S. cut the cake, serving me the end slice. (Note: end slices are always my favorite, both with bread and loaf cakes.) Before eating, I took a moment to study the piece, its near-hidden streak of cheese filling and blanket of powdered sugar.
I’ll admit: my expectations for Entenmann’s weren’t too high. True, my memory painted this dessert as one fit for Louis XIV, but my childhood self also preferred Warheads, microwave kettlecorn, and Tahitian Treat. But I was pleasantly surprised. The cake was moist and the cheese was much less sweet than I predicted. The powdered sugar, though densely applied, was also not overwhelmingly sweet. While the cake isn’t something I’d pay $12 for at a restaurant, neither was it the Quick-Stop abomination that I feared it might be. It was tasty; I finished my slice. I’m still hoping to find a frosting-topped cheese coffee cake somewhere in this city, but I know that, in a pinch [of intense coffee-cake need], Entenmann’s will sate my hunger.
And so Project Childhood Redux moves forward. I was planning to sample Sno Balls next, but after this weekend’s chocolate festival I might lay off the sweets for a while — twelve to fourteen hours, at least. In the meantime, if you’d like to see one of your childhood favorites purchased, tasted, and heavily critiqued, drop me a line! I’ll do my best to hunt down your long-favored sleeve of cookies, bag of chips, or shrink-wrapped, frozen burrito.