We all appreciate the taste of our favorite foods, be it a smoky slab of bacon, a rich square of dark chocolate, or the tender, juicy flesh of a ripe mango, but the real joys of eating go beyond these isolated experiences. They demand perspective to unveil something more powerful, to reveal how food nourishes not just the body, but the soul. The context in which we eat - where, when, with whom - brings greater meaning to the table, invoking any number of feelings, creating memories that when significant enough, establish tradition.
While I am endlessly curious about the many culinary rituals of our world, I am of course comforted by my own.
One steadfast tradition in my family is spending summers at Watervale - an old logging town turned seasonal resort set along the northwestern shores of Lake Michigan. This place, a quaint haven amongst the woods, lakes and dunes, is so dear to my heart I often struggle to capture it in words.
My fondest memories of Watervale are never recalled without the presence of food. For over twenty years I have returned to the old Inn to dine over her Victorian pine floors and freshly-pressed pastel linens (save for the summer I spent working behind the kitchen doors). Each time I come back, the familiar taste of sweet tomato dill soup, fresh-caught walleye, and warm peach cobbler make me feel whole.
One of the dining room rituals at the Inn is the certain appearance of freshly baked coffee cakes placed on the table each morning before breakfast is even ordered. From Sunday Kuchen and blueberry buckle to buttery scones and shortbread, these morning treats alongside a cup (or three) of strong black coffee is the ideal way to wake up.
I could never recreate any of these recipes - for one, because the Inn’s baker would never reveal her secrets - but also because I know my efforts would always be in vain; without the backdrop of the lake and the buzzing noise of the dining room, shrouded in morning light, they would never taste the same.
I can, however, create something inspired by these recipes and memories. In doing so, I am carrying on these cherished traditions, but also sharing them with new faces in my own kitchen, which is after all the best part about coming together around the table.
With that in mind, I recently made this cake over a long weekend, loosely based Watervale’s Morning Glory Muffins. Dave and I each had a heaping slice for breakfast alongside coffee, berries, and yogurt, but the warm spices and coconut flakes make it rather suitable for dessert, too - just swap your yogurt for some fresh cream.
Spiced Coffee Cake with Coconut + Rose
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup spelt flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 stick butter, melted
1 vanilla bean
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 large carrots, shredded
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup coconut flakes, plus two tablespoons
1 tablespoon raw sugar
2 tablespoons dried rose petals
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk butter and eggs, until well combined. Whisk in vanilla bean, milk, and maple syrup. Using a wooden spoon, stir in carrots, dates, walnuts, and 1/2 cup coconut flakes.
In batches, add dry ingredients to wet, stirring until just combined.
In a small bowl, toss remaining 2 tablespoons coconut flakes and rose petals with sugar.
Using a rubber spatula, transfer batter to a lightly-buttered 9-inch cake pan. Sprinkle evenly with rose-coconut sugar and gently press into surface of cake. Bake until cake is golden and an inserted toothpick comes out clean, 30-40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, fresh cream, or yogurt and berries.