Gram's Coffee Cake

Meet my favourite cake. 

A single-layer, vanilla variety studded with cinnamon-y Granny Smiths. It may not be the prettiest or most elaborate thing I’ve ever made, but this is easily the most special cake in my repertoire.

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The recipe came from my grandmother, who would make it whenever she travelled from Prince Edward Island to visit our family. It’s the cake of my childhood: of my first forays in the kitchen; of summer camping trips where, on mornings when we’d hit the road early, cake stood in for breakfast; of our family dogs who would, if ever you looked away from your plate, give your slice the attention it deserved. Baking of Proustian proportions it’s not, but the memories it evokes are mine and wholly happy. 

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When my grandmother passed away nearly a decade ago, the recipe seemed lost for good. Not the sort of cake we’d make without her, no one in my extended family had written the recipe down. Last year, just a month after I’d sliced into another disappointing attempt at a passable replacement, my aunt Lauraine found it, tucked inside a notebook detailing the dishes Gram would make when she came to Alberta.

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I’d been holding off on making it until the right occasion came along. And now, as so many of the people I care about have something to celebrate – from birthdays to big-deal life changes and achievement – it’s time. Because this cake – essentially the baked-good version of a tight hug, with its warm batter enveloping squishy little bits of apple – is a coffee cake, something that’s meant to be shared with the people you love. 

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So I made it yesterday. Having put it in a too-small pan, it rose to great heights before unceremoniously overflowing onto my oven floor. Baking gods on my side (well, sort of), my oven didn’t burst into flame and the cake tasted just fine. It didn’t look quite right though – monstrously bubbly at the edges – so I gave it another go, this time in a slightly too-big pan (the proper ones, if you’re wondering, are with my parents on PEI). And though the apple goo was spread a little thinner than it should be, the cake turned out once more.  

With a tender, sweet vanilla crumb that finds balance in a sugar-crisp shell dotted with tart bites of cinnamon-spicy apples, it’s happiness. And I’ve got lots of it. So for those of you celebrating: expect cake. And those of you who aren’t (your time will come!): expect cake. And for those of you at a distance: give the recipe a try while you wait, but next time I see you, we’re making cake. I’ve got a good recipe.
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Gram’s Coffee Cake
Makes one single-layer, 9-inch square cake
Note: Don’t be tempted to use a smaller cake pan — the cake needs all of that room to keep from bubbling over!

Ingredients
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup of milk (I used 2%)
1/2 cup Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced into 1-cm cubes
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon

Directions
1. Butter and flour a 9-inch square cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together baking powder, salt and 1.5 cups of flour. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and granulated sugar.*
4. Add egg and vanilla to creamed mixture and beat until light and fluffy.  

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5. Add a third of the sifted mixture to the creamed mixture and stir to lightly combine. 
6. Add half of the milk to the creamed mixture, and stir to lightly combine.
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6, adding another third of the sifted mixture, followed by the remaining milk, followed by the remaining flour, stirring lightly after each addition to combine. Don’t overmix! 
8. Spread batter into prepared cake pan.

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9. In a small bowl, combine apple, brown sugar, melted butter, remaining 2 tbsp of flour, and cinnamon and stir until apples are evenly coated with the resulting goo. 
10. Sprinkle apple mixture evenly overtop cake.
11. Bake cake for 40-50 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. 

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*You can do steps 3-7 in a large bowl using a spoon or hand mixer, or in a stand mixer (keep the speed of your mixer low for steps 5-7)— either works just fine!

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