I come by my sweet-tooth naturally: nightly my paternal grandfather from Rhode Island put on his PJs, brushed his teeth, and got into bed with a book and a roll of Necco Wafers; he turned out the light when the last candy disk was gone. (Probably a well known fact: NECCO stands for New England Confectionary Company.)
We learned early on in our GF journey that Necco Wafers are gluten-free. Excellent news because in the days of pre-personal-electronics car travel (when license plate games were played with enthusiasm) a pack of Necco Wafers went a long way as we competed against each other to see who could make a single disk last longest. http://www.necco.com/FAQs.aspx.
Blum’s, an independent bakery famous for it’s Coffee Crunch Cake, was carved out of a corner of Macy’s Department Store on Union Square with it’s own entrance on Polk Street. (If you’ve read “Our Story” on this site you know my dad worked at Macy’s in San Francisco.) The signature ingredient of this special cake is also an old fashioned New England candy, sometimes called Molasses Sea Foam or Coffee Sponge. One had to order a “Crunch” cake weeks in advance and then carefully plan pick-up and transfer. When Blum’s closed in the mid-1970s, Stickney’s in Palo Alto started offering them. Space in the chilled display case was limited, so pick-up might be scheduled by the hour.
Coffee Crunch Cake has become a thing of lore in our extended family. It’s often requested as a birthday cake, Valentine’s Day Dessert, or Anniversary Cake. For months my dad has suggested I write it down for you. Last summer I baked gluten free “Crunch Cakes” for a several festive parties, regaling my dad with stories about its debut, so successful that some of the catering staff took photographs of it in the refrigerator and when it was plated; so successful that beautifully dressed, ordinarily well behaved guests could be found in the kitchen picking pieces of “crunch” off any that remained after it’d been served. I was delighted!
I’m not baking commercially anymore, but sister Suza asked me to make a Crunch Cake for her Book Group gathering tonight. Her birthday was yesterday. “Uhhh… mmm…” (Because it’s a labor of love if one’s out of practice.) “Of course I’ll make you a Crunch Cake!” She’ll be here any minute with “back-up” (probably my niece or nephew) to hold this special cake whilst she drives home across the bridge.
Coffee Crunch Cake – Serves 12-16
Oven set to 350F Bake; two 9″ cake pans, lined with parchment and greased – take the extra minutes! See photos.
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup almond milk, room temperature (Dairy milk is fine, but if you use almond milk the cake will be GF and dairy free. To make the entire dessert dairy free, use non-dairy whipped “cream” – http://www.mimiccreme.com/healthy.html; also check out recipes for whipped coconut cream.)
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups GF Flour Mix (ours or Trader Joe’s)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon xantham gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare the cake pans by lightly greasing them, and lining with parchment paper which is then also lightly greased. Note the two cross pieces under the round piece, which will help get the baked cake out in one piece, a helpful back-up plan for GF cake which is more fragile than its conventional counterpart.
2. Combine the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat until thickened and light in color.
3. Measure the oil and almond milk in a two cup liquid measuring cup; whisk to blend (you can set this in a bath of warm water if the almond milk is coming right out of the ‘fridge.)
4. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl and whisk to blend.
5. Set the mixer to low speed and add the dry and wet ingredients alternately: dry, wet, dry wet…, finishing with a small portion of the dry ingredients. Scrape down as necessary and mix on medium speed for 30 seconds.
6. Pour the batter into prepared pans. Bake in the center of the oven for 35 minutes (20 minutes for cupcakes; 40 minutes for three 8″ pans.)
7. Cool on racks for 10-15 minutes; remove from the pans, cool completely before icing. The cake can be made a day ahead, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerated until the next day. Remember GF cake dries out more quickly than conventional cake.
Coffee Crunch Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso
1/4 cup regular light corn syrup
1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted (shake it through a small fairly fine gauge hand held strainer (see photo.)
1. Set a large shallow metal pan (broiling pan?) on a heat resistent surface in a place where it won’t be touched.
2. Combine the sugar, espresso, and corn syrup in a large heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil, cooking until it reaches 310F or the “hard crack stage” on a candy thermometer. It will roil and grow until it reaches about 275F when the syrup will change consistency and boiling will continue, but lower in the pan.
3. When it reaches 310F, turn off the heat and vigorously stir in the baking soda until the mixture quadruples in mass, thickens, and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Pour the candy foam into the pan. Let it stand without moving unti cool (test this with the inside of your wrist.) Break apart with a small knife into bite-sized pieces. If made more than a few hours in advance, store in an air-tight container.
Whipped Cream “Frosting” Ingredients:
3 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons espresso syrup (make 2 ounces of extra strong espresso, or used a blend of powdered espresso and warm water. You can also substitute Kahlua.”
1. Combine the cream and espresso in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium low speed until the cream begins to thicken; continue beating on medium high until a very little stiffer than might be called as a topping for pie or tart.
To assemble the cake:
1. Slice each cake layer in half using a serrated knife. Sometimes using tooth picks as guides can be helpful to insure an even division all the way around.
2. Stack the cake layers, spreading the whipped cream between each one. Spread the remaining cream on the sides and top.
3. Press the coffee crunch pieces into the whipped cream starting at the bottom to build a foundation for the crunch to come. Inevitably there will be some remaining coffee crunch “dust” (probably even some crunch pieces) this can be sprinkled over the top, or tossed at the sides to fill any cream holes peeking out. Or save the “dust” for later; it’ll make a pretty topping for ice cream or iced cupcakes.
Note: This recipe seems especially suitable to today’s taste for burnt sugar caramel sauces, toppings, and candies. But the cake is also a wonderful base for more traditional frosting treatments: chocolate, ganache, vanilla topped with fresh berries, maple, cranberry orange…. Enjoy and have some fun!