The holidays are special in part because of the memories they evoke. True memories or not we all remember something from childhood that says Christmas or Thanksgiving or whichever holiday it is to us. The things I remember and miss about childhood Christmas are midnight mass where Val would always lean over, hug me and say ‘merry Christmas’ right as mass started; she would be the first person to wish me a merry Christmas every year. I miss Christmas Eve at Karen’s mom’s; big Italian family Christmas Eve where. Christmas at Grandmom’s in Philly. Everyone gathering there, the abundance of food and the coffee chiffon cake. Whenever I think of Dad’s mom I think of that cake. The flavor, the texture and the mocha icing. This year, I wanted to try to recreate the cake for Dad. We always cook from Mom’s side of the family and we tend to see that side of the family more often, so I wanted something from Grandmom”s Christmas this year for Dad.
I started with a chiffon cake recipe. Separated the eggs (2) whipped the egg whites with a half cup of sugar (a little at a time) until they formed a nice fluffy meringue.
Next I beat one cup of a sugar, 2 1/4 cup flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt together then add in 1/3 cup oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 1/2cup strong coffee. Mix really well then add two egg yolks and another 1/2 cup strong coffee.
After it is all mixed, fold in the egg white/sugar mixture. Carefully.
Pour into two 8″ pans that have been buttered and floured and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.
In order to really get Grandmom’s cake I needed to also fold in about a quarter cup ground walnuts, but I didn’t have any and wasn’t totally sure about the type of nut. But, Grandmom did make the cake without nuts too, so I’m still following tradition.
Now the icing. My nemesis. I have tried for years to get this right. Grandmom showed me how to make it, Aunt Maryann sent me a recipe at one point – I never got it right. Usually the icing was just a total disaster, but I was determined to try again. I took 1/2 cup of strong coffee, 1/3 cup coco powder and mixed them together. I added one stick of unsalted butter and a pinch of salt. I mixed these until they were very well incorporated. I added a teaspoon of vanilla and then confectioners sugar. A lot of confectioners sugar. Probably a half bag of confectioners sugar which is all the sugar I had in the house. (3-4 cups more than likely) I beat, mixed and stirred until I had icing. It was a little thin (I thought) initially, but I wanted to try it.
I took a cooled cake and iced it. Then came the moment of truth … did it taste like Grandmom’s?
I thought it was perfect. Minus the nuts. But the texture, the flavor and the icing were exactly what I remember from childhood. The real test would come when Dad tried it Christmas Day. So the final verdict? Dad asked if I had a seance; it was the cake, and the icing, from Grandmom. I actually managed to get it right. I sent Dad home with the second cake.
I was also not the only one thinking about Grandmom this year. Mom made some of the almond cookies and picked up ….
a box of Andes mints. It was a very merry Christmas.
I’ll post the dinner pics later. Including the one of us eating dinner on the back patio – it was gorgeous here. Merry Christmas everyone. May you recapture a little of the magic from childhood this year.