Chocolate Meringue Coffee Cake
FINALLY INVITED TO BRUNCH
One thing I truly miss living where I live is getting together with friends for cake and coffee on a lazy afternoon, or picnics out in green fields under sunny skies, dog racing happily around us in circles, or a Sunday brunch, table groaning under plates of muffins, cinnamon-scented coffee cakes, fresh-from-the-bakery croissants and pains aux chocolat. The French are always so busy on Saturdays and Sundays, joining family for lunch or dashing off to the beach, le weekend, never time for a casual, impromptu get-together with friends, always organized weeks in advance. Pencil us in for 3 weeks from now and hope nothing else comes up.
I love weekends, lazy, slow weekends. What shall we do this weekend to improve our Modern Lifestyle, JP asks à la Wallace of Wallace & Gromit? A little marketing and a great meal? Home improvements like buying lightbulbs (finally), sewing on missing buttons or repotting the plants? A trip to the hardware store after the market then off to buy books, maybe a wine-buying trip out at the vignobles or grab Marty, jump in the car and off for a forest adventure? We never plan anything in advance, preferring to wait to see what the weather and the mood will be like, yet we would never consider a quick phone call to friends. No one would be free. Picnics and hikes and brunches or lunches are scheduled ahead of time, squeezed in between those family visits or trips to the country house. We are truly the Odd Couple (le couple bizarre?): no family, no plans, no skiing holidays or trips to the beach, no golfing afternoon with the buddies, weekends at La Baule or boating with the brother-in-law. Just us two, alone together, waking up on weekend mornings with no plans, free as the wind, pottering around the garage (his Lambretta) or the kitchen (cookies today or a cake?), a rugby match on tv, strolling through town hand-in-hand, planting basil and thyme and mint on the balcony outside the kitchen, pizza and a movie. Not so very French after all.
Weekends of my childhood left us completely free. No plans, nothing organized, no family outings or picnics, no jumping in the car to lunch at Grandma’s (too far). Tv, kickball in the street or biking around the block with the other kids or pile in the car to head up to the high school swimming pool, all very last minute. Barbies and Matchbox cars, throwing hoops in the driveway or board games inside, we were left to our own devices, our time was our own. And our weekends, except for the occasional Lox and Bagel Sunday, were grab-what-you-want breakfasts, Pop Tarts or sweet cereal, glasses of chocolate milk, waffles popped into the toaster. Maybe Andrew and I would duck out of the house and clothespin an old sheet to the hedges edging the yard and eat sandwiches huddled in our makeshift tent. Or switch on the tv and watch cartoons or Mr. Ed or The 3 Stooges…
Brunch only existed in my childhood at family celebrations and events: After the Bar or Bat Mitzvah service at the synagogue we would find ourselves confronted by a long, seemingly endless table of cold salads, tuna and whitefish and egg, platters of lox, trays piled high with bagels of every flavor, rye bread and bialys. And the ever-present dessert buffet where we would pile our plates high with each and every sinfully rich, creamy, fattening treat even before we started on the savories for fear of missing out on something good. Wedding weekends would end with a family brunch at the hotel where everyone was staying, all of us straggling downstairs wiping sleep from our eyes, blue-jeaned and sneakered, our bags packed and ready to be rolled downstairs to check out. Morty and Howard the clowns of the family, one’s jokes punctuated by chuckles, the other’s stories ending in loud gaffaws, bringing everyone down with them. The bagels and lox served up with laughter and memories, coffee poured (weak hotel coffee, alas!) but quickly getting cold as we wandered from table to table, grabbing bites of this or that in between the catching up, the wonderment of watching new generations arriving and taking our place at “the kids’ table”.
These days, no fancy brunch for us Sunday mornings. Just coffee and cake, whatever I’ve baked the day before. If we are lucky, we sleep like logs, a heavenly sleep, and wake up late, well rested, and stretch and yawn our way into the kitchen, letting Marty out of his cage to join us. Often we pop awake much too early, 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 and the routine is the same, only the satisfied stretching replaced by slouching and grumbling our way into the kitchen. But once fortified with coffee and sweets, we return to bed for “la grasse matinée”, slow, long, lazy morning in bed, reading, snuggling, chatting, Marty scurrying in and out, doing his morning dance around our bed, inviting us, urging us to get up and come and play with him.
Today, though, I’m invited to Brunch. What’s not to love about that? I want to bring something wonderful, something sweet, something special. I have been spending an inordinate amount of time lately thumbing through my folders of recipes that I’ve been clipping from magazines for the last 30 years; I guess my trip home brought about its usual bout of nostalgia when I pull out all of mom’s old cookbooks and those promotional pamphlets that were pumped out in the 60s and 70s filled with recipes, Favorite Florida Seafood Recipes or Famous Florida Chef’s Favorite Citrus Recipes or Crisco’s Best Recipes, or mom’s collection of old Church, Synagogue or Women’s Club self-published cookbooks filled to brimming with the family tried-and-true. And all of those clippings of recipes from Family Circle, Redbook and Women’s Home Journal, all snipped out during my high school and college days and carefully tucked away for a rainy day.
I came across this recipe, no date or magazine title left in the margin, and was intrigued to say the least: Chocolate Meringue Coffee Cake. Sounded scrumptious, but I truly had no idea what to expect and feared that it may turn out too sweet for my family, but what the heck, I say, coffee cake is our favorite and how can chocolate or meringue in the filling go wrong?
The most amazing and delicious coffee cake I have ever tasted and eaten! A wonderful brioche-like texture, the cake itself is delicately flavored, most of the flavor coming from the filling. Also a perfect yeast recipe to make for those who have never attempted a yeast dough before.