By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Call me old-fashioned, but I liked the civility of the ‘50s. I was blessed with being raised in that decade, in Oak Park, Mich. Our country was at peace, businesses were flourishing, families were growing, housing developments sprang up all over the place. As children, we could go out and play without an armed guard standing by in case someone was lurking to snatch one of us. We’d safely bike all over the place, visit friends from one house to the next and were told to be home when the streetlights came on. At my house, we never even locked the doors. Did our parents know where we went? Of course not, they didn’t need to. We were safe.
During this happy time, when most women stayed at home, a new form of human connection developed: the coffee klatch. The origin of this term is from the German
“kaffeeklatsch” which literally means coffee + gossip. This usually consists of a small gathering in a home for coffee and conversation.
According to the website germanfoods.org: “In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the classic Ages of Enlightenment and Reason, coffee salons and at-home coffee soirees grew immensely popular all over Europe, especially Germany and the Austrian empire.” The tradition took root in this country when women had the time to socialize. After the kids went off to school, or even in the afternoon, friends, often from the neighborhood, would assemble at someone’s house for refreshments and to get up to speed on what was going on in their corner of the world.
Bob and I lived in the San Francisco area back in the late ‘70s. We would stroll through the streets of North Beach, the Italian district of the city. There was a European-style coffee shop on almost every block with espresso machine set ups. If the doors were open, you could catch a whiff of freshly ground and brewed coffee. These small establishments were jammed with people in the middle of the day having conversations, coffee, and cake. I remember remarking to myself, “Why aren’t these people at work?” Keep in mind, this was pre-laptop, so nobody was connected to the outside world.
What was happening in San Francisco (Peet’s Coffee began in 1966) and Starbucks opening in Seattle (1971) spread east over the next decade or so. I believe that when the advent of coffee shops on almost every corner coincided with women entering the workforce in droves, that was the death knell of the coffee klatch. When was the last time someone said to you, “Hey, do you want to come to my house for coffee and cake?” “No,” you say, “Let’s meet at Starbucks at the corner of…”
I even noticed the shift in 1980 when I opened my first shop, Bonnie’s Patisserie, in Southfield, Mich. Some of our most popular items were coffee cakes, cinnamon buns, and not-too-sweet individual pastries, perfect with morning coffee or a visitor stopping by in the afternoon. By the mid-1980s, the sales of these coffee-klatch delicacies had declined.
A common sweet offered at a coffee klatch was, well, coffee cake. One of the most popular cakes was the sour cream coffee cake with cinnamon walnut streusel. What’s not to love? Our house was certainly a hub for the neighbor ladies. I think it was because my mom baked coffee cake or mandelbred almost every day. She also offered an added bonus: she always had her Singer sewing machine set up on the kitchen table ready to help her neighbors with any mending, repairs, or sewing lessons. Some of the ladies brought their own needlework to keep their hands busy while they visited and enjoyed their refreshments. How civilized!
Today’s offering is not quite the traditional cake. It is a nod to my Michigan roots, using maple syrup, walnuts, and oats, all products grown and produced in my home state. What is unusual about the preparation is folding whipped egg whites into the batter, creating a lovely crumb and texture.
Who’s with me here? Let’s bring back the coffee klatch! Write us at The Insider when you’ve taken that first adventurous step into a true human connection over coffee and cake.
Maple Oat Coffee Cake
Yield: 10-12 servings
1 c. walnut pieces
1 1/2 tsp. flour
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. rolled oats
1 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/3 c. milk
6 lg. egg whites, room temperature
1/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°. Generously spray a 9” fluted Bundt pan with pan release. Reserve. In a food processor, grind together the walnuts and 1 1/2 tsp. flour. Reserve.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the syrup and vanilla, scraping down as needed. Blend in the oats. Sift together the flour, powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the milk.
Whisk the egg whites on high speed in a clean, dry bowl until soft peaks. Add the sugar and whisk to stiff peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, fold one-third of the whites into the batter. Then fold in remaining whites. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until springy to the touch. Cool completely before de-panning.
Make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk the ingredients together. If the mixture is too runny, add more sugar. If it is too stiff, add a little water. Pour over the cake using the tines of a fork.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.