Grandma's sour cream coffee cake
Updated: Jan 18
Dorothy Reinhardt raised a son and chickens, welcomed everyone into her home, and made the best coffee cake.
Tomorrow (Aug. 31) is my grandmother’s birthday. Let me tell you about my Bubba.
Dorthea (Dorothy) Minerva Tubbesing Reinhardt was the baker in our family. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904, the year our city celebrated its only World’s Fair. She was one of five children (middle child). I like to think the can-do attitude our city had in order to make the fair a reality somehow rubbed off on “Bubba.”
With just an elementary school education, Bubba was one of the wisest people I’ve ever known. You always knew where you stood with her because she had no shyness about telling you. A woman of action, she worked in a dry goods store and in a hotel before marrying my Grandpa, Lares (Larry) Reinhardt. He had a good side, but I sensed that Grandpa wasn’t always the easiest guy to live with.
My Dad, Robert, was born in 1927, so Bubba raised a son through the Great Depression, and in her later years, shared stories with me of how they managed not to go hungry. I’m sure that had to do with Grandpa’s work ethic and luck, but equally it’s a testament to Bubba’s ability to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo pooped.
One of her Depression stories she told was the time they raised chickens. My Grandpa didn’t think the whole plan through, so the eggs that would become chicks arrived during the winter, requiring Grandma to create an incubator hutch in the living room. When the chicks were grown enough to become stewing hens, my Grandpa built the chopping block out back, but left the incredible dirty work of killing and cleaning the chickens to his wife. And Dorothy did it.
In the early 1950s, Grandma watched her son join the Army during the Korean War. Thankfully, he returned, and in 1955, Bubba welcomed my mom, Katie, into her family, and treated her like a daughter. The struggling young couple tried living on their own in an apartment, but about a year later for financial reasons, moved in “temporarily” with Grandma and Grandpa into their old home on Randall Place in St. Louis. That temporary situation lasted for the rest of Bubba’s life.
I was born in 1959, so very blessed to have my grandparents under our roof and a great-aunt, Grandma’s sister, Edna, living across the street. But things change.
My great-aunt moved to Penrose Street. In 1968, my Grandpa died of pancreatic cancer. When we moved to a new house in 1969, I still remember sitting in the back seat of our station wagon, Bubba and I crying as we left our old neighborhood, the only one she had known all her life.
But one of my favorite memories of her was during a Thanksgiving more than 30 years ago in the “new” house. After dinner, her sister-in-law Ruth (a hell of a ragtime piano player, by the way) was at our piano banging out a jazzy tune when Bubba comes in from the kitchen, towel slung over her shoulder, cigarette dangling from her lips to entertain us with a hoochie coochie. I guess that’s not surprising because her favorite song was Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” probably (at least in part) because her brothers used to call her Minnie, but also because she could do a naughty little dance to it. “Minnie had a heart as big as a whale” is a descriptive lyric for Bubba.
You see, hospitality was simply her way of living. She always had the coffee pot at the ready to pour a cup for a friend, whether that would be a neighbor or our milkman. And there usually would be some type of sweet treat to go with the coffee. One of her favorites was a sour cream coffee cake.
It’s so good, but I can’t remember what type of pan she baked it in. I seem to remember this cake as a Bundt; however, since I have lousy luck with a Bundt turning out well, I tried it in a springform pan (had a bit of trouble getting that out cleanly, too).
Like most of her hand-written recipes, not every step is clearly detailed because she just knew how to make it. We’d often get the ingredients listed, but the concise and often incomplete directions had a lot to be desired. She probably didn’t want to take the time to write it all down.
So, friends, here’s my best attempt to translate the recipe for Dorothy’s sour cream coffee cake. Give it a try, and then invite a friend over for coffee.
Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Ingredients for cake:
½ cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon almond extract
Ingredients for filling and topping:
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Mix all ingredients for cake. (Here’s where Bubba leaves out detail! I think she probably creamed the butter with the sugar then added the eggs using an electric mixer. She then likely sifted the dry ingredients together and then slowly added to the wet mixture. Then fold in the sour cream and almond extract. OK, back to Bubba’s recipe.)
3. Put half the dough in pan. (Again, what pan, Bubba? Springform works pretty well. Try a square baking pan if you don’t have a springform or if you’re super brave, a bundt.)
4. Sprinkle (¾ is what I did) brown sugar mixture over dough and add rest of dough in pan. Sprinkle remaining brown sugar mixture on top of cake. (Don’t you just love her?)
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. (I use the standard toothpick-comes-out-clean test, just to be sure.)