Monday, May 31, 2010

The Cake of Legends: Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake

This is about cake. But first:

Did you know that the tree peony (see below, with yellow center) doesn't require frost and therefore can be grown in Southern California?

Or that this might be the most charming fourteen year old boy that I know?

(That's a mini chocolate brownie in his hand.)

Some people are born with a talent for warmth and creativity. Thus, whenever I go to my friend Miss Andrea's house, I feel happy inside.

After all, how could you resist such a beautiful table on Memorial Day weekend?

Here she is, looking divine:

Even her dogs are my favorites:

This is Mabel with Minky.

But the pièce de résistance was, of all things (drum roll please), a cake. A cake. Probably the most delicious cake I have ever tasted in my entire life.  I hesitate to say that it almost gives bløtkake a run for its money, although that would be difficult, and I feel awfully disloyal saying it.

The cake came in a box and alongside the box was a big bag of honeycomb bits (imagine Crunchie without the chocolate.)  This honeycomb has to be affixed to the cake at the last minute:

"The cake features two layers of sponge cake in a delicate coffee whipped cream frosting, covered in delicious bits of crunch"
"You're going to want to blog about this cake" said Wendy.
"Just you wait till you try it" said Andrea.
"No, it's not really my thing, you know, cake" I said.
But then I put one small piece in my mouth.

It's called a Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake and is now being made by Valerie's Confections in Los Angeles. But the cake has fans everywhere. Martha Stewart has a recipe here.  On the I Speak of Dreams blog, Sandy Weil tells the story of her father being the first baker of the cake at the original Blum's in San Francisico (first comment) and her father, Ernest Weil's cookbook is here.  If you look it up, hundreds of people tell swooning stories about the cake. It is, quite honestly, the cake of legends.

legend cake in its splendor

When I first arrived in Los Angeles, twenty three years ago, we were invited to swim on summer weekends at a rather nice house on North Rodeo Drive, owned by a friend of the Maharishi's mother.  Eunice was an archaeologist who spent months in Syria on digs, and was always swathed in elegant white linen and old gold rings from Damascus.  I loved that this rather swanky house had a poolhouse on which was painted a huge psychedelic mural, designed by Eunice's son, a former hippie.  I marvelled at parents who would allow their children to express their creativity around the house in this way, so un-English, so wonderful, so not the way I'd been raised. One day, when she was home from a dig with a basket-load of slides of old stone and tablets, she gave me a potted history of the difference between Northern and Southern California, one that I never forgot.

"San Francisco is where one would wear gloves and a hat to lunch when I grew up there" she said.  "Los Angeles wasn't like that."

So, with regard to the cake, Blum's was where mothers took their daughters, in gloves and hats, for tiny sandwiches and iced tea, after shopping at I. Magnin's.  If they were very good, they were given a slice of Coffee Crunch Cake.

Evan Kleiman, of Good Food on KCRW, interviews Valerie Gordon  (of Valerie's Confections, the LA bakers of the cake) "who is making cakes reminiscent of a bygone era" here.  She wants to bring people's childhoods back to them, one scrumptious bite of cake at a time.


Caroline, No. said...

I am outraged that I can't taste the cake. Love the pictures and the story v

salty said...

That cake. Looks. Amazing.
Lovely post.

Alison said...

Valerie Confections petit four are amazing too !
Also, try L'Artisan du chocolat right next door to Valerie !!
Handmade chocolates by a Korean & French couple...
They make an excellent hostess gift..

Northern Snippet said...

Got to try and recreate this..(the cake I mean)..Was the sponge chocolate?

Miss Whistle said...

Caroline -- I am sorry you can't taste it too, or that I can't even provide a paltry scratch 'n sniff feature on this blog.

Salty -- thank you. I'd love to know if you try it.

Alison (or is this Allison?) -- I am hotfooting it down there at my next opportunity. Most excellent suggestions, thank you.

Northern Snippet -- Sponge was not chocolate but rather like angel food cake. Also the coffee was very mild-flavored. Enormous softness all round. Let me know how it goes, please!

Thanks so much for the lovely comments.

xx Miss W

Lynn said...

I was one of those lucky little girls in gloves who ate this cake on Saturday shopping trips to not just I. Magnin but also to view the giant Christmas tree at the City of Paris... Blum's --- yummy memories. xo L

SuellenWags said...

Fabulous cake. Fabulous blog. I, too, remember that San Francisco hat and gloves thing... it often came with purple tinted hair.

Jasper & James said...

While Blum's was a San Francisco institution, we had a popular branch here in Beverly Hills in the early 1960s. It was on the southeast corner of Wilshire and Beverly Dr. Down the block was Will Wright's with its famous Nesslerode ice cream and Victorian wrought iron chairs. See's was on north Beverly Drive. And who could forget the fabulous fresh fruit tart at La Scala on Little Santa Monica?

Northern Snippet said...

You probably won't read this now but I did recreate the cake.We actually used crunched up Crunchie for the topping which with the extra ingredient(chocolate) was delish.
Not the authentic version but it was the inspiration.Might even try it on the menu!