Before we had Finn, we would buy the papers of a weekend and spread them over the breakfast table, whilst our hands cradled cups of coffee and crumbs lingered on our fingers, well into the idle morning. I unashamedly bypassed the serious news sections in favour of the magazine and Nigel Slater's weekly food column - comfort food was his speciality. One weekend he wrote a piece on coffee cake accompanied by a gorgeous photo of a messy forkful, all walnut crumb and soft buttery icing.
I made that cake every chance I got - whenever some comfort was needed. The cake never failed to bring a smile through even the worst of times. It was my tender cake blanket, that I tucked around us and kept the world out of the kitchen just a little bit longer. The recipe was folded and smoothed again and again, sticky with coffee splashes and finger prints.
Recently, Finley fancied looking through my old recipe books at bedtime - the ones that are full of gluten and sugar, but I keep anyway because I love to have them on my shelf. We oohed and aahed over sticky desserts and buttery pastry, truffles and tortes. Then out fell a loose sheet and Finley snatched it up, uncreasing its long folded pages to reveal a very faded recipe for coffee cake - the very one I had probably folded up the year before he was born and consigned to the shelves with all the rest.
I let out a sigh and told Finn all about the cake and what it meant to me. He stroked the furrow out of my brow and told me that I could make a coffee cake if I liked - detailing all the ways I could make it without caffeine, sugar and wheat. What a boy.
After my Aunt's funeral I had a real urge for something treaty. Something buttery and moreish, with crumbs that would stick to my fingers and lips. I remembered the coffee cake and knew that this was exactly the sticking plaster I needed for my sore heart.
I made cupcakes because, somehow, they are even more comforting than a cake to me. Just looking at their frosted tops, adorned with a perfect walnut half makes me feel complete.
I made them without refined sugar, or grains, or caffeine - because I don't want to feel high, just nourished.
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This month's Go Ahead Honey, hosted by Alta of Tasty Eats at Home is all about Comfort Food. This is my contribution. If you would like to contribute something, please post it as soon as you can and email the link to Alta. You can use an old post if you like - just update with a link to Alta's blog.
If you are following SCD or GAPS - these are a very advanced food as they contain lots of dates and coffee. Don't even attempt to eat them until you have been clear of symptoms for 3-6 months and accompany with a dose of probiotic!
Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes (makes 6)
80g Dried Dates - finely chopped
20g Palm Sugar (optional & leave out for SCD)
130g Ground Almonds
3 Large Free Range Eggs
80g Salted Butter
1 1/2 tsp Gluten Free Baking Powder (1/2 tsp bicarb for SCD)
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 tsp Lemon Juice
For coffee cake and icing, replace vanilla extract and lemon juice with four tsp of very strong cold coffee. I prefer a walnuty cake and coffee icing.
Preheat oven to 160ºC. Pop six paper muffin cases into a deep muffin tray.
In a food processor, blend dates, palm sugar and ground almonds until they are like coarse bread crumbs.
Add butter, eggs, baking powder and vanilla - or coffee - and blend again until smooth, creamy and paler in colour.
Add walnuts and lemon juice (or leave out for coffee) and blend again until the walnuts are coarsely chopped into the mix.
Spoon into 6 muffin cases, half fill the empty holes in the tray with water and bake for 25 minutes, until golden and well risen. Cool on a rack.
Date and Coffee Buttercream
Make some very strong coffee using 1 heaped dessertspoon of ground coffee and about 150ml of boiling water.
Cook 45g dried dates in 100ml of the coffee until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Cool completely
Blend coffee dates with 60g salted butter and 1 tsp vanilla extract until creamy and pale.
Ice the cakes and top with a perfect walnut. Keep in a cool place or refridgerate - they won't last long.