Raspberry Coffee Cake

In the 80’s, when I was a kid, my mom was worried that I would be abducted. Who can blame her, I was very cute. Just kidding, that probably isn’t what motivates abductors. Missing children were big news back then and the media helped fuel a general paranoia among parents. Local police stations ran programs where you could bring your kids in to be photographed and finger-printed so that if someone took us we’d be easier to find (I still have the mugshot-like photos, and the residual anxiety this process caused). Parents were also advised to come up with passwords that could be used in cases of emergency. They were imagining a situation where your parents were hospitalized (and presumably unconscious because otherwise why wouldn’t they just talk to you on the phone?) and someone else needed to pick you up at school. That person would be instructed to say the password so you knew it was safe to go with them. Even as a child this didn’t make sense to me. If my mom was unconscious, how would she give the password to someone? Why wouldn’t a family member just come get me or someone at school? But we came up with a password together and I was instructed to never tell it to anyone. It was: Raspberry Coffee Cake.

The raspberry coffee cake in question was my favorite thing my mom baked. A dense and buttery cake with raspberry jam and a buttery glaze. She made it for special occasions or if I begged sufficiently.It was also her favorite thing, and as I got older she would ask me to make it for her. The threat of abduction long passed, we could now laugh together imagining a stranger coming up to child me and saying: your mom was in a horrible accident! raspberry coffee cake! It became one of our longest running jokes.

My mom died in March after a long illness. It has been three months and I don’t have anything profound to say about her death. I miss her. Illness is terrible. Our healthcare system is rotten. People can be wonderful. Grief is weird.

But I now feel comfortable sharing the password, and the recipe. The cake is easy to put together and keeps well on the counter for a few days. She and I both felt strongly that raspberry jam was the only choice here, though theoretically you could use anything. My mom would have doubled the glaze recipe, so feel free.

This can easily be doubled and baked in a 9×13, which is what we did growing up. The cake freezes well, so if you do that and aren’t going to get through it all, feel free to freeze a few slices.

Raspberry Coffee Cake (thanks, mom)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (4oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3-1/2 cup raspberry jam (I tend toward the lower end, my mom used a lot)

Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan, and then line with parchment. The parchment is optional, but nice if you want to get the cake out of the pan easily. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium/high speed until light and fluffy (3 minutes?). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat for 30 seconds. (It is okay if the mixture looks a little curdled at this point, it is a pretty forgiving cake.) Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until combined. Use a rubber spatula to give the dough a few stirs and make sure it is evenly mixed.

Spread 3/4 of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. It will be a relatively thin layer, and an offset spatula makes this easier. Carefully spread the jam on top of the dough in a thinish layer leaving a 1/2-inch gap along the edges (to prevent the jam from burning against the sides of the pan). Dot the remaining dough over the top of the jam layer.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until golden and a tester comes out clean.

Allow to cool before topping with glaze.

Basic butter glaze: In a medium/small sauce pan melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Once melted, add 1 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar, a tablespoon of milk, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Whisk to combine. You can thin glaze with more milk or thicken it with more confectioners sugar. You want it pour-able, but thick and opaque. Honestly, every time I make this is works out differently and I need to adjust. It will be fine whatever it is.



39 comments to “Raspberry Coffee Cake”

  1. What a beautiful way to share your Mum with us. You captured the loss of a loved one so succinctly when you said “I miss her. Illness is terrible. Our healthcare system is rotten. People can be wonderful. Grief is weird.” This week is 3 years since I lost my Dad – the grief goes on but it is gentler now. The cake looks amazing.

  2. Thanks, Ganga. Sorry about your dad, but glad to hear it is gentler with time.

  3. Sometimes when I’ve had a rough day, my husband makes me black pepper tofu and I eat it as fast as I can get the chopsticks to my mouth. I have a bag of perfect pancakes in the freezer for the kids and will make another batch tomorrow to give to my 80-something father-in-law down the street. I am eagerly awaiting the first cherry tomatoes for marinated mozzarella and every every Christmas, I make speculoos buttons, ostensibly to share with neighbors and Santa, but mostly for myself.

    This is all to say that this little corner of the food internet has brought so much deliciousness into my life (and Frank’s into the fridge). Recipes that I make on repeat and love dearly. Undoubtedly, your mom and her raspberry coffee cake are baked into what you give to all of us readers. (I find bad puns to be oddly comforting.)

    I’m sorry about your mom and hope that this weekend you can enjoy some fresh strawberries, warm donuts, and good times with loved ones. If you are around town and a random woman comes up to you, you are not being abducted…just a longtime reader wanting to say thanks Tim.

  4. One day while on a road trip in the 1940’s my Paw Paw saw the name “Laddermilk” on the side of someone’s mailbox and lost his mind with laughter that this was someone’s actual last name. It became the family joke that we would shout when something ridiculous happened. When the abduction scare happened, it naturally became our family password as well. He was the light of our family and my own spirit animal/soulmate. The grief still wades in though he’s been gone fourteen years, but remembering the way he luxuriated in absurdity can usually pull me away from the despair I feel sometimes about his absence. My condolences. I have two jars of raspberry jam destined for this cake, thank you for sharing.

  5. Such a sweet ;) tribute to your beautiful mama!

  6. These comments are better than the blog post! Is there a way to make my blog just your comments and then I somehow respond to them with a recipe?! Thanks for taking the time, Anne, Skye, and Betsy. xo

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss, Tim. As always, I love how you write.

  8. Longtime lurker – just wanted to express my condolences on the loss of your mother. Thank you for sharing this truly excellent-looking cake and the password story.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    June 14th, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    I’m glad you’re safe, and I’m glad you shared the recipe–err, password. This post made me smile and I’ll be making the recipe with my son soon.

  10. Thanks so much for sharing this story and recipe with us. I look forward to trying it out soon, in honor of your mom! (The recipe that makes me think of my mom the most also has raspberry jam in it – a white cake with pink frosting!)

  11. Grief is weird. And food memories are among the best. It’s coming up on 20 years since my nana passed and I’m angry at my crummy teenage self for not learning her apple pie recipe in all its glory. I sat on one of those bright yellow vintage stools, that everyone had, in the tiny galley kitchen of her independent-living apartment and meticulously watched her prepare the filling, slicing the apples paper thin, sprinkling the sugar and spice mix and putting big pats of butter on top before placing her top crust. I never watched her make the crust and my attempts haven’t come close. My mom told me she had seen the recipe once and it explicitly used a Lodi apple because the house where she raised my father had one in the yard. I’ve never found a Lodi and still don’t have a house in the country to grow my own. It’s a sad thought that my life will never have a pie so good again, but the flavor was lovingly etched in over the years, and some things just pass along with the people in our life. I’m sorry for your loss, but this post was a lovely tribute.

  12. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing the cake recipe with us. Her memory for a blessing.

  13. I knew the minute I saw the second picture of you and your mom at the table what you were going to say next and I teared up. I’m pretty sure that I started reading your blog on the recommendation of my mom, who is somehow incapable of copying and pasting links and therefore just describes things on the web and tells me to go find them, which drives me nuts. But I’ve learned that she has discerning taste and its worth the effort of trying to find the blog or article because she’s usually right that I’ll like them. I’ve been reading your blog for many years as a result. She’s 74 and thankfully still alive and healthy. I will be devastated in the future when her time is up, so my heart goes out to you. Food and writing are such a powerful tools to connect us all. Now you will have people all over the world making this cake and thinking of you and your mom.

  14. i’m so sorry for your loss, tim. thanks for writing this and for the sweet pictures. your mom sounds awesome.

  15. Hugs. Many many hugs. I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing her cake with us. What a wonderful way to remember someone, with something joyful, comforting, and sweet.

  16. Hi Tim,
    Thanks for sharing a special memory of your mom, and for so succinctly capturing in beautiful prose how you feel about her loss. It’s been more than 20 years since my mom died and she is always with me. Your story of the passwords brought back a flood of memories of that time with my own boys. Such a weird idea- the fingerprinting and mugshots! But we still remember our password, and use it for laughs.
    It was ” swordfish”.

  17. I’m so sorry to hear this. I have the butter out softening right now to make this cake in memory of your mother.

  18. I’m so sorry you lost your mom, Tim. Thanks for sharing the hilarious stranger danger story. I love these weird little jokes that happen in families, often originating in some mild trauma :)

  19. This is the most delightful thing I’ve read on your blog. The raspberry coffee cake story is so much more poignant than some kind of grand statement. I’m so sorry you lost your mom. Thanks for this post.

  20. I am so very sorry for the loss of your mom. Grief never goes away, but I love the wave analogy…sometimes they’re gentle little ripples, and sometimes, without warning, you might be hit with a big one. I still have knife in the chest moments about my dad almost 4 years later. I’m glad you have good memories and that you’ve shared some with us. Our password was Michael’s Frozen Custard…I will ask the kids if they ever wondered what would happen if I was unconscious. Thanks for the recipe…coffee cake, raspberry jam, and double recipe of glaze? I’m in!

  21. I’m so sorry for your loss, but what a beautiful way to share a bit of your mom with us, Tim. We had friends over today and I made the cake – delicious. I thought of you missing your mom while I was making it, and that led me to think about all the yogurt cakes I made with my grandma when I was a kid. She always let me lick the bowl with my finger despite the raw eggs. Weird the things we remember sometimes.

    Your first paragraph reminded me about a TV show there was in my country growing up. It was about missing people, usually abducted and often children, and it freaked me out so badly. But, I still wanted to watch it and my parents let me (why? I don’t know… The 90’s?). I still remember the music all these years later.

  22. This is lovely, and sad, and lovely. Thank you for sharing this recipe and story. I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom. My grandpa died last summer at age 100, and the last thing he ate before he died was a chocolate chip cookies that I baked for him. Sometimes this feels a little macabre, but mostly it makes me feel good because gosh there’s a lot of love that can go into food.

  23. Thanks, all of you, for these really sweet and wonderful comments. They are reminding me of how lovely this space can be. Thinking of everyone who lost someone. xoxo

  24. I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom, Tim. This is a beautiful post. I appreciate the reminder that we don’t have to have anything profound to say about the most difficult or complex things. Or, perhaps, that simple, everyday memories filtered through our present lives can themselves be the profound thing. And now all of the love between you and your mom will reverberate out as we bake this lovely cake. xo

  25. I’m so sorry for your loss. This essay on grieving is one I turn to again and again: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/13/when-things-go-missing

    And, I also had a secret password. It was pepperoni. Though until you phrased it so I hadn’t thought of how truly hilarious it would have been to have someone come up to me and say “Your parents are hurt – come with me – PEPPERONI!!!!”

  26. I am 100% going to make this for my little girl this week. Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry for your loss, Tim!

  27. Oh Tim, I was so sad to read about your mom, just so sad to get this news. She looks so beautiful and full of life in the picture you shared. Speaking of, you take one hell of an adorable mugshot! I laughed so hard about family passwords, family paranoia, and the wild things we do to our kids. I hope your trip to England was healing in many ways. All those gardens and green spaces! Just lovely.

  28. Erin Riley says:

    June 18th, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about your mom, Tim. As everyone else has said, you have written such a beautiful tribute. I work full-time and don’t get to bake treats for my kids in the same way that your mom did for you and my mom did for me, but I’ve got to make time, dang it! These are the simple, good memories I want my kids to have.

  29. Matthew Wencl says:

    June 18th, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Low on cash and Seattle’s raining but I’m going to trudge up the hill for some raspberry jam, because I just know this is gonna be good. Thank you for sharing this recipe and your memories.

  30. kickpleat says:

    June 19th, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    So sorry to hear about your mom. And your description of her illness and hospital life is pretty poetically apt. I totally remember that 80s fear about abductions and I’m happy that you’ve passed along the cake recipe to share. That glaze looks amazing and I’ll be making this one soon.

  31. Matt! In the rain?! UP the hill?! Fingers crossed you like the cake. x

  32. I’m so sorry for your loss. I had to comment because I, too, had a password… and it’s a crazy word no one would ever guess. My husband, who came into my life after my parents passed, believes they once spoke to him in a dream. I told him next time, ask for the password so he can be sure. :) (so far, no luck)

  33. catchicago says:

    June 21st, 2019 at 8:52 pm

    I was so happy to see your new posts and now I’m a puddle. Sending sincere condolences and lots of love. I share your sadness and this weird new kindof grief. I just lost my dad to terminal cancer in May. His eight month illness seemed all at once brief and long. My Dad often used “nice” as an adjective particularly when it came to food. It became one of our families’ inside jokes and it’s one of the many ways we will keep his memory alive. I’m going to make this coffee cake for my family. I’m going to tell them it’s from a nice blog. My hope is they will laugh a little and love the cake . Then I will enjoy not being sad for a moment and be grateful to be able to make a sweet taste memory for all of us-thanks to you and your mom.

  34. I’m so sorry to hear about your mum. What a wonderful way to remember her; thanks for sharing the story (so funny! cutest mug shot!) and the recipe. My thoughts go out to you and your family as you grieve. xo

  35. schneiderluvsdoof says:

    June 23rd, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Love this post. Miss Nancy so much.

  36. so sorry for your loss. thank you for sharing this recipe & these memories with us.

  37. Thanks for all of the kind comments, friends. Really appreciate them and you. xo

  38. S@sha, I laughed to hear that my mom is not the only one who “can never remember” how to copy and paste links. Her thing is to shop online for something she thinks I might wish to purchase, but then describe to me the item and its location so that I have to search for it on the website. Tim, I am so sorry about your mom. Someday I will make your mutual raspberry coffee cake and think of her.

  39. Matthew Wencl says:

    June 26th, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Well, soon I won’t have to trudge up hills in the rain…moving to ABQ at the summer’s end, so that will be a positive change. :) When I was baking this, I realized it was almost a replication of what my Mom made me and called “Peek-a-Boo Bars,” except hers weren’t iced and used cherry pie filling (gotta love those Midwest moms!) instead of jam and almond extract instead of vanilla. Consequently, I didn’t make the icing on yours because I was caught up in nostalgia, but I still enjoyed most of the pan for breakfasts (there are advantages to having a boyfriend who’s weirdly leery of desserts). Cheers and happy Pride!

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