It’s funny, how we think we can know someone just because we’ve spent our whole lives with them. Like my dad: After 29 years together, I can tell you a lot about him. So much so that I’d dare to say I know him pretty well. Before retiring, he wore Wrangler jeans to work and packed a sandwich and fruit every day. He rolls his plaid shirt sleeves to the elbow and has permanent grease stains in the dry cracks of his fingers. He smoked so many Lucky Strikes when I was little that I once asked my mom how his cigarettes stayed lit in the shower.
He doesn’t talk much. He communicates love through food laced with olives, capers, and clams. He was hit by a car when he was sixteen while delivering pizzas in Bensonhurst. When he and my mom were dating, he’d go to her house after work and accidentally fall asleep on the couch. She didn’t wake him.
When I was four, he built me a custom fishing pole because everything in the store was too tall for me. Then he taught me how to hook a worm and gut a fish. In the car on the way to the lake we’d listen to Billy Joel and Neil Diamond and say very little.
He’s a man who likes his meat rare, his coffee bitter, and his cars gigantic.
In other words, he’s not a man you’d expect to have a secret cake recipe.
But he does, and I didn’t know about it for 29 years. Not until Joe and I visited recently and my dad, out of nowhere, started clanging through the pantry for a bundt pan. When asked, he said he felt like making a cake. Understand that my dad has never baked anything in all my years. Then there he was, without a recipe, measuring flour and sour cream, crushing walnuts and packing brown sugar. It’s his godmother’s recipe, he said. He saw her teach it to his mom once, decades ago, but his mom never made it again. He’d memorized it and had been meaning to make it….for about 40 years.
My mom never knew about this recipe. When I phoned to tell my brothers about it, they laughed it off. My grandmother doesn’t even remember it.
It’s something between a coffee cake and a pound cake, perfect for breakfast or dessert. It’s the kind of cake you want on the counter at all times. A recipe so simple you can remember it after 40 years. And until then, tuck it away like a secret, so you’re armed and ready with a quiet surprise at any moment.
Dad’s Sour Cream Cake
Cake batter ingredients:
2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 large eggs
½ cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
8 ounces sour cream
For the filling:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Make the batter by whisking together the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, sugar, butter, milk, and sour cream. Mix until everything is combined.
Make the filling by combining the brown sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
Line a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter. Sprinkle 1/3 of the filling into the bottom of the pan. Layer 1/3 of the batter over the filling.
Continue layering filling and batter in thirds until you’ve run out of ingredients.
Bake for 1 hour.