At a Los Angeles bakery, lovingly recreated cakes inspire rabid devotion - and holiday orders
by Marnie Hanel
Nora Ephron, the late beloved writer, declared Valerie Confections' Coffee Crunch Cake "the greatest cake in history." The cake itslef has quite a history, according to proprietor Valerie Gordon. The texturally varied confection - chiffon cake layers, coffee flavored whipped cream, and crunchy coffee honeycomb - originated at Blum's Bakery, a chain of California shops that was shuttered in the 1970s. It was a dessert Gordon had always associated with the holiday season. "That cake was the constant at Thanksgiving and Chinese New Year," she recalls. "It tastes like celebration to me."
When Gordon began recreating the famous cake in 2009, she received resounding accolades. "I tasted my childhood in that cake," one caller said. Another said, "My name is Nora Ephron. I don't know if you have heard of me. I do some stuff with food." Ephron asked Gordon to ship the componenets separately (cake, cream, and crunch) so that she could assemble the finished product in New York. She began serving it at birthdays, Thanksgiving, and dinner parties. Sometimes she requested decaf. Once she asked a Hollywood actor to shlep one on a plane. "We did this many, many times," Gordon says. "And that went on until the end."
The popularity of the resurrected cake led Gordon to experiment with other lost favorites, including some she had never tasted. The recipes for these celebration cakes, as well as for pies, petits fours, and shortbreads, are compiled in her first cookbook, Sweet (Artisan, $35), so home cooks can relive (or make new) memories for themselves. as she writes in the book, "Unlike pictures, books or paintings, we can't just look at a recipe for a dessert to live on - we need to taste it."