We all harbor secret fantasies of moving away, starting a café, and feeding people. Every month, Sarah Kieffer from the Vanilla Bean Blog will be indulging us with stories and recipes from the Wolners, who own the Blue Heron Coffeehouse in Winona, Minnesota.
Today: Give boozy cakes a chance with this apple rum cake.
I took a lot away from my time at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse. There were the usual food service things: I could smile and banter with customers while simultaneously composing papers due that same afternoon; my math skills were put to good use on an old cash register that didn’t tell me how much change I needed to give back (this was when people still carried wrinkled dollar bills in their pockets); and I knew people by their insanely detailed, complicated drink orders. Still today, when I visit Winona, I see a face on the street and may not recall a name, but mutter there is medium half-caff hazelnut latte with no froth.
I also learned valuable kitchen skills. I was taught how to slice and dice onions properly, how to make yeasted breads, and how to bake the perfect scone. Colleen helped me through pies and cakes, and Larry instructed me on the importance of approaching my work confidently, but humbly. My time in the Blue Heron kitchen spilled over into my home kitchen, and their recipes and guidance followed me from dorm to apartment, and then from house to house. My basic kitchen work skills became a practice in my life, and I learned to expand on them in my own time, and share them with my own family. Looking back I see how all those nights mopping floors and making piles of Greek veggie sandwiches during the lunch rush eventually led to making that chocolate chip cookie with the perfect amount of salt and chocolate, and that simple apple cake soaked with rum sauce.
Because that apple cake with rum sauce! So easy to put together, with some butter and sugar and flour and apples. The cake itself isn’t terribly fancy, but as the rum sauce spills down the sides and sinks into the very core, it’s a true Christmas miracle. Simple, honest, and earthy, with a hint of extravagant: It’s the Blue Heron all wrapped up in a cake.
“I don’t know what rituals my kids will carry into adulthood, whether they’ll grow up attached to homemade pizza on Friday nights, or the scent of peppers roasting over a fire, or what. I do know that flavors work their own ways under the skin, into the heart of longing. Where my kids are concerned I find myself hoping for the simplest things: that if someday they crave orchards where their kids can climb into the branches and steal apples, the world will have trees enough with arms to receive them.”
-- Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped
Photos by Sarah Kieffer