It's amazing how one song can take you back to your college days. The other day I was doing errands in my car without the children in tow. Both kids were at school and for once (!) I got to listen to the music that *I* wanted to hear: No Raffi, no Led Zeppelin and certainly no Music Together ("Hello everybody! So glad to see you!") for this girl. Just some good old fashioned grunge music on KFOG. Pearl Jam's "Black" came on and immediately I was transported back to the pastry kitchen of the cafe that I worked at in college. I only lasted about three months as a pastry baker on the graveyard shift because I was also working as a nanny during the day and trying to hold down a full schedule of classes. You can guess what happened to my G.P.A. during that time. It sped downhill so fast that I had to use every extra credit trick in the book to pull it back up again.
I loved the job even though the hours were brutal on me. I would go into the shop at 4 AM, prep and bake all the baked goods for the cafe and then go to classes at 10 AM, often with flour under my fingernails and butter hand prints smeared on the butt of my jeans. I felt this need to fill every moment of my life with "something" and I thought it felt wildly romantic to be up at 4 AM baking scones and croissants while the rest of the world slept. I loved the solitude of my work, being alone with Pearl Jam thumping through the kitchen stereo and having the authority to make whatever I felt like with the ingredients on hand. It was great to be creative for once and it was there that I discovered that I am a morning person - till I had kids and they redefined what a "morning person" really is.
The owners of the cafe were a young couple that had moved to my little college town right after they married in Louisiana. The wife had been a cook in the army and she knew a lot about cooking large quantities of food, she ran a tight ship with the college students as her employees. Her recipes for the cafe pretty much all came from her mother's kitchen and one of the most popular items we made were the Mondo Muffins. They were baked in oversized muffin tins and we always had several different kinds to chose from. Whenever I could swing it with the ingredients on hand, I would always made the Coffee Cake Mondo Muffin. It was packed with walnuts and I was very generous with the crumble topping because I thought it was the most delicious treat in the world. I could not get enough of those muffins.
But as my grades and social life slipped (I was the only person leaving the bars as many of my friends were just starting their night out) I knew I had to find another job. I gave my two weeks notice to the cafe and they asked if I would consider working as a barista in the front of the cafe. I immediately accepted the job and worked there till I graduated.
I didn't have to give up my Mondo Muffins or the mean coffee addiction I created while working there, but I did have to give up making the call on what we would be selling that day. It was a bittersweet goodbye, but probably for the best.
I don't have the original recipe anymore because I lost it somewhere between here and 1996, but I recently combined an old Martha Stewart recipe with a crumb topping recipe from Smitten Kitchen and had great results. I highly advise eating these at 6 AM while driving a 1972 Volkswagon bug, listening to some Pearl Jam and wearing your boyfriend's flannel shirt and your brand spankin' new Doc Marten's.
Cafe Paulo's Coffee Cake Mondo Muffins
(Combined recipes from Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups flour
- Prepare crumb topping: in a large bowl, whisk sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then, add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon. It will look and feel like a solid dough. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Prepare muffins: Butter and flour a jumbo 12-cup muffin tin (or two 6-cup muffin tins).
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, sour cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well combined. With mixer on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture. Stir in walnuts. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Using your fingers, crumble the crumb mixture on top of the muffins. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.