nutmeg coffee cake

After many discussions and much gentle prodding, the school has finally agreed to let me teach a baking class to the 10th grade girls! (!!!!)

Every Tuesday morning, the twelve girls and I meet for two hours in the panaderia (bakery), a little room at the top of the outdoor stairs above the kitchen.

The main idea is this: I teach them a recipe and then they sell the product to the other students and teachers. With the money that we earn, we buy the next week’s ingredients. This isn’t how it goes exactly—sometimes the cakes burn or come out undercooked—but so far we’ve managed to cover the ingredient costs. With a bit of practice, there is the potential for some substantial, or at least satisfactory, earnings.

Last week I taught them how to make banana cake. This week, it was nutmeg coffee cake. My husband came along and played the role of paparazzi. (He teaches carpentry to the 10th grade boys on Wednesdays—this way he’s freed up on Tuesdays to be my number one assistant.)

the metal pans: handmade by my husband’s carpentry students

The morning proceeds like so:
1. We arrive early to open up the panaderia. We scrub the tables—the room is infested with mice and flies, so we disinfect everything at the last minute, work quickly, and then clean up ASAP. (Starting next week, I’ve asked the girls to come at 7:30 so they can do the prep work and we can get started sooner.)

that’s the oven over yonder 

2. We hunt down the ingredients. This can get sort of tricky because even though I submit my ingredient list ahead of time, I never know if I’ll get exactly what I asked for. There is always a moment of panic when I first arrive and no one seems to have any clue where the ingredients are stored and whether or not anyone actually purchased them. But then, somehow, miraculously, everything comes together.

3. I start the class by briefly explaining the recipe and then we jump right in. Once the cakes are in the oven, we clean up and then gather around the tables to talk. The girls copy down the recipe in their notebooks, we calculate the costs and how much we need to sell the cake for in order to make a small profit, and I drill them on measurements and fractions (something they are deplorably weak in.  If anyone has links to some good fractiony worksheety websites—basic addition, multiplication, division, etc—I’m all ears).

4. When the cake comes out of the oven, we cut them up and the girls take trays downstairs where they promptly get mobbed by all the students having their mid-morning break and looking for something to eat along with their corn drink (or whatever beverage the kitchen is serving that day).

Except this week, the girls never even made it downstairs to sell. As we were pulling the cakes out of the oven, the teachers flooded the room. They bought entire pans. Within minutes, all the cake was sold. My husband didn’t even get a taste.

eager teachers

I’m a little surprised by all the cake-loving enthusiasm. I figured people would be happy about it, but to snap it right up? That I did not expect.

This eagerness is good, wonderful even, but I have to figure out how to handle it.

*Maybe we should raise the price? (But I don’t want to exclude the poorer students…)

*Make more cake and make it more often? (I’d love to have another class with a different group of students, but that all depends on the director…)

*Limit purchasing power? (But I hate withholding cake from anyone!) (I think one student bought an entire pan with the intention of selling it at an increased rate to make a profit. That, while admirably entrepreneurial, will not be happening again.)

And now, for all you bakers, a request. I’m looking for simple recipes with the following limitations:

*Must not call for butter. Or if it does, it must taste good with a margarine, vegetable shortening, oil, or lard substitute.
*Does not call for cream or any fancy ingredients such as chocolate, cheese, or nuts.
*From start to finish, the recipe must take no more than two hours.
*The finished product must be easy to divide up and eat out of hand.

cleaning up at the outdoor pila

The ingredients that are abundant and which I’d like to incorporate include: cardamom, cinnamon, limes, mangoes, pineapple, bananas, corn, mayonnaise, powdered milk, etc.

Some ideas that I’m already mulling over:
*mango-cardamom coffee cake
*cardamom-lime scones (I’m a little nervous about working with cardamom as I’ve heard that no one likes it or eats it, despite the fact that it is everywhere here, raised for export)
*cornbread made with maseca flour (or better yet, their homemade corn masa)
*a cake made with mayonnaise in place of some of the shortening (because it worked so well with this recipe)
*cinnamon cookies (made these tonight with margarine instead of butter; they were a hit)
*a good icing using shortening and a somewhat grainy confectioner’s sugar

Nutmeg Coffee Cake
Adapted from the More-With-Less Cookbook (I think).

This nutmeg coffee cake (torta de nuez moscada) is something I taught to the Nicaraguan women that I worked with many years back. It’s super simple to make and pairs very well with a cup of coffee. To fancy it up, serve it with sweetened fresh fruit and a bit of whipped cream. (Here, we make it with vegetable shortening, not butter, sob.)

4 cups four
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour milk
2 eggs, beaten
nutmeg, freshly grated, if possible

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and butter until the mixture resembles pebbly sand. (I use my fingers, but you could use a food processor.) Remove 2/3 cup of the mixture and set aside.

Add the baking soda, milk, and eggs. Mix lightly to combine.

Pour the batter into a greased 9×12-inch pan. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the batter. Sprinkle the whole thing with lots of freshly ground nutmeg.

Bake the cake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and puffy.


  • Anonymous

    Our family's favorite cake uses oil not butter. I've made this with lemons for the oranges, so limes should work too. The slowest part is grating the zest and juicing.

    Ultra Orange Cake (from Joy of Cooking)

    1 1/2 cups flour
    1 cup sugar
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 cup orange juice
    1/3 cup vegetable oil
    1 tbl grated orange zest
    1 tbl vinegar
    1 tsp vanilla

    Combine dry ingredients, combine and add wet ingredients. Stir til smooth. Bake 30-35 min at 350 F in greased and floured pan.

  • Aili

    You said coconuts are hard to come by, but what about coconut oil? I've been using it as a replacement for butter in my baking, and it is DIVINE. I don't do a straight replacement, more like 2/3 as much oil as butter (just like substituting margarine or shortening).

    I'm so impressed with those pans. I agree with everyone above, you are empowering these kids and that means a lot. I hope you're having the kids handle the money? Talk about math lessons.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Nope, no coconut oil. It's here, yes, but as a specialty item, not something that the locals can use. (I buy it by the gallon in the States.)

      Yes, we're doing math. It's an uphill battle. Simple fraction addition makes their eyes glaze over.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Yes, I can get cocoa powder, but it's expensive, so we'll have to use it in moderation. No cocoa-packed brownies for this class (sob).

  • teekaroo

    Can you get cocoa powder? I seem to remember you saying it's tough to find… or was that vanilla? Anyway, I used to make brownies with margarine instead of butter and they turned out fine. There's always "blonde" brownies.

    This sounds like such a wonderful class to be teaching. Wonderful that there is such a great reception.

  • Camille

    Professor B Math (if you google it, it comes up) is a brilliant way to teach basic math including factions. The concepts build on each other, however, and I don't know if they have online worksheets or not. We have the books. Hopefully you will find something that works. 🙂

    Happy weekend to you!

  • Sara-hare

    Those pans are seriously impressive. How about a Boston Brown Bread-type quick bread? It can be adapted all sorts of ways. Here's the recipe from It calls for milk, but you can probably make some with the powdered milk. And other sweeteners could probably be subbed for the maple syrup/honey. Ditto with the dried fruit. Mine cooked in an hour, if you used your wider pans they'd probably be done faster… and they make very nice slices. (On second thought, you might have trouble finding rye flour. But just in case, here's the recipe.)

    8 ounces (about 1½ cups) all-purpose flour
    8 ounces (about 2 cups) rye flour
    4½ ounces (about 1 cup) whole wheat flour
    4 ounces (about 2/3 cup) medium- or coarse-grind cornmeal
    1 tablespoon baking soda
    1½ teaspoons baking powder
    1¼ teaspoons salt
    ¼ cup molasses
    ¼ cup honey or maple syrup (I used honey)
    2 cups whole milk, plus a bit more, if you end up needing it
    1 cup dried cherries (or dried blueberries, or dried currants)
    Butter for the pans

    Heat the oven to 300 degrees and butter your cans or pans.

    Whisk together the dry ingredients (flours, cornmeal, leaveners, and salt) in a large bowl. Add the molasses, honey, and milk, and mix with your hands until the dough just comes together. Do not overmix. If it's crumbly, add more milk, a tablespoonful at a time, until you have your dough. Gently fold in the dried cherries.

    Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cans or pans, and bake for 60-90 minutes (my 9 x 5 inch loaves were done in 50) until deep brown with a hard, crisp crust. You can stick them with a toothpick, if you want to make sure their insides are cooked through. Remove from the cans or pans while still warm and transfer to a rack to cool.

    Very good with cream cheese, but margarine would be tasty too, I'm sure.

    Also, old-fashioned sugar cookies are traditionally made with vegetable oil. You could get fancy and add chopped peanuts and cardamom on top some, sugar and cinnamon on top others, etc.

    And plain old pound cake, too. You could add a glaze with mango juice and powdered sugar, or something along those lines.

  • jenny_o

    I was about to suggest biscuits or banana bread but I see you already thought of those.

    So then I did a search for lime cake and found this:

    It looks simple and good; my only question would be do you have access to eggs?

    In case you don't want to use the link, here is an abbreviated version (I'm assuming you're familiar with the measure "dl" – I was not, but when I looked it up, it turns out to be Spanish :))

    West African Lime Cake

    2 ½ dl sugar
    2 ½ tbs butter/margarine
    2 eggs
    juice of 1 lime
    3 ½ dl flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    chopped peanuts (optional)

    for the icing:
    icing sugar
    lime juice
    a drop of green food coloring (optional)

    Cream the sugar and margarine, then add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Add lime juice, flour and baking powder and mix together.
    If using the peanuts, chop into fine pieces and mix into batter. Pour batter into a greased and floured cake pan and bake in the oven at 175 C for 25 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool for a few minutes. (I think I would leave it in the pan to cool a bit first.)

    Make icing by mixing icing sugar and lime juice together with a drop or two of green food coloring if you like. Spread the icing over the top of the cake, then let it stand in the refrigerator to cool. Cut the cake into square pieces.

    Takes approximately 1 h to make overall. Baking time is 25 min, and preparations and decorations are approximately 30 min.


    I think you are doing a wonderful thing teaching cooking skills to the students there, and your husband also, teaching carpentry. Those are basic skills that girls and boys can use for the rest of their lives.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Jenny-o, Thanks for the recipe and your encouragement! And I forgot to mention that there are lots of peanuts here (but no peanut butter!), so that part shouldn't be a problem…

  • Amanda Jean

    I second the banana bread and pineapple upside-down cake! Also, I don't have a specific recipe, but I know there are corn cakes/corn breads that are made to be more of a dessert, usually with fruit in them. That might be worth trying? Even plain corn bread with honey drizzled over it (or some kind of fruit spread, which could be made by the girls) is, in my opinion, a delicious treat!

  • Anonymous

    What about a fruit pizza? Use a sugar cookie crust (made with margarine would be fine, I think). Instead of the cream cheese layer, you could do some kind of lime glaze (I'm thinking kind of like lemon curd?) and then pile on sliced mangoes, pina, bananas, and any other fruit you can get your hands on.

  • Rachelle

    Ah, it's a shame. I make this gluten-free bread at home that's just so quick and easy, but it's made out of almond flour and arrowroot powder and somehow I don't think those are easy to come by there. It's nice though because it requires no yeast (so no time-consuming rising!) and has an almost cornbread-like consistency to it.

    I think this is such a great idea though. There's just something special about making something that your classmates want to eat. When I was in 8th or 9th grade, we had a class project (for history, believe it or not) to make bread that the teacher would cook for us and we'd eat it at the end of the week. I was a pretty shy person and wasn't good at asserting myself so even though I knew my group was making it very, very badly, I didn't make enough of a fuss for it to be made right. So I took the recipe home to my dad and asked him to help me make the loaves. Of course, with one-on-one assistance, they turned out lovely and when I took the loaves in to school the next day, everyone wanted to try them. It was a good thing I did though because the ones my group had made were basically inedible.

    It was such a great feeling though, knowing that people liked what I cooked! It's kept me interested in cooking for my entire life so far.

  • Margo

    I'm in love with those pans – I think that's so COOL.

    And I LOVE that you are teaching a cooking class! I will be thinking of this for a while – I love a good kitchen problem to solve!

    What about drop cheese biscuits using lard? They're portable, although they're savory and not sweet.

    What about crepes or an oven crepe like the oven pancake in Simply in Season? You could use cornmeal as part of the flour and make a sweet banana or mango filling with cinnamon.

    Lard is GREAT for soft cookies – make those old-fashioned Menno granny cookies, sugar cookies, with cinnamon on top.

    And here's a muffin recipe:

    I've subbed in other fruits, so I think chopped mango would work fine. I wouldn't use dried fruits, as they might pull too much moisture from the batter and make dry muffins. Also, I think you can fudge all those different flours and get away with some white and oats.

    Gotta run to the bus stop!

  • Trish has great fraction worksheets! I use them all the time with my 6 & 10 year olds.

    This is a great cinnamon-sugar & apple cake recipe. You can leave off the topping or make it with margarine and it is still delish:

    Wow – After all the recipes I've used from your site, I'm so happy to be sharing one with you!

    • Jennifer Jo

      That apple cake looks sublime! Apples are imported and very expensive, but I'm wondering about using green mango instead…

  • Zoë

    Can you find cream? You could always teach them to make butter.

    Can you get oats? you could make a sweet baked oatmeal…

    What about molasses? Gingerbread….

    How about coconut? Here's a Pineapple cake:
    2 cups sugar
    2 eggs
    2 cups flour
    2 t baking soda
    1 cup chopped nuts (I'm guessing it'd still be delicious without these)
    1 cup coconut
    20 oz crushed pineapple with juice (fresh would probably taste awesome!)
    Cream eggs and sugar. Add remaining ingredients. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes. This is good without icing.

    • Jennifer Jo

      No cream (there is thick sour cream, but it's expensive), no molasses, and, believe it or not, I'm having a hard time finding coconut.

      I've thought about the baked oatmeal idea already…

      That recipe looks wonderful!

    • Zoë

      oops, just reread the post and realized you said there is no cream 🙂

      No coconut? Wow! Hmm. Guess my pineapple cake isn't such a hot idea then.

      I'll keep thinking…

  • Kathy ~ Artful Accents

    I love this post! These young ladies are being empowered with valuable skills. And the cake sounds so simple yet so tasty.

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