If you grew up in the Los Angeles, your fond memories of high school may include the warm coffee cake served mornings in district cafeterias — a dense, fragrant confection of yellow cake dusted with a sandy topping of cinnamon sugar, plain but comforting, especially when you chased it with a gulp or two of milk. What did kids at Dorsey and Crenshaw have over their compatriots at fancy suburban high schools? That coffee cake. Also much better football teams.
During summer vacations, my mother, who taught at Dorsey for more than 25 years, would try to reverse-engineer that cake, with varying degrees of success. Her cakes were often better than the original, but they never quite replicated the specific experience, which she often craved with her morning cup of Folgers. She was happy when September came along.
But Duane Earle, who owns the beloved Crenshaw hot dog stand Earlez Grille, recently figured out the secret of the district’s cake, down to the slight gumminess, the smack of cinnamon-vanilla, and that vague grittiness that let you know you were at school and not at your aunt’s house. He calls them Ol’ School Cakes.
They’re even better when you stick them in a toaster oven for a few seconds to warm them up. Serve with weak coffee or eight-ounce cartons of milk. Are Ol’ School Cakes scented as powerfully with nostalgia as they are with cinnamon? Probably. But you know you want to give them a try.
You can find Ol’ School Cakes at a number of locations in central Los Angeles, but you might as well go to the source. Earlez Grille is rebuilding for a grand January reopening, but you can find the cake – and the hot dogs! – at the cart in front of 3864 Crenshaw Blvd., a couple of blocks north of the Baldwin Hills Mall.