Friday, May 21, 2010

RED HAT CAKE a la Shirley Jackson by Cleo Coyle

When I am old, I shall wear purple with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves and satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along public railings and make up for the sobriety of my youth. I shall go out in my slippers in the rain and pick flowers in other people's gardens.
And learn to spit...

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

~ Jenny Joseph

by Cleo Coyle

Not long ago, Shirley Hunt Jackson (78 years young) e-mailed me, letting me know how much she and the "Red Hat Ladies" enjoyed my Coffeehouse Mysteries. She signed her note "Queen Mother." Intrigued, I wrote back, asking about these ladies. I thought they were a small, local reading group. Au contraire!

Shirley was serving as the head of a Red Hat Society chapter. These Red Hatters (I discovered) were members of a large international organization after my own heart. Their mission, essentially, is to make an art of being eccentric -- to grow old with panache, camaraderie, and laughter. And the wonderful poem (above) titled "Warning" by Jenny Joseph is practically their mission statement. You can read more about the Red Hatters here.

And, yes, I must add (for those of you who also enjoy reading my Coffeehouse Mysteries) Madame Dreyfus-Allegro-Dubois, the flamboyant octogenarian who has become one of my series' most popular recurring characters, would have loved being a member of the Red Hatters. :)

Shirley Hunt Jackson
Red Hat Queen
(pictured right)

(Isn't that hat amazing?
She even makes her own.)

Now what does all this have to do with Red Hat Cake? I'll tell you. With Memorial Day weekend coming up soon (in the USA), I thought some of you might appreciate a quick and easy dessert recipe for taking to family functions or serving at your back yard barbecues.

In my own kitchen, I usually bake from scratch, but I know so many busy moms out there (especially in the USA) really appreciate cake-mix-starter recipes.

Given the reason for this holiday, I also found myself thinking about the many friends and loved ones I've lost over the years. My mother passed away well over a decade ago. She never saw any of my mysteries published. This is one very personal reason I was so deeply touched when Shirley expressed her love of my books. She even treated me as one of her family by sending me a cookbook of her favorite recipes, which she originally put together for her children and grandchildren.

Today, I am pleased and honored to share one of Shirley's recipes from that book (with a little collaboration from my own kitchen)....


Quick Cherry
Coffee Cake

courtesy of
Shirley Jackson
Cleo Coyle

Note from Shirley Jackson:
"I made this coffeecake for the first time at Pam's home in Houston for group of Red Hat friends. This coffeecake taste just like a yeast bread that has taken you a long time to make. Sure does make your kitchen smell cozy."

Note from Cleo: Over the years, I've seen many cake recipes with a cake mix as starter. I've seen many "pie-filling-over-cake-mix recipes," too. But I've never seen yeast used as an ingredient (have any of you?). The use of yeast in this recipe gives the streusel a sweet bread-like flavor and texture, but without kneading or rising time. It's also fantastic chilled, so it makes a great summer cake, too. Thank you, Shirley!



For dough base:
1 package yellow cake mix
1 cup all-purpose flour, unsifted
1 packet (1/4 ounce) dry yeast
2/3 cup very warm tap water
2 eggs

For topping:

5 Tablespoons butter (salted is fine)
1 can (1 pound 5 ounce) cherry pie filling
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Step 1 - Make dough base: First preheat your oven to 375° Fahrenheit and coat a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with cooking spray (or grease and flour it to prevent sticking). Then, in a large mixing bowl, measure out 1-1/2 cups of the dry cake mix. (You are reserving the remaining mix for the topping). Add the flour and dry yeast. Now add the 2/3rds cup of very warm tap water. Allow the yeast to come alive and bubble for a minute. Finally, add the 2 eggs. Beat everything for 2 minutes at medium speed, scraping bowl often. Dough will be thick. Using a rubber spatula or back of a spoon, spread it across the bottom of your coated baking pan.


Step 2 - Make streusel topping: Melt butter in a saucepan and pour it over the remaining cake mix. Mix the butter in well with the dry mix. It should be lumpy and crumbly. (See photo.)

Step 3 - Assemble coffee cake: Spoon the cherry pie filling evenly across the top of the dough in the baking pan. Sprinkle sugar on top of the filling. Finally, using your fingers, crumble the streusel topping over it all. (There is quite a bit of topping in this recipe. I decided to hold back some of mine so the bright redness of the cherries would really show through.)


Step 4 - Bake and glaze: Bake the coffee cake for 30 minutes in your preheated oven (375° F). Cool the coffee cake on a rack (to allow air to circulate under the hot pan bottom). When the top is fairly cool, drizzle with glaze. See my Quick Glaze recipe below. After cake is served, refrigerate leftovers to keep fresh. This cake is also delicious chilled!



Cleo's note: Shirley's cherry streusel coffee cake glaze used corn syrup, water, and powdered sugar. With her indulgence, I am forgoing that one (because I'm not a big corn syrup fan) and giving you my favorite butter glaze instead. Here is the simple recipe...


2 Tablespoons butter (salted is fine)
2 Tablespoons whole milk (cream or half-and-half)
1 cup confectioner's (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted

Over medium heat, warm butter and milk in a saucepan. Do not let this mixture brown, burn, or boil or you will have a scalded taste in your glaze. As soon as butter has melted, stir in the sifted confectioner's sugar, a little at a time, until it is completely melted. You must work with the glaze quickly, while it is still warm. Using a rubber spatula or spoon, drizzle the warm glaze over the coffee cake. If the glaze hardens up on you, place the saucepan over the heat again and whisk until liquefied and smooth again.



Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of 

To get more of my recipes,
enter to win free coffee, or
learn about my books,
including my bestselling
Haunted Bookshop series,
visit my online coffeehouse:

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are national bestselling
culinary mysteries set in a landmark Greenwich Village 
coffeehouse, and each of the ten titles includes the 
added bonus of recipes. 


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name Alice Kimberly
To learn more, click here.


  1. Oh, Cleo, I do care for a slice or two. Goodness, that cake looks yummy. I adore
    Shirley's hat and the Red Hat ladies. Both
    my mother and my aunt are red hatters and it's
    a group I look forward to joining one day!
    Thank you both for the delicious recipe!

  2. What a gorgeous hat and beautiful pictures of the red hat cake!

    My grandmother and I used to giggle over that poem...we just loved it.

    Now I'm feeling like some coffee cake to go along with my morning java!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Another delicious recipe to try. This is a perfect dish for the holiday weekend.

    The Red Hat Society is an interesting group of ladies. We have a locally chapter here. Love the hat.

    Thoughts in Progress

  4. How gorgeous! I love Shirley's hat - it's probably one of the most beautiful hats I've ever seen. This streusel recipe sounds divine and I'm craving a piece right now. I'll bet it would work with other fruits as well. I have a raspberry streusel I love to make but I might want to try this version next time instead.

    Beautiful post, Cleo.

  5. Oh, my gosh, Cleo. I'm hosting a Pride and Prejudice viewing Sunday morning at my place. (I'm the one person in the group that hasn't seen the Colin Firth version.) Someone is bringing scones and tea, but I think I'm going to make this. It sounds wonderful!

    And, I'm running a contest for autographed copies of Jenn's books on my blog this week, if anyone wants to win Sprinkle with Murder or her two decoupage mysteries, written under Lucy Lawrence.

    Lesa -

  6. Who wouldn't love Shirley? She deserves to have a character based on her. And her recipe looks scrumptious!

    ~ Krista

  7. This is one of my all-time favorite cakes. I've been making a rendition for years! And isn't Shirley lovely? The hat is fabulous! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Replies to --

    @Jenn, Elizabeth, Krista, and Avery - Thank you all for stopping by for a *virtual* slice of Red Hat Cake. This post was a lot of fun to put together!

    @ Julie - For sure, this is a very versatile and super-easy recipe. I don't often use a cake mix as a starter, but I know that so many home cooks (especially in the USA) really like and want that shortcut, and this is one coffeecake that really looks amazing, too - a feast for the eyes as they say. Hey, the countdown to the launch of your new series is on. Grace Under Pressure will soon be on the shelves - you must be very excited! Congrats!

    Lesa - Oh, you are in for a real treat! Colin Firth is superb as the aloof, arrogant (and profoundly intriguing) Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (the BBC 1995 version). The entire cast is outstanding. I especially enjoyed Jennifer Ehle as the sharp, witty, and absolutely endearing Lizzy Bennet (who would have loved the Red Hat Ladies). I'm so glad you told everyone about the contest at your site, too. Jenn's books are so much fun and our site visitors shouldn't miss the chance to win one (autographed, too, woot!)

    ~ Cleo
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  9. wow this looks so easy, and lovely dessert for all the picnics coming up as it looks like it will travel well! thanks for sharing love the cherrie and photo's great instructions~!

  10. That looks like an amazing piece of cake.

  11. Reply to -

    @Claudia (pegasuslegend) - Thank you, Claudia! And anyone who wants some fantastic, classic Italian recipes should check out your blog! Click this link to visit Claudia at What’s Cookin’ Italian Style.

  12. Reply to -

    @Anushruti - thank you for stopping by our *virtual* kitchen today! I'm looking forward to checking out your blog Divine Taste! Have a great day :)

    ~ Cleo
    Coffee Drawing LIVE today at 7 PM (Eastern)
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  13. What a great website! Glad I found you through Tastespotting. This coffee cake looks amazing. It reminds me of the Entemann's raspberry one. I'm bookmarking and baking this up for sure!

  14. OK! I made this, and it's a hit here at work, and I've already given out your recipe. Success! And, just my level of recipe. Very good! Thank you.

  15. Replies to

    @Kate - Thank you! I think you meant - they just selected my Red Hat Cake photo as one of their daily features. Anyone curious to see, just click here to jump to my photo at And I do love Tastespotting, too! Thanks for coming by our *virtual* kitchen, Kate, and I hope you'll drop by again. :-)

    @ Lesa, I am so happy to hear that the cherry coffee cake was a hit. I'm betting Pride and Prejudice was an even bigger hit during your viewing on Sunday. Don't you just love Colin Firth? :)

    ~ Cleo
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  16. this looks lovely and delicious! my grandmother is part of red hat society, i may have to make this for her on her next visit and share the recipe with her, i know she would love it!

  17. Cocina Savant (Daniel and Dawn) - thank you so much for dropping by with such a sweet note. Raising a *virtual* glass of bubbly to your grandmother and hoping she enjoys the coffeecake and the story to go with it.

    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  18. denise @ quickies on the dinner tableMay 25, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    Gorgeous cake Cleo! And it is unusual to include yeast in a cake mix recipe but if it gives such fantastic results - I'm game!

    I have to try this as I adore cherries and anything with a sweet sticky glaze is definitely on my list!