A Venti Pumpkin Spice Lamentation

Just as Coca Cola was vastly successful in inventing and selling the modern-day Santa Claus with his post-industrialization coal-burning factory destroying the ozone layer in the north pole and fleet of underpaid (if at all paid) proletarielves, so the emerald double-tailed Ariel was able to bewitch North America with the PSL spell.

Pumpkin Spice Latte – the name itself was designed to be a favourite in North America where fall not only steals the show as the continent’s most beloved season, but also simultaneously exists in pie form as a sweet, warmly spiced squash custard sitting on a flaky pate brisee. This I blame for my detestable naivety, some five years ago, in ordering my first (and last) pumpkin spice latte.

Was it such a transgression that as I uttered the words “pumpkin spice latte” from my mouth that my mind was frolicking in a land of red velvet foliage precipitating in ultra-slow motion in all directions and that my taste buds were fantasizing in some blessed realm where a hot mess of liquified pumpkin pies were a thing just as the hot mess of liquified chocolate is a thing?

Of course, it having been the year 2000, there was not an ounce of pumpkin in all the 16 ounces of the grande cup on which was scribbled my name, with the unnecessary “e” grafted onto the end. So, pumpkin spice latte might have been re-named as simply, and more accurately, spice latte. But that wouldn’t do either, because hard as I tried to find the autumnal threesome in the concoction, no cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger was even obscurely pronounced. In this verdict I found absolutely no joy, no satisfaction. Pumpkin Spice Latte, such a brilliant name – nearly a brand of its own – had been thoroughly betrayed.

But like most things we love to hate, we hate it because there is some part of it that is just sufficiently lovable that it lingers on our minds, and yet forever refuses to address its insupportable flaws to make us truly love it. We wait around for it to change its ways, and each additional chance we give it does nul but reaffirms our perception of its imperfections. We blame ourselves for finding fault in what we hope to be great, and are bitter towards the incompetence of one in possession of such immeasurable potential.

This is the ruin of the promising pumpkin spice latte. Should its name had been mediocre, it, along with its shortcomings would have been forgotten and thus unimportant, and in every sense unhated. Woe is that its name is a pure stroke of genius, but is itself too bland, that it’s quick to find affection, and even quicker to lose it.

For everything created

by God is good,

and nothing is to be


if it is received with thanksgiving.

1 Timothy 4:4

Yeasted Pumpkin Spice Coffee Cake
Yeasted Pumpkin Spice “Latte” Cake

I started eating coffee cake long before I had my first coffee (I might secretly be a coffee cake snob, but nobody has to know). A proper coffee cake has many things, is many things, and is many things not. It has unapologetic altitude, huge flavour, and a relentless greed for streusel. It is moist, hearty, and a little bit chewy. It is not refined, super-sweet, nor begging for attention. You can ignore it and leave it on the counter, and that should make it so comfortable that it becomes even more delicious. One last note, yes, the recipe calls for 1 tbsp of cinnamon – if you’re up for the challenge.

Ingredients for the Coffee Cake Starter:

Note: this stuff keeps forever in the fridge, and becomes better the older it gets, so double/triple up on the recipe to use when needed

  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  1. Stir together all ingredients. Cover and leave in the fridge for a week or at room temperature for 3 days before using.

Ingredients for the Streusel:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup salted butter, softened and cubed
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor in the order listed. Start with short pulses, then finish with a few long pulses until the mixture appears like moist sand and some parts begin to clump together. Set aside until needed.

Ingredients for the Pumpkin Spice Latte Cake:

  • 1 recipe coffee cake starter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 c vegetable oil
  • 1 1/3 c light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 c strong hot coffee
  • 1 recipe streusel
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with the rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the bottom of two deep, 6-inch spring-form pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the starter, eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In a bowl, stir together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Add half of the dry mixture to the yeast mixture and stir just to combine.
  5. Stir in the cream, then follow with the remaining dry mixture.
  6. Add the coffee and stir just to combine.
  7. Divide the batter between the prepared pans.
  8. Use your hands to squeeze handfuls of streusel into large clumps, then crumble it roughly over the batter until all of it is used up.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes, then continue baking at 315 degrees F for 15~20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean with a few moist crumbs.
  10. Cool completely before unmoulding. Serve with, of course, more strong hot coffee.


5 thoughts on “A Venti Pumpkin Spice Lamentation”

  1. I love your writing. Caustically beautiful, sophisticated, and pierces through the sugary fluff right into the heart of truth.
    Yeast in a cake? Now that is something new and I’d definitely try it.

      1. I finally made your cake! Given the tropical climate here in Singapore, not 24 hours has passed before my yeast mixture developed a layer of brown liquid on top. Haha. But after doing some research, I managed to salvage it by discarding half of it and replacing it with fresh milk, flour and sugar. I just let it ferment for another 2 hours before using it. Everything else was awesome! I reduced the sugar for my own liking, and baked it as one 8 inch cake, which added about 30 minutes of baking time at 160C. I might reduce or omit the baking soda and powder next time because yeast is already a strong leaven. But overall the cake was really well-received by those who tried it! It was moist, flavourful, and the streusel topping was winning! Like all spiced cakes, it tasted even better after 1-2 days. Thanks for this recipe! 🙂

      2. Thanks for the detailed feedback, and my apologies about the yeast, I’ve been writing without the tropics in mind which is easy to do when you’re in Ottawa and it’s snowed already. I’m glad you could salvage your starter though, and most of all to hear that you liked the cake!

      3. Oh no please don’t apologise about the yeast! Haha it is really not for you to think about the topics! Just like I wouldn’t think about the seasons when I write my recipes. :)))

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