The Sweet Tradition of LAUSD’s Iconic Coffee Cake Dating back to the 1950s

When April Heinz’s adult children return to Los Angeles, they always yearn for LA Unified’s renowned coffee cake.

“They’re now graduated and in college…they came back [for] summer break. I had a couple of slices of coffee cake for them, and they were like, ‘Oh my gosh!’… because, you know it’s a famous thing,” shared Heinz, a Marina Del Rey Middle School staffer.

Accounts like Heinz’s are plentiful. LAUSD’s coffee cake is a top favorite on the district’s menu. Annually, LA Unified dishes out 800,000 slices of the coffee cake across 700 cafeterias, as per an LAIST report.

The coffee cake recipe has a history tracing back to 1954 and has seen alterations due to federal USDA regulations. Evelen Guirguis, a 30-year veteran with the district and the current cafeteria manager at Marina del Rey Middle School, mentioned that shortening, an ingredient “high in calories and offers no nutritional benefits,” has since been eliminated.

Baking more now that you are staying home? Remember the legendary LAUSD Old Fashioned Coffee Cake? Here is the original recipe from 1954. Photo credit: Danielle Chiriguaya. pic.com/xpzN48JeXZ

— Los Angeles Unified (@LASchools) April 7, 2020

“Before, the (ingredients) came from the government. Now we buy everything ourselves.” said Guirguis. “We have our own vendor now…[which] means we get the best [products] and everything is fresh,”

Some of the ingredients used to make a LAUSD style coffee cake include vegetable oil, granulated sugar and flour. (Jinge Li/The 74)

An update to the current coffee cake recipe is anticipated in the fall, driven by new federal regulations that aim to reduce sugar levels. 

Nonetheless, the beloved cake remains in high demand. 

“Even though the fat content has declined, it’s still a very moist cake…a big part of nutrition is what you enjoy,” conveyed Manish Singh, director of LAUSD food services.

The district even tweeted out the recipe during the pandemic, encouraging people to make it while they were home. 

Singh shared that earlier this month, the district ordered 3,500 pieces of coffee cake for a staff appreciation day which quickly disappeared. “We did a similar thing last year. The first time, they ordered 1,000 pieces and were worried there would be leftovers. It was gone in 20 minutes.”

The cake’s popularity has even spurred businesses like Runaway Sweet Treats in Los Angeles to offer Old School “LAUSD” Coffee Cake on their menu using the original recipe. It’s also a hit on back-to-school night, with parents queuing up for a slice.  

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho is also an enthusiast, requesting it for monthly principals’ meetings.

When a student reporter with several boxes of coffee cake returned to the University of Southern California campus, a security guard recognized the packaging and asked for a  piece.

The recipe isn’t the only thing that has evolved. With the decline in cafeteria-made foods, some schools have outsourced the production process to a third-party vendor. However, the cake is still handmade in 25-30 school kitchens, Singh noted. 

“Where we have the capacity, and where the staff is able to make it from scratch, we still encourage them to make it from scratch,” Singh remarked. 

Evelen Guirguis spreads brown sugar on the cake before putting it into the oven. (Jinge Li/The 74)

Guirguis is one of the many dedicated individuals behind the creation of this legendary cake. Weekly, she and her team bake nearly 600 coffee cakes before 7:45 AM breakfast for the students at Marina del Rey Middle School and seven other LAUSD campuses.

From prep to finish, it only takes her 30 minutes to bake two trays of fresh coffee cake. Baking the cake, she shared, is the highlight of her job.

When questioned about the cake’s popularity, Guirguis expressed, “It’s because we make it with love.”

Discover how to make this legendary treat below:

@the74_

Los Angeles Unified School District’s coffee cake is one of the most popular items on the district’s menu. Learn more about the 70 year old tradition, and see the full recipe, at The74million.org

♬ Piano Jazz for Cooking(1403641) – earbrojp

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