Between baking and a Ph.D.

By James Mallare, Ph.D student in kinesiology, health and sport studies

For me, happiness comes in the form of an accepted article to a journal, sugar, butter and anything with carbs—I love baking and writing. My love of baking as a form of relaxation came long before I started my doctorate. As I got knee deep into my research, my long-drawn-out evenings over my stand mixer where I would produce madeleines, macarons (and yes, there is a difference between macarons and macaroons) and loaves of sourdough, turned into “procrasti-baking”. I was baking for the sake of having something to munch on as I edited. Your average doctoral candidate rarely has time for anything other than their research and they often neglect self-care and doing things that make them feel, frankly, alive.

It wasn’t until the recent periods of quarantine where I rediscovered the serenity found in baking. Baking while trying to complete a Ph.D. can teach you a lot. It has trained me to develop my mental stamina and the philosophy that “expectations don’t always turn into reality, and that’s okay”! I am certain that many of us can relate to this expectation vs reality dilemma in our academic endeavors. We pick a methodology we appreciate, we follow the directions, but the result can be an unplanned mess. Sound familiar? We often forget that it’s perfectly acceptable to take time to get used to new ways of doing things—much like baking! Baking has also taught me to enjoy the process as much as the result. We often get so caught up in making sure that the end result is perfect for the cake stand that we miss enjoying the richness of the ingredients, the fun of putting everything together, and the people we get to share it with—much like a graduate degree.

Move over barefoot contessa, Ina Garten, James Mallare, the baker waiting to put icing on his Ph.D., is here to walk you through an easy yet delectable coffee cake loaf to enjoy on a morning of self-care or as a pick-me-up during a long day of studying.

This blog was inspired by fellow Ph.D. procrasti-bakers whose recipes I've come to love and still use and for posting your baking triumphs and failures. Pop some icing on it and it will always be a triumph!

Please modify the recipe accordingly if you are allergic to any ingredients listed.

Coffee cake loaf recipe

Ready in: 1hr 10mins
Makes 1 loaf


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon (set aside 1 teaspoon for crumble topping)
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs (can use ¼ cup of applesauce or yogurt as a substitute)
  • 1 cup of milk (oat or almond work great too!)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 shot glass of espresso or instant coffee

Optional crumble topping:

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of melted butter


  1. Preheat your oven to 350° and lightly butter or nonstick spray a 9x5x3-inch baking pan.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, 2 ½ teaspoons of cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
  3. In another bowl, combine the eggs (or substitutes), milk, oil, butter, vanilla, espresso/instant coffee.
  4. Slowly combine wet ingredients with the dry mixture until no lumps appear.
  5. To create the crumb topping, combine the brown sugar, flour, remaining cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Slowly add the butter and stir until large crumbs form.
  6. Pour the loaf batter into the pan and sprinkle on crumb topping.
  7. Bake for 55-60 mins or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.
  8. Let cool for 15 mins.

If this recipe doesn’t strike your fancy, set some time aside to bake your favorite sweet treat and enjoy a pocket of peace and calm in your busy week. And as Ina always says: “If you don’t have it, store bought is fine too”. Enjoy!

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