Lemon-Blackberry Coffeecake

I have had people ask me if there is any type of food that I really miss having here in Israel, and I usually say real Chinese and Indian restaurants. But, last week I saw a big container of frozen blackberries on sale and it reminded me of the beautiful container of large, sweet blackberries my sister bought when I was visiting her in the States a few months ago. I really miss fresh berries of all kinds, especially raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. There were blackberry bushes at the end of the street where I grew up, and every summer I would go and pick some to eat on the spot, or gather some and take them home, where they were made into delicious blackberry pies. You can find berries growing in northern Israel, but you have to pay double or triple what you pay in the States for them, and you only get a very small container.

I put some of the blackberries on top of a bowl of sheep’s yogurt and the rest I used to make a quick and easy coffeecake for Shabbat.

Lemon-Blackberry Coffeecake

Serving Size: 8 to 10

For the streusel:

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup all purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon lemon zest

40g (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

For the cake:

50g (1/2 stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

1/2 cup plain yogurt, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 cup fresh or frozen blackberries, well drained

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Lightly butter a 22cm (8 inch) round pan or use a corrugated paper baking round.

For the streusel:

Whisk together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and salt in a medium-size bowl. Mix in the softened butter into the flour mixture until it resembles granola, some larger chunks, some smaller. Set the mixture aside.

For the cake:

Cream the butter and sugar until light colored and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined. Be sure to scrape down the bowl. Beat in the yogurt and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. Add to the batter, mixing only until combined. Do not over mix or the cake will be tough. Gently fold in the blackberries until well distributed throughout the batter. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle with the lemon streusel mixture until the batter is completely covered.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes before serving.


Grandmother’s Cake

I think there are about 9 or 10 different varieties of dates grown here in Israel. Dates were always an exotic treat for me as a kid. My father made a delicious apple and date cake, and I would always sneak some of the dates to munch on. My favourite variety of dates is Medjoul, they are  luscious pieces of caramel in your mouth. They are so rich that I can only eat a couple at a time.

Babkas are dime a dozen here because of the Eastern European influence on baked goods, but this is the Middle East and there is definitely a twist on things. For example, I don’t think you would find a Babka filled with date filling in Russia or Poland, at least not thirty or forty years ago. Here you find them filled with halva and chocolate, date, chocolate, hazelnut or walnut filling.

This recipe produces a moist and not too sweet babka. I glazed this babka with orange syrup that I had from making candied orange peel. It was a nice added touch to the cake.

Date, Orange and Walnut Babka

Yield: 2 loaves

For the dough:

4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup, less one tablespoon milk or water

50g fresh yeast

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 egg

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g (3-1/2oz) butter, softened or margarine

For Date, Orange and Walnut Filling:

1 cup date filling

(if you can't buy pre-prepared date filling, see below)

Grated zest of 1 medium orange

1 cup chopped walnuts

For syrup (optional):

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Prepare the dough:

Place all of the ingredients except the butter in a mixer fitted with a kneading hook and knead for seven minutes or mix and knead by hand. Add butter and continue kneading for five minutes. The dough should be shiny and very soft. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise to twice the original size.

Meanwhile mix the date filling and grated zest together and set aside.

Prepare the cakes:

Divide the dough in half and roll one piece on a well-floured surface to 20x30cm (9x12 inches) rectangle. Spread half of date filling on the dough and then sprinkle half of the walnuts on top of the date filling.

Roll the dough into a tight log, pinching either end of the log. Slice the log lengthwise and braid the two pieces together. Line a loaf pan with baking paper and tuck in the ends of cake so it fits snugly into the pan. Repeat the process with the second piece of dough.

Allow to rise until doubled. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes until deep golden brown.

While the cakes are baking, bring the water and sugar to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Brush the hot cakes with the syrup. They will keep fresh wrapped in foil for 3-4 days or you can freeze them.


Date Filling

Yield: 1-1/2 cups

1 cup chopped, pitted dates

6 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine both ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat about five minutes or until thick. Let cool before using.


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