Oh, the joys of fresh blueberries!
Available in a backyard near you, but sometimes just not soon enough!
I've been keeping a close eye on my blueberry bushes this year. With the very wet spring, they just don't seem to be themselves. Last year, our crop from 3 bushes was so large, that I *gasp* simply stopped picking them by mid September. I had taken bowlfuls to work, baked till I was blue in the face, and had several gallons of berries in the freezer. I couldn't face another round of picking and washing, so I shared my bounty with the birds, chipmunks and the occasional poodle. (Charlie likes to eat berries right off the bush).
This year is a very different story, though. Many of the branches didn't have blossoms, or very few, and growth seems to be down too. Being the superstitious person that I am, I blame my fussing over last year's profusion on this year's poor showing. Mother Nature is in a snit and has decided to teach me a lesson in thankfulness. A more reasonable gardener, namely my husband, assures me this is not the case, and with a good shot of fertilizer in the fall, all will be well next year.
In the meantime, just knowing that my berry supply will be far less this year, I've begun a hunt for some truly spectacular recipes, not wanting to waste a single plump purple berry. I'm a huge fan of the blueberry-lemon combination. I almost always add lemon oil and lemon zest to my pie crust for blueberry pie, and a little lemon zest to my blueberry muffins as well. I know I'll have enough berries for a batch or two of muffins, but I'm not sure if I'll have enough for a whole pie.
What about coffee cake? Tender, warm coffee cake with moist bursting berries, tinging the cake a delicate lilac in places. For the lemon, I thought about adding lemon zest, but while rooting about in the test kitchen fridge, I came across a container of candied lemon peel. Perfect! After nibbling a few pieces, you know, just to be sure it tasted just right, I nabbed the whole container and headed back to my mixer.
Now, I know most folks associate lemon peel or peel in general with holiday baking and panettone, but why not use it in the summer? A container stored in the fridge will last around 8 months and quite often there is just enough left in the container for one more batch of something after the holidays, since one can only eat so much fruitcake. Allow me to suggest another great use for the peel. Lemon streusel. A white streusel, richly studded with peel, adding tang and enhancing the sweetness of the berries. Now that's my idea of coffee cake.
Let's get started on our Blueberry Coffee Cake with Lemon Streusel.
First, let's talk berries. You can use fresh or frozen berries for the coffee cake. My fresh berries aren't ripe yet, so it's frozen berries for me today. Nowadays, most frozen fruit and veggies are flash frozen within hours of picking, so the quality is excellent.
Whenever I use frozen berries, I like to give them a rinse first to get off any large ice crystals, and any extra juice from all the handling and traveling the package has been through. Just pop the berries in a colander and rinse under cool water.
As you can see, there's plenty of extra color to be rinsed away. My dishes wound up with a lovely purple hue! Set the berries aside to drain well and CLEAN THE SINK!
While the berries drain, let's make streusel.
Combine the flour, sugar and salt, whisking until well combined. Toss the peel in until well coated.
If you prefer smaller pieces of peel, as many of our taste testers did, you can pulse this mixture in a food processor for 15-20 seconds. You will still have visible pieces of peel, ready to provide a bright burst of lemon in the streusel.
Break up the butter with your fingers and add it to the bowl. Sprinkle on the lemon oil OR lemon extract and work all into the flour/peel mixture. You can use a pastry blender for this, but I'm a use-your-fingers kind of baker.
The streusel will have mostly large lumps and a wet, sandy feel. The large pieces should "squish" easily between your fingers, but not feel melted or soggy. Set this aside while you make the cake batter.
Now is a good time to prepare your pan too, and preheat the oven to 350°F. This recipe works well for a 9"x 13"x 2" pan or two 8" x 2" round pans. Our bake-and-give pans are perfect for this. One to keep and one to share!
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. See how the tips of the mixture form little peaks? That's a good sign that your mixture is lightening up.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after adding each egg until it's incorporated.
This egg isn't fully incorporated yet. See the clumps of yolk at the bottom of the bowl, and note the curdled look of the batter. Keep on mixin'!
There you go, all better. The batter is beginning to thicken up nicely. On to the sour cream!
Add the sour cream and vanilla. Again, mix until well blended. There is no added flour at this point, so you won't be toughening the cake. Don't go overboard though.
Last, add your dry ingredients. Now is when you want to be careful about over-blending or overbeating. Remember, gluten begins to form when the flour gets wet, and mixing and stretching will strengthen that gluten. By mixing just until there are no streaks of flour left in the batter, you're ensuring that the gluten doesn't tighten up and make your cake chewy and tough. A light hand makes a light cake.
Gently fold in your well-drained berries. Mine were still a little wet, so there are some definite purple streaks going on. Blotting the berries with a paper towel before adding to the batter will help take care of that.
Spread the batter in your prepared pan. My purple streaks are still there, but they'll be covered in streusel soon.
Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the cake batter. You will most likely need to break up some of the clumps to get all-over coverage.
Mmmm, you can still see bits of lemon peel in the streusel. If you didn't run the topping through the food processor, the bits will be larger. I like the chewiness of the larger pieces of peel, and the slight bitter taste the larger pieces offer, but this is definitely "baker's choice."
Into the oven they go. Time to tidy up, check email and make a cup of tea. Set your timer accordingly, so you don't forget these beauties.
Ah, done to perfection. The toasted streusel, the tender fragrant cake. A tester inserted into the center should come out clean, or with just a moist crumb or two attached.
Do let the cake cool slightly before serving. It's very tender, and needs a little time to set. Just enough time for you to make another cup of tea! Enjoy your well-earned treat and keep your fingers crossed for my berry bushes' speedy recovery; I'll definitely be wanting more of this cake.
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