Russian Coffee Cake

I changed jobs this week, and I couldn’t leave my team without bringing them in a cake.  Over the 1.5 years we worked together, my colleagues have got used to me bringing one in from time to time, so I decided to make an old favourite from the very first vegetarian cookbook I ever bought: Mollie Katzen’s fantastic Enchanted Broccoli Forest.  I stopped eating meat 20 years ago and this cookbook is still serving me well while others have only passed fleetingly through my kitchen!

source: eatyourbooks.com

Russian Coffee Cake contains no coffee.  This might not come as a surprise to readers in the US, where the “coffee cake” concept is more well-known.  I was curious to find out the origins of the recipe.  Apparently, this kind of coffee cake – made with a batter-like mix (this one contains baking powder, baking soda and 4 eggs, but some contain yeast) with the addition of sour cream or buttermilk and normally made in a ring-shaped tin – are common in many Eastern European countries and among Jewish communities.  Sometimes they contain jam and fruit, like this one; others might contain cinnamon.  The ring-shaped tins are often deep and fluted, like a granny’s petticoat – this is why sometimes these cakes are called “babka” in Russian, which means ‘grandmother’.

With a big ‘thank you’ to Mollie Katzen, this is her Russian Coffee Cake:

Batter:

–          1 cup softened butter

lucky colleagues!

–          1 packed cup soft brown sugar

–          4 large eggs

–          1 tsp. vanilla essence or extract

–          1 cup buttermilk

–          2 cups unbleached white flour

–          1 cup wholemeal flour

–          3 tsp. baking powder

–          1 tsp. baking soda

–          ½ tsp salt

Filling:

–          a heaped ½ cup of dark choc chips

–          a heaped ½ cup of whole almonds

–          a heaped ½ cup of dessicated coconut

–          a heaped ½ cup of apricot jam

–          ½ cup of sliced dried apricots

Method:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in the vanilla essence.
  2. Sift together the flours, raising agents and salt in a separate bowl.
  3. Alternately add some buttermilk and some of the flour mix to the wet mixture, mixing to blend after each addition.  Don’t beat too hard.
  4. Blend the almonds in a blender/coffee grinder a little.  Add the choc chips and chop a bit more without turning them into a mush. Mix with the coconut.
  5. Spoon half the batter into a greased, deep-sided 10” ring mould.  Smooth it over.  Dollop spoonfuls of jam onto it.  Don’t try to smooth them down.  Sprinkle on the sliced apricots and 2/3 of the chocolate/nut mix.
  6. Spoon over the remaining batter, smoothing down carefully.  Sprinkle the rest of the chocolate mix over the even surface. 
  7. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 180°C (until a skewer comes out clean of batter – although you may skewer through some jam or chocolate).
  8. It can be quite fragile with the heavy filling in the centre, so leave to cool completely before you attempt to get it out of the tin!
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