Despite being a California girl, born and raised, I actually strongly dislike the warm weather…except for the fact that it brings amazing fresh produce with it! I love berry season. I wait literally ALL YEAR for those first berries to strike the market, and eat them with abandon. We’re pretty lucky when it comes to fresh food, berries come early for us! Thankfully, if this Pecan Blackberry Coffee Cake speaks to you and you don’t see them at your market, (just look at it, you know you want a piece), you can likely get really good blackberries at your grocery store at this time of year too.
This particular cake is just everything I love about coffee cake, tender and moist, with a crumbly sugary top. It’s made special by the bursts of tart-sweet berries that stud the top of the cake, hiding just below that crumb layer. While I make this whenever the craving strikes (often), this is also a perfect brunch for Mother’s day!
What is Coffee Cake?
As a kid I always thought coffee cake was cake made with coffee. Here in the US, modern coffee cakes are not flavored with coffee as a rule. Historically however, back in the 17th century there were versions of sweet breads, eaten alongside coffee or tea, that did contain actual coffee flavor.
Despite that, the origin of the name actually comes from the tradition of the coffee break in Germany, where various types of baked goods were consumed alongside their morning brew. Often these cakes were sweet yeasted breads, but over time they transformed and developed into a cake with a streusal topping.
They grew in popularity here in the US when brought by Germanic and Dutch settlers and the modern US coffee cake now includes a vast variety of flavors and preparations. Traditional cinnamon crumb topped cake with a swirl of cinnamon sugar within is still made, and delicious, but varieties now include fruit, nuts, and much more. Like this one!
Difference between a Streusal and a Crumb Topping
This particular recipe is a crumb topped cake, not a streusal topped cake, if we abide by the technical rules.
Streusal is traditionally a topping made with a ratio of sugar, butter, and flour (1:1:2) that results in a crumbling topping that bakes into almost a shortbread like cookie crust.
Crumb toppings have a much higher ratio of sugar and butter, equal to if not more than the flour, resulting in a loose crumb like topping that crisps while baking.
But having a crumb topping doesn’t make it a crumb cake! A crumb cake is made up of mostly the crumb topping, while coffee cake has a much higher ratio of cake to crumb topping.
That being said, the terms are often interchanged and confused here in the US, and what really matters is that you have a delicious cake and enjoy eating it, whatever you decide to call it.
Your pecan blackberry coffee cake will come together with just your basic cake ingredients, plus a few add ons.
- Flour – Just your regular all purpose for this one!
- Sugar – either cane or granulated white sugar
- Eggs – 2 large, room temperature eggs
- Butter – Unsalted, COLD butter. It’s essential that its as cold as possible.
- Baking powder + Baking soda – both chemical leavening agents create a lovely rise.
- Salt – Because salt goes in everything.
- Vanilla – Because it makes things taste good.
- Blackberries – Fresh, juicy, and sweet are ideal.
- Pecans – Be sure to use the unsalted variety for this!
- Buttermilk – Instead of the traditional sour cream of coffee cake, buttermilk (the kind made from milk and vinegar is totally fine!) keeps the cake moist and helps it rise.
What’s amazing? These ingredients go together a few remarkably simple steps.
Making Pecan Blackberry Coffee Cake
I love crumb toppings. A good blueberry muffin with buttery sugary crumbs on top, yum! But when I’m baking, that extra step of making the crumb topping only happens half the time. Sometimes I just don’t want to dirty up the extra dishes!
Which is why I love, love, love this recipe. It took a while to get all the ratios right, but after many, many tests I was able to create a coffee cake recipe that starts the batter and the crumb topping all at the same time.
Dump and Pulse
To begin, you add all your flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse to blend and then add your all your butter (cut into chunks), except 2 tablespoons. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. The largest chunks should be the size of peas.
Dump it out into a bowl and return 1 cup to the food processor. Add the last of the butter and the pecans, then pulse. Let it break down until the nuts are more or less broken down, but don’t over mix. Just like that – crumb topping done! It’s that easy. Just pop it into the fridge and it’s ready to go when you need it.
If you don’t have a food processor and want to do this by hand follow the same steps. First cut the 1/2 cup of butter into the flour mixture. Remove one cup, cut in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and add in the nuts. You’ll have to chop these by hand first, but it will work just fine!
Mix, Top, and Bake!
All that’s left to do is add the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla to the flour mixture. Once combined pour into a 9×13 baking dish.
I should note that it really is important that you use a large enough pan! I tested it in a lot of different ones. Too small and the batter bubbles over the topping and onto the bottom of your stove. If you use a deep 8×8 it will work, but the cake is thicker and I personally think it messes with the ratio of the cake to crumb topping. That ratio is part of what makes this cake so good.
Go with the 9×13!
Once in the pan, top with blackberries. If you have small ones, you can just plop them in whole. If you’ve got super large blackberries (bigger than a penny lets say), cut them in half. This will stop them from sinking to the bottom.
Then sprinkle over that prepared crumb topping and pop it in the oven at 350°F for 35 minutes. That’s it!
Enjoy Your Coffee Cake!
Go on, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee, and cut a nice piece of your sweet, delicious pecan blackberry coffee cake. It’s gooey in all the right places, and crisp and caramelized in others.
It’s the perfect brunch cake, and easy to make, so dad’s or kids if you’re reading this, make this for mom on Mother’s day! Mom, if you’re reading this, print it out and leave it somewhere obvious 😉. They’ll get the hint.
You can store this cake in an airtight container once sliced, or cover the baking dish with plastic wrap, and store at room temperature for 3 days. It’s delicious day two, so making ahead it a fabulous option.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this cake, both as a special treat and as a fun way to celebrate the arrival of berry season. Until next time, Happy Eating!
- 2 1/4 Cup all-purpose flour
- 2 Cups white sugar cane or granulated
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 Cup butter, + 2 Tbs unsalted
- 1 Cup buttermilk *
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup pecans unsalted
- 2 cup blackberries
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Wash and dry blackberries gently, slicing in half if large. Set aside.
- Cut butter into chunks, keeping 2 tablespoons separate from the 1/2 cup.
- Place flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add in 1/2 cup of butter. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs no larger than peas.*
- Dump flour mixture into a large bowl. Return 1 cup to the food processor, add the remaining butter and pecans. Pulse until nuts break down and you have a coarse crumb mixture. Refrigerate crumb mixture.
- Add buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture. Stir until incorporated. The butter will remain chunky, this is what you want. Just stir until there are no dry spots or obvious spots of egg.
- Pour into a 9×13 baking dish. Top with blackberries, then with the crumb mixture. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Cool at least 10 minutes, cut and enjoy! Store in an airtight container or covered with plastic wrap for 3 days.*