In Jordan, my mother’s garden has a peach tree that doesn’t stop giving at this time of the year. She hands out bags of peaches to neighbors and relatives and anyone who passes by on the street. She makes peach jam with whatever peaches she can save, and still she mourns the peaches that fall on the ground, uneaten.
“Can’t you find something American and tasty to do with these?” she asked when I arrived. I knew she meant bake something, and the American part referred to the use of fruit in desserts. In the Middle Eastern fresh fruits are eaten fresh, dried, or as jam or as an ice cream flavor. They are not baked into desserts usually, unless they’ve been dried first.
My first thought was peach cobbler, summery and simple. But if you’ve never heard of peach cobbler, it pretty much looks like its name implies, something cobbled together. Not particularly appealing to Middle Eastern guests I discovered. Which is how they also they reacted to my next endeavor, the peach crumble. “Didn’t quite come out like you hoped it would,” my aunt said to me sympathetically. “Maybe you didn’t put enough butter in the crust and that’s why it’s all broken apart like that.”
It had come out pretty enough for any TV chef to pose with, perfectly crumbly and buttery on top, juicy and sweet filling with a hint of cinnamon. But aesthetically, the Jordanians couldn’t get past the appearance to get to the taste.
My next venture should have been pie, but I could see that the aecetics reaction would be the same. Then I remembered the one Western dessert that all people appreciated: the birthday cake. I’d make a peach cake, and cut the peaches small enough that they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the fruit-in-dessert concept.
It was too hot to spend hours creating a layer cake, so instead I took a basic coffee cake and an apple bread recipe and combined them, and called it peach coffee cake. Anything with the word coffee goes over big in the Middle East.
For Americans, for whom peach crumble, cobbler, and pie say summer, the coffee cake may have less appeal. To the American half of my taste buds, it welcomed in fall. Very tasty but a little early in the year to let go of summer. But freeze for winter, when the hint of peaches should be a welcome surprise and thus save them from landing on the ground, their glory untapped.
PEACH COFFEE CAKE
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 t. vanilla
1 ¾ C sugar
1 C vegetable oil
1 ½ C white flour
½ C. whole wheat flout
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
3 C. peeled and diced fresh peaches (this seems like a lot of peaches, but it’s not)
For the streusel:
½ c packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ c. chopped walnuts
6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
ALTERNATIVE TOPPING/ADDITION: Drizzling with icing sugar when slightly cooled
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13x9x2 inch pan.
Add sugar and vanilla and oil to the eggs and mix thoroughly. Mix together dry ingredients, then fold into egg mixture until combined. Add in the peaches.
For topping, mix together nuts and sugars. Cut in butter until topping forms into little pieces.
Pour cake batter into pan. Sprinkle on topping. Bake about 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. I used a glass baking dish because the usual baking pan would have looked like I didn’t have enough to serve it in decent kitchenware. Add alternative/additional icing drizzle when cake is almost coool.