Cardamom Pear Coffee Cake
Plus: "The Four Questions" Interview with Elyssa Heller of Edith's Brooklyn
Hello newsletter friends both old and new (and there are a bunch of new folks - welcome!),
We’ve got a lot of celebrating to do today, and some delicious Cardamom Pear Coffee Cake to dig into. I’m also thrilled to feature Elyssa Heller, founder of my favorite new Jewish eatery, Edith’s Brooklyn, in this week’s The Four Questions Interview.
But before we get to all that, let’s take a quick look at The Jewish Table over the last month. For those of you who aren’t subscribed to the weekly newsletter yet, here’s what ya missed:
My adaptation of the Moroccan Carrot Salad with Meyer Lemon Yogurt from the beautiful cookbook Bavel.
A truly Showstopping Citrus Salad inspired by Tu Bishvat, and destined to brighten up your tables until summer produce arrives.
My new favorite soup, Borscht with Butter Beans. I’m not sure how it never occurred to me to add beans to my borscht, but I’ll never make it any other way.
Never miss a recipe or story (and get access to the full recipe archive) by subscribing to The Jewish Table’s weekly newsletter.
Ok, onto the cake! It has been a momentous week around my household. My husband Yoshie turned 40 on Tuesday. He was appropriately showered with love (and phone calls, and silly videos, and fancy socks, and bottles of booze) from friends and family. The kids and I also made him a guitar-shaped chocolate cake inspired by Natalie Sideserf’s jaw-dropping, hyper-realistic cakes. (If you haven’t ever watched her YouTube cake tutorials, get ready to meet your new obsession!) Our cake turned out…well, let’s just say we aren’t exactly cake artists, but at least it tasted good?
Meanwhile, I also *turned in my cookbook manuscript* earlier this week!! I didn’t think it was possible, but my love for Rome’s Jewish community and their delicious food grew even deeper while working on this book. The manuscript is currently in the hands of my wonderful editor, and I am so excited to see the book take shape and, God willing, make its way to readers in Spring of 2023.
I’ll share more about the book in the months to come. But with so much celebration going on this week, it seems like a perfect time for more cake! While I am clearly not skilled at cake decorating, I know my way around a Jewish coffee cake. This recipe dresses up my tried-and-true sour cream coffee cake recipe with chopped pears and a hint of cardamom along with the more commonly-used cinnamon. The cake has a tender crumb, is chockablock with juicy pears, and fills your home with an intoxicating fragrance while it bakes. We will be snacking on it all weekend long - I hope you’ll join us!
Cardamom Pear Coffee Cake
Serves 6 to 8
For the Topping:
3/4 cup packed (150 g) light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (150 g) walnut halves, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
For the Cake:
1 1/2 cups (210 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (115 g) unsalted butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, softened
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (115 g) unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup (120 g) sour cream or unsweetened coconut milk yogurt
2 medium bosc pears, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350F (180 C), and line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper, allowing the paper to hang over on two opposite sides.
Make the topping: Stir together the brown sugar, chopped walnuts, cinnamon, and cardamom in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Make the cake: Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a stand mixer (or using a handheld electric mixer and a large bowl), beat the butter and granulated sugar together at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla, beating to combine after each addition. Beat in the applesauce and sour cream (it is okay if the mixture looks curdled at this stage), then add the flour mixture and beat on low, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until just combined.
Spread half of the batter evenly into the prepared baking dish. (It will seem like there’s not enough batter, but it will fill out while baking.) Top evenly with the pears and half of the brown sugar-walnut topping. Spread the remaining batter on top and finish with a layer of the remaining topping.
Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out just clean, 40 to 50 minutes. (Start checking the cake at about 35 minutes, and if the top is browning too quickly, loosely drape the top with a layer of aluminum foil and continue baking). Set the baking dish on a wire rack to cool. Using the overhanging parchment, gently lift up the cooled cake and transfer to a serving dish before slicing.
The Four Questions:
With Elyssa Heller of Edith’s Brooklyn
Welcome to the latest installment of The Four Questions, The Jewish Table’s semi-regular interview segment featuring my favorite Jewish food luminaries! This week I’m delighted to be joined by Elyssa Heller, who is the founder of Edith’s Brooklyn, my favorite new Jewish food establishment.
I first heard about Edith’s in the summer of 2020 when it opened as a pop-up located in Brooklyn’s beloved pizza shop, Paulie Gee’s. In the bleary, early days of the pandemic, Edith’s felt like a gorgeous mirage. Outside, the world was a scary dumpster fire. But at Edith’s there were wood fired bagels topped with za’atar or house-made jam! Sticky schnecken sweetened with honey and flavored with the Middle Eastern spice blend baharat! Pillowy Shakshuka morning buns glistening with oozy golden egg yolks!
I remember driving to Greenpoint like I was on some kind of joy-seeking pilgrimage. And Edith’s did not disappoint. Never mind that I had to stand outside in a mask to place an order, and then eat in my car. (It was the early pandemic, after all). The food was glorious and life-affirming.
Today, Edith’s has graduated from it’s original pop-up status to a brick-and-mortar establishment. (Two actually, there’s Edith’s Eatery & Grocery and, a few blocks away, Edith’s Sandwich Counter.) Their menus have grown and expanded to feature playful remixes and mashups of flavors from across the Jewish diaspora. (Think: a labneh parfait with buckwheat granola and dried cherries, a whitefish bagel sandwich with fried capers, or crispy chickpea schnitzel wedged into sourdough pita.)
At the helm of all of Edith’s deliciousness is Elyssa Heller - a Chicago-to-New York transplant who grew up meeting her grandparents for brunch every Sunday at the famed (but since-shuttered) Barnum & Bagel delicatessen in Skokie, Illinois. As an official Elyssa Heller fan girl, I was psyched to chat with her for The Four Questions. We talked about her great-aunt Edith (after whom the restaurant is named), the restaurant’s surprisingly popular newsletter, and Heller’s vision for what Jewish food could - and should - look like.
What was your relationship to Jewish food like growing up?
As a kid, my only real consistent experience with Jewish food was meeting my grandparents at the deli every Sunday. We ate Jewish food on special occasions, like Friday night dinner or Passover seders, but it never really extended into my daily life. There was a time when Jewish food used to be a daily occurrence for people who would go to the deli for a cup of coffee, or to have a business meeting, or meet up with friends and family over warm and inviting food. That’s the piece of Jewish food culture I wanted to bring back at Edith’s.
My vision evolved from wanting to feel warm and taken care of by a bowl of matzo ball soup, to exploring the different flavors of the Jewish diaspora. Jewish food is, of course, so much more than brisket and latkes. I love Ashkenazi food, but there are so many dynamic dishes from around the Jewish world that we can incorporate into our everyday lives.
The restaurant is named after your great aunt Edith. Who was she, and how did she inspire you?
Edith was my grandma Babe’s older sister. She was one of seven children and they had a very typical Jewish American immigrant story in that they came through Ellis Island and then made their way to Chicago. Edith ended up moving back to Brooklyn when she got married, and later moved to Miami.
Edith was very special to me growing up. She was not formally educated, but she was one of the smartest women I have ever known. She also had this kind spirit. When I was 10 years old, I had to have major surgery to replace 80% of my femur bone. Edith had also been in a car accident as a young woman and had to have a broken femur replaced as well. So when I was recovering she would visit me, play video games with me in my room, and tell me everything was going to be okay. She was also a night owl, so in college I would call her at all hours of the night and she would give me advice and tell me stories about my dad growing up.
Later on I found out that Edith owned a deli when she lived in Brooklyn in the 1950s. Somehow nobody ever told me about it! It was only after I started talking about opening a deli and saying I wanted to name it after her that it came to light. Her daughter told me the deli was named Tony’s because she bought it from a guy named Tony, and didn’t want to change the name!
What was the most surprising thing about launching Edith’s?
How much people connect and resonate with what we are doing! At least once a week we get a phone call or message on Instagram from people saying, “Thank you so much for everything you are doing.” We recently launched a restaurant newsletter - it is really more like a ‘zine - called Kibbitz. It talks about products in the store, of course, but also has tips from Jewish chefs, and fun things like a Jewish food horoscope. I put out a call for reader submissions, and was expecting maybe a few responses, but I got 450 messages from people who wanted to contribute! People really feel like they are a part of the community. Running a small business is exhausting and hard. But that people are excited and really supportive of us is the most rewarding. Sometimes I cry, their words are so moving.
What is your goal for Edith’s going forward?
My goal is to help create a new understanding of Jewish cuisine. Deli culture is amazing, and near and dear to my heart. But the future of Jewish food encompasses the entire diaspora. Jews are a very dynamic and diverse group of people, bound together by tradition. Jewish food is having a long overdue moment right now, so now is the time to create a new, bigger version of the deli that incorporates all the amazing food in our tradition.