Jan 5, 2010

New York-Style Crumb Cake

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At 16 months, my sweet Baby C has officially been upgraded to Little C. Although with the way this girl is trucking through pant lengths (I cringe on the playground–I swear I’m not trying to make my kid look like a hapless geek with highwaters on purpose, people! They fit fine yesterday!) we may have to come up with another nickname. Anyway, she’s already developing her own particular brand of logic like all little kids do, funny ways of getting from point A to point B that leave us highly intelligent, efficient grown-up types chuckling and shaking our heads, because, you know, we’re so smart and all that we don’t need to invent gimmicks to complete a task.

Like how I got all seven years old with myself other day, pretending I had been recruited to an Olympic Tiny Dough Ball-Rolling Team in order to get through the incredibly arduous, albeit delicious result-yielding, task of making the topping for this really great crumb cake. I hope you’re happy with it. I did it for you.

So as I’ve said before, I am totally obsessed with PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen. It appeals to my detail-loving, Type A side. Recipes from this show and its cookbooks rarely fail, if ever, and if they do, you can be pretty sure that it’s you that sucks, never the recipe. I like that. I can appreciate the authority of an ATK recipe, even if I know that it will probably never involve the easiest way of getting to a finished product. So I went into this crumb cake with the knowledge that one of the steps would take some time. The kind of time that allows you to contemplate big, Oprah-esque Life Questions while rolling tiny dough balls, like, Hmmm, whatever happened to that turquoise v-neck sweater? I really liked that sweater! I need to figure out where that thing went. The sleeves were the perfect length. 

But happily, the rest of this cake is actually really easy–basic, even–and the end result is certainly worth the trouble.

That cranky, needy, relentless bowl of hand-formed pebble-sized crumbs bakes up into a fantastically thick layer of crunchy-yet-tender edible cobblestones, like a blanket of little brown sugar shortbread cookies. And underneath is a dense, moist, buttery cake, rich with vanilla. It’s reminiscent of the mile-high crumb cakes you’ll find in old world, family-owned bakeries, the kind of thing that just feels so nice with a cup of coffee.

You really can’t go wrong with this cake. It’s the perfect kind of All-Day Cake to keep on the counter–a piece with breakfast, a bit with afternoon tea, a little extra sliver after dinner, etc. And if you have kids around that aren’t of the age where everything, regardless of origin, is deemed fit for eating, then their curious little hands will be perfect candidates for forming the crumb topping for you. Just tell them they could be an Olympic medalist if they do it fast enough! It worked on me, anyway.

New York-Style Crumb Cake
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 12

For the crumb topping:

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour

For the cake:

1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Set an oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and line it with a strip of parchment paper or aluminum foil that is just shy of the width of the dish and long enough to overhang the sides of the dish. Spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray as well.

In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients for the crumb topping until they form a smooth dough. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the cake.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the cake flour, sugar, baking soda and salt at low speed. With the mixer running on low, add the butter chunks one at a time, letting each one incorporate into the dry ingredients before adding another. When the mixture resembles even, moist crumbs, add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and buttermilk, and increase the speed to medium. Beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Break apart the crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces, rolling them slightly in between your fingertips to get them to hold their shape. Spread the crumbs in even layer over the batter. Bake until the crumbs are golden and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Lift the cake out of the pan using the parchment handles. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

  • Looks really delicious! I don't know if my waist-line needs an "all-day cake" though. Oh man!! 😉

  • this has been added to my "to make" list! It looks incredible. I love crumb toppings like that. I wonder if I can recruit my husband to help? haha probably not…

  • hee hee I do that sort of thing too! And my oldest is almost old enough to enlist to do this task for me…be careful though, when my oldest baby C was 16 months old I got a new minature version so now I have both little C and baby C. yipes 🙂 I shall try this later today, I may even enlist little hands.

  • C&C–Just a smidge of this cake is super satisfying. Think of it that way. 🙂

    Megan–I also find that husbands respond particularly well when you turn something into a competition. And on that note…

    Shauna–I never treat baby-making as any sort of competition. I'm *quite* good with one Little C for now.

  • This post arrived just on time – I have been looking for a great crumb cake and tried out a disappointing one last week. I do admit that the "arduous" part of this intimidates me – what if I just crumbled it on top without rolling?

  • Baking and Mistaking–You know, a few minutes into the topping-forming process, I thought the same thing. But I wouldn't recommend it. The "crumb topping" actually comes together to be the consistency of shortbread cookie dough, not at all like your typical streusel or crumb topping. A few bits will crumble off here and there, but it's not uniformly crumbly. Does that make sense? Plus, truthfully, the topping really does make this cake. ATK scores again!

  • What if you didn't melt the butter and just used a pastry blender to blend in the hard butter. I think I would try that. It's funny that ATK appeals to you because as much as I've enjoyed the show, the magazine made me crazy! For my non-Type A personality, they "over think" the recipes. I mean, for crying out loud, why would you wrap something in foil in the crock pot so it doesn't dry out? It seems to defeat the ease of crock pot cooking. That is one tiny example but I cancelled my subscription because I knew I'd never make anything out of it. Too fussy for me! Love your blog though:)

  • This looks amazing! Great job 🙂

  • Sandileigh–I think all bakers have a bit of Type A in them, what with all the precise measurements and exact this and that making the whole thing work. When it comes to weeknight dinners, however, less is definitely more!

    And to make the topping thing clear, the individual crumbs come out like little crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside cookies. Cutting cold butter into the dry ingredients would create more of a crumbly streusel and would change the whole cake and its great textures that make it so worth the trouble. But try a different method and report back!

  • That looks very much like Martha Stewart's NY Crumb Cake. I make that recipe often for brunches and stuff. Love all that crumb topping, even if it's super not good for me:)

  • Wow…it sounds amazing. So simple but so satisfying.

  • That look and sounds great, I was just looking for something a little different to bake today and this is perfect!

  • This looks amazingly delicious. I think it would be so worth the little ball rolling task!

  • Made this today and just had my first piece … yum! I used AP flour instead of cake flour and it was still light and tender. Also, I didn't have the patience to roll tiny balls (good on you, though!)so I just clumped large pieces of the topping in my palm and then broke off little pieces– same effect and result it just doesn't look as lovely as yours.

    This is my first comment, but I've made and enjoyed lots of your treats. Especially enjoying your bran muffins lately.

    Kudos to you as well for not posting pictures of your precious Baby C. I'm sure she's a beautiful girl, but I always find it odd how people plaster pictures of their kids online with all of the 'interesting' people out there in cyberspace.
    Phew! Long comment.

    Thanks! Melissa in WA

  • I'm right there with you on your obsession with ATK (I'm so obsessed that I have an acronym for them!). If you haven't looked for them yet, they have a family cookbook and a baking cookbook compendium, and they are both quite awesome. In fact, I just made one of their dinner recipes this week – Orange Honey Glazed Chicken. I actually do a lot of cooking and baking with their recipes. I've looked at this one several times, and I think I will definitely give this one a try. And yes, you most certainly deserve a medal!!!

  • G'Day
    I'm new to your blog, don't know how I came acrosds it, but who cares? This cake looks so amazing. What a chore, but it looks worth the time and effort. I'm also addicted to America's Test Kitchen. Christopher Kimbell is awesome.

  • I am impressed with your baking skills and after reading your comment in your ability for moderation. I wish I had that ability!
    Your story about the too short pant legs was funny because I do that as well and the other half of the time I put pants that are too big on my 16 month old little girl and we have to roll them! I can't seem to get it right.

  • Oh my…made this today and it was just as you described it…delish! Definitely a keeper recipe…thanks for sharing! And yes, you deserve a medal!

  • That looks soooooooooo good. I wish I could bake!

  • I've been dying to bake this cake for weeks. I finally made the cake tonight (it's still in the oven, actually), but unfortunately all my crumb topping sank under the cake batter while in the oven! Do you know what could have caused this and how I could avoid this in the future if I make the cake again? I think I may have rolled the crumb topping into slightly larger balls, do you think that could have caused the sinking? THANKS!

  • Amy–It's possible that if you rolled the topping bigger than, say, pebble-sized, the pieces might sink, but I'm more apt to think it has something to do with the cake batter or the maybe the oven temperature being too hot. Do you have an oven thermometer to double-check your temp? Also, at what point did the topping sink, like very soon after placing it on the batter, or later in the baking process? We will totally figure this out! Or try to, anyway.

  • Shauna-

    Thanks so much! I do have an oven thermometer (my gas oven is notoriously under temperature and I have to preheat for forever). I preheated my oven for about 45 minutes until the thermometer read 325. I did forget to mention that I substituted 1/3 cup whole milk + 1 teaspoon vinegar since I didn't have buttermilk. Perhaps this was the issue? My eggs, butter, and milk were all at room temperature. I measured my cake flour via the scoop-and-sweep method and then sifted it (I am paranoid and always sift even when a recipe doesn't state to). Within about 5 minutes of baking, I noticed the crumbs around the edges of the pan began to sink, and within 15 minutes or so all the of crumbs had been engulfed by batter. I also had to cook the cake an extra 10 minutes as the center wasn't cooked through, I thought this may have been caused by the sinking topping.

    It turned out absolutely delicious nonetheless, just not as visually striking. I am definitely planning to make it again in the near future! If you have any suggestions of where things may have gone wrong, I will definitely put the suggestions to use when I make the cake again. Thanks so much!

  • Amy–One more thing I thought of. Were the size of the crumbs such that they only made a single layer on the cake? Because when I made mine, they were small enough that there were a few layers of crumbs, but if you look at the photos, the topping does sink into the batter just a bit, but there were enough layers of topping that a bunch was still on top. Make sense?

    Hope it's a success next time–glad it still tasted great!

  • Thank you from France for this excellent recipe! The good news is that the recipe also works for a broad-strokes no-sift cook like me and, more important, with substitute flours for the gluten intolerant. I made mine with a mix of whole rice flour and corn flour. The texture was fine, and the color more golden than your photos, but the taste was fantastic. Also, as a born New Yorker, I always knew this mouth-watering cake from my childhood as "French Crumb Cake". No wonder I could never find it in France where 99% of the population detests cinnamon and holds brown sugar in disdain. Vive New York!

  • I have had this recipe bookmarked for quite some time, and finally have it in the oven right now. It smells SO good, I can't wait to taste it. My crumb topping was a little more crumbly than I'd expected, but I don't think that will be too much of a problem. And you definitely deserve that medal. 🙂
    Thanks for the awesome recipe!!

  • Shauna, just wanted to thank you for this crumb cake recipe. My father considers himself a crumb cake aficionado and every recipe I have tried in the past has not met with his approval. I made this one for him for his birthday recently and we finally have a winner! The cake part is wonderful and the crumb topping, although time consuming, really makes this a crumb cake spectacular. Thanks again!

    • This is the kind of comment that warms the cockles, I’m telling ya. I’m so glad it was a success for you! (In spite of ALL THAT DANG CRUMB ROLLING.)

  • Help–I’ve tried this recipe several times and the crumbs always sink into the batter. Tastes great, but just doesn’t look so great. I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. I’ve read some of the other posts and I do have several layers of crumbs and they start to sink as soon as the batter heats up. Would appreciate any advice.

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