Finally, the crumb gets top billing, basking in the prominence it long has deserved. It even gets sprinkled with powdered sugar, if that’s your thing. All thanks to Crumb Cake, a standout New York sweet treat for many decades, rivaling Cheesecake itself. Before that, its origins were in Germany, where Streuselkuchen was savored for centuries.
The full title Saveur bestowed in its November 2018 number is “Classic New York-Style Crumb Cake.” All well and good, but “Crumb Cake” is sufficient for our purposes. After all, it’s the crumb, that buttery cinnamon streusel, that has kept this dessert atop the lists for centuries now. Crumb or not, this thing has style.
It had better, with all that butter. Just look at how much goes into the topping for just one cake:
Man, that’s a lot of butter!
Sure, it’s a larger cake (making lots for the freezer and even more for gifts), yet is it worth the extra hours at the gym? Yes…and how! The butter not only works its creamy magic flavor-wise, but it also is a wonderful means of binding together the brown sugar and cinnamon. This creates a seemingly limitless supply of sweet, warmly rich sand.
The cake itself exhilarates trying to keep pace. There’s plenty of butter here too, as well as egg yolks, making for a moist yellow cake. This provides sweetness of another kind, and pairs well with the topping. The texture contrasts nicely as well, and the teeth produce a satisfying crunch before sinking into the tenderness beneath.
Yellow cakes come and go, yet the crumb makes this one special. Keeping New Yorkers happy, at least as far as sweets go, for generations now. As Sinatra sang, if (a cake) can make it here (in old New York), it can make it anywhere. Imagine that, German bakers brought their recipes for Streuselkuchen to New York and not long after it rivaled the vaunted New York Cheesecake (no offense, cheesecake, still plenty of love for you too). Only that crumb, that oh-so-humble crumb, is capable of such wonders.
Classic New York-Style Crumb Cake
For the crumb:
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup natural cane sugar (*1)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 and 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes and left out to soften slightly
For the cake:
- 2 and 1/4 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 and 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 and 1/2 cups natural cane sugar (*1)
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup sour cream
- powdered sugar, for dusting
Start with the crumb. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt and both sugars. Add the butter and, using your hands, work it in until the butter is saturated and has broken into pebble-sized pieces, about four minutes. No need to pursue the texture aggressively, as the time to make crumbs will come later. Refrigerate for at least 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, set the oven rack in the center position, then preheat the oven to 350°. Then, in a large bowl, begin the cake by mixing together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together at medium-high speed the butter and the sugar until it’s light and fluffy, about three minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix at medium-low speed until incorporated.
Reduce the speed to low, and carefully spinkle in one-third of the flour mixture. Once it’s mized in, add half the sour cream. When combined, repeat the above with the next third of the flour, then the last half of the sour cream, and finally the last of the flour mixture.
Spray a 9-inch by 13-inch cake pan with cooking oil. Scrape in the batter (*2) with a rubber spatula, then smooth it until it’s of a relatively even thickness. Retrieve the crumb from the refrigerator and crumble it over the batter in pebble-sized pieces, covering the surface evenly.
Bake for 55 minutes, until the crumb is lightly browned. Let cool completely on a rack, about 40 minutes, then dust with powdered sugar, slice and serve.
1 – Granulated sugar would work here, but natural sugar has a coarser texture, suiting it well for making a good crumb.
What’s it like? There’s some left in the kitchen, and I’ll show you:
2 – The batter will be thicker than is muffin mix, hence the choice of a verb. You’ll “scrape” in the batter, more so than employing a “pour.”