Yesterday a Crumb, Today on Top

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:Streussel Butter

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:Cane Sugar

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.”




64 thoughts on “Yesterday a Crumb, Today on Top

  1. Mmm… Streusel… 😋

    Now that would make for a nice beach… Streusel sand? Yum! If slightly unsanitary. It would definitely have to be a private beach. I just need to figure out what the palm trees, the ocean and the seaweed ought to be made of!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed.

      The palm trees will provide coconuts, which itself is a splendid accomplishment. No need for the trees to be made of anything else, as they already have done their part, and then some.

      As we’ve established a sweet beachhead, we might as well continue with the sugared theme and imagine the seas a chocolate ganache. The seaweed can be mint frosting. Chocolate plus mint, right? No, not a desert isle, a dessert isle! Get it?

      Now, if you want to go savory instead….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perfect!!

        I’d be content with a sweet marooning, myself; but I’ll bite. What would go into the savory version? A broth ocean, perhaps? Salt sand? No, no, gotta think bigger. Soy sauce ocean, the sand is grains of rice, and the tree is… The tree is…
        Eh, I got nothing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well Rachel, for the ocean I was thinking dashi (Japanese broth, which is among those that’ll be featured in the stocks feature promised for one of these years). For the seaweed…why not? You’ve heard of kombu or nori, right? And seaweed does give dashi its beautiful, perfectly Japanese subtlety.

        The sand, how about toasted bread crumbs? Finally, let’s keep the coconuts where they are. Coconut milk builds many a savory dish, too.

        Eh, you’re right, sweet is much more fun to imagine. Especially so when I could’ve mentioned that, from the air, the jungle resembles a vast carpet of broccoli (which I do like, by the way). Still, I rather would contemplate minty chocolate!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ooh, Japanese stock. I’ve actually never specifically heard of kombu or nori… which doesn’t speak to much, except perhaps the unfortunate narrowness of my food knowledge. Though I am aware of seaweed’s use in things like, say, sushi.

        Bread crumbs! Creative. And you’re really rather fond of coconut, aren’t you? Can’t say I blame you.

        Broccoli’s not so bad. Funnily enough, last time I had some (of the non-frozen variety, anyway, and I do prefer fresh) it actually tasted minty… my mother doesn’t like the smell of it, see, so she had put some mint — extract, I think it was? Something like that — into the fridge. It wound up permeating everything, both in the fridge and the freezer. For over a week, almost everything we ate had a slightly minty flavor to it. I found it hilarious, and rather novel, if a bit tiring after a time. I suppose broccoli and chocolate still is out of the question, though, isn’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Actually, Rachel, pairing broccoli and chocolate has occurred to others before. Among them, the Swiss, who have been known to offer melted chocolate as one pf the dips available to fondue-makers who just fried up broccoli. Not necessarily the most common combination one could imagine, but it does exist.

        As for kombu and nori, I had heard of neither before I became really interested in Japanese cuisine. In fact, if you had heard of either, it would’ve been your advantage, as both remained obscure to me until recently.

        Funny story about the mint. In fact, at first, I though you were going to tell me your mother intentionally added peppermint extract to the broccoli to prevent the unfortunate side effects cooking it brings. Though I like broccoli too, obviously, I agree with your mother regarding the aroma. Which is why I almost always consume it raw (in salads), or done up in a wok (stir-fry). As far as cooking it by itself…no thank you. Which likely is what prevented me from giving it a chance until recently.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Chocolate and broccoli is a thing? Oh, Keith, you may have just started something terrible… 😈

        Ahh. I can’t recall if we did much cooking if it… I think we mostly just ate it raw. Which I prefer, as I just find it ever so much fun, child that I am.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. It is a thing, to hear the Swiss tell it. It just might have potential, if done correctly.

        The broccoli would need to be fried to just-crispiness for starters. Plus, a pass or two first beneath grated horseradish and sea salt would favor the taster, I’d imagine. Do I sense Broccoli Rachel yearning to be dreamt?

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Oh yes, R, but don’t you agree that chocolate, being such a powerful force for good, is due respect?

        Therefore, care must be taken not to introduce unfortunate associations, lest they diminish the mystique. Sure, chocolate makes bad things good, good things great, and great things epic, but if you keep sending chocolate on nothing but horrible blind dates, it’s going to resent it. The last thing you want is for chocolate to give you the silent treatment, no?

        – F

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Passable, with vague aspirations to “good.” Obviously, you don’t win international ubiquity if your chocolate assaults tasters’ senses. That said, the pair often approaches “good,” but never gets close to “great.”

        For that, we have the Belgians (Godiva) and the French (Barry-Callebault). Their ultimate is chocolate made by the couverture process, which produces chocolate extraordinary for eating, and sublime for recipes. Ah, but enough of that for the moment. More luscious details will follow in a future post!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. A few (but nowhere close to all) of chocolate’s divine incarnations await. One entry in particular should explore the ways Barry-Callebaut’s couverture process introduces lucky tasters to a new dimension.

        See, I’ve been busy during lockdown, looking for recipes and researching possibilities. Plus, buying new linens, cutlery and dinnerware, all of which eventually will replace the rather bland placemats, etc. I bought at Kohl’s and at Target. This year still will burn through the surplus, but there should be a nice upgrade by next summer.


      1. Shhhh…don’t say that to the guy who posts, like, 80% of these articles. Many of that character’s offerings rival in complexity what you would’ve found at Versailles.

        Still, the pictures and writing tell their own stories, don’t they? Plus, I have developed a greater appreciation for the practical and the approachable.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, Tamara, but when you dream, don’t you create? You populate the vision, then the brain works overtime coming up with a scheme to make it happen.

      Without proper motivation, the goal would be elusive. With something to urge you forward, though, you awake realizing you never thought of THAT before. Wow!

      See? You’re welcome. Ha! Am I really that full of myself, or am I just interested in encouraging someone else’s foodiness?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. German, right? I have tried some German foods; my brother-in-law is German, so yes. Although I will say that, the tastes are a bit sharp for me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Right Angela, German.

        Though I’m partly of German descent myself, I can’t say I’m a particular fan of the cuisine. At least not of the non-dessert parts. Way too many sausages and far too much vinegary sharpness, as you observed, for my tastes. Still, give me streusel (or, for that matter, strudel) any day!

        So, Angela, how long did it take you to look with disdain at one of the -wursts and moan to yourself, “Great. How much do you want to bet THAT’s going to brought to family reunions every summer now?”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Family history may invent interesting back stories, but I think the main reason some of my ancestors crossed the ocean centuries ago was to flee that food. “I’m starving, but there’s nothing good to eat in this whole frikkin’ country. There has to be a better way!”

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You have got to consider where I come from though. Ugandans are well known for their blunt tastes. There is not much seasoning in the food, if at all.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Oh that is interesting, Angela, and more than a little surprising. Though trade routes may not necessary web Uganda, I’d have thought a proximity (relatively) to merchants would’ve brought more spices to Ugandan cooks.

        Of course, that’s common across humanity, people looking at their neighbors and wondering how they can stand to eat that way. The more adventurous take a risk and try it anyway. Add marriages and other interactions, and, eventually, foodways begin to blend. This is cooking’s perpetual and delightful progress.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Most appreciated, Angela!

        Not just “What?,” but “Why?” When a food’s background reveals its soul, giving it life it becomes all the richer an experience. Sharing it, that much more satisfying, too.

        People such as we probably ask too many questions, but I wouldn’t trade that curiosity for all the whiskey in Ireland (or for all the tea in China – choose whichever metaphor suits your tastes), would you?

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Not at all, Angela. Oh sure, wine and beer on occasion, and some of the more insistent stuff in recipes, but as for drinking booze on its own, no ma’am!

        It’s not that I have a philosophical objection, as every month I put an empty wine bottle or two out with the recyclables. Nor am I incapable of “holding” my liquor; years at university showed otherwise. It’s just that I can’t stand the taste of alcohol; it makes me gag. Is it any wonder vodka and Robitussin are mostly alcohol? They taste the same, after all. Who in his/her right mind would seek either?

        In recipes, though, the alcohol evaporates long before the first bite. Thus, the argument is reset. For example, rum is wretched on its own, and is divine in Bananas Foster!

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Oh no, no rum, no whisky, or any other hard stuff like that. But, I will have a glass or two of red wine once in 6 months or a year. Get me? there has to be occasion for it!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Oh, I definitely understand, Angela! Good recipes and good company are intoxicants enough – who needs the blunt instruments?

        Family, good friends and a well-stocked pantry provide their own buzz. The rare glass of red just keeps things humming.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. New York is the king for all great food in America…. I miss the bakeries and pizzerias and diners… and…
    Butter as creamy magic is a great and fitting description. Mixing in cinnamon and brown sugar makes it an irresistible a combination for a great cake. If it’s good enough for New Yorkers it’s more than good enough for everyone! 😋

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true, JoAnn! If a dessert can make it there, Mr. Sinatra, it can make it anywhere.

      Believe me, if a treat can win over about nine million critics, none of whom is afraid, in the very least, to put things bluntly, it definitely is ready to have its name up in lights,

      This wasn’t the first treat this journal took from New York’s bakeries, and it won’t be the last.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Why thank you, Jaimie!

      Not just looks, but this thing has aroma and taste – oh, most definitely taste! – going for it too.

      Really pretty simple, being just sheet cake with a cinnamon crumb, but who says everything has to be complicated?

      Anyway, here’s a treat from New York’s bakeries, and it most certainly won’t be the last. Same city, different borough the next time, though. Plenty of temptations from all over, actually. What’s next? Well….

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the great memories, Mar, and for the dreams they inspire!

      Not much to crumb cake, really – just a basic simplicity. However, as you know, that allows it to do just one thing, and to get it oh-so-right.

      Most definitely, heaven!

      Once again, you’ve selected the perfect word. It’s a shame you’re not a writer or something. Oh, wait…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks much, Mar!

        All of this – the blogging, the cooking, the writing – is meant to produce one thing, a smile. From there, come great conversations. Thanks for being so generous with both!

        Liked by 1 person

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