New York-Style Crumb Cake

We hosted brunch last weekend to celebrate Mother’s Day, and as usual, I fretted way too much over the menu. I love entertaining, but trying to narrow down all of the ideas in my head into a cohesive menu always proves to be the most stressful part. Thankfully, the more we entertain, the easier it gets, and this year’s brunch was probably one of my favorites. On the menu: asparagus and Gruyere frittata (more on that soon!), vanilla Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and homemade granola, bacon (of course), chocolate chip scones, and this crumb cake. I was able to do a lot of the work in advance (prepping the scones ahead of time and freezing them, so all I had to do was bake the morning of and making both the granola and the crumb cake the day before) so the morning of the brunch was really low stress. It was a nice change from years past where I’ve been standing over the stove frantically trying to finish three things at once as people arrived :)

New York-Style Crumb Cake

This crumb cake was the very first thing I added to the menu – not only could it be made in advance, but who doesn’t love a cake that’s easily justifiable any time of day? The best part of crumb cake is of course the crumb topping, and this cake delivers a substantial layer with large chunks of crumbs that hold their shape and don’t melt into the cake as it bakes. The cake itself is made using the reverse creaming method, meaning the dry ingredients are mixed together, then the butter is cut in and finally the wet ingredients are added. Here it produces a really tender cake with a tight crumb that’s sturdy enough to support all of the goodness on top. I sampled a piece the day I made it and then promptly wrapped the rest and hid it so there would be some left to share with our mothers the next day; it’s really that good!

New York-Style Crumb Cake
from Cook’s Illustrated

{Note: don’t substitute powdered buttermilk for the real thing here. I use it often in my baking, but in this recipe there’s a chance it’ll make the cake batter too thin and allow the crumb topping to sink into the cake as it bakes. You can substitute plain low-fat yogurt if you’d like.}

Crumb Topping
1/3 cup (2 2/3 oz) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (2 2/3 oz) dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1 3/4 cups (7 oz) cake flour

Cake
1 1/4 cups (5 oz) cake flour
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
confectioners’ sugar (optional, to finish)

To make the crumb topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together both sugars, the cinnamon, salt and melted butter. Add the cake flour and use a rubber spatula to fold it in until cohesive. The mixture will be very thick. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 10-15 minutes.

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 325 F with a rack in the upper third. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, then line the pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on opposite sides so you can lift the cake out afterward. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low briefly to combine. With the mixer still on low, add the butter, one piece at a time, and continue mixing until the mixture is crumbly, about 1-2 minutes (there shouldn’t be any visible chunks of butter left). Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk and increase the mixer to medium-high speed. Beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, and spread into an even layer. Pick up the crumb topping by handfuls, and break off chunks, scattering them over the top of the batter. Use all of the topping – it will be a thick layer. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the crumb topping is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan to a wire rack and cool for at least 30 minutes, before using the foil handles to lift the cake out of the pan. Cut into squares for serving (dusting with confectioners’ sugar to finish if desired).