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~ Deli-, Bakery-, & Coffee-Shop- Style Crumb Cake ~

IMG_6583If you're under the impression that "coffeecake" and "crumb cake" are words that can be used interchangeably, you haven't spent much time in the delicatessens, bakeries and coffee shops of the Northeast, namely:  New York, New Jersey, and here in Pennsylvania too.  We take our crumb cake seriously.  Simply stated:  it is a medium-textured buttercake with a coarse-grained, flour-based cohesive-crumb layer on top.  Confusing it with other types of crumby cakes (which sometimes contain fruit or nuts and get topped with a sort-of similar-looking but looser streusel topping), is easily avoided -- once you taste a crumb cake, the difference is obvious:  

IMG_6594Crumb cake is a subtle balance of sweet & salty in every bite.

00072030019949GUSSET_F5D0F55CC9DD42EB80FE9D6FD9B9E02DCoffecake and crumb cake both came to America with German immigrants who initially settled in New York and New Jersey.  When I was growing up in the 50's, and 60's, I experienced bakery and coffee-shop crumb cakes in my home state of PA, as well as when we visited Uncles and Aunts living in Long Island and the Jersey Shore.  And, when mom told dad to "pick up a crumb cake while you're at the the grocery store", he knew exactly what brand to buy. Baking my own crumb cakes didn't start until the latter 80's, and, I must admit, as simple as they are in concept, getting the crumbs and the cake "exactly right" took practice.

The classic crumb cake is:  a medium-textured, buttery-rich, fluffy yellow cake, not as airy as a sponge cake and not as dense as a pound cake. It's topped with a layer of coarsely-textured, slightly-crunchy and cohesive, slightly-sugary, slightly-salty, very-buttery, cinnamon-flavored crumbs, and, make no mistake:  the crumbs are key to this cake.  Also, crumb cakes are baked in shallow, rectangular or square pans, as opposed to round, high-sided tube or bundt pans.

Successfully making a crumb cake requires:  the ability to not over-think it while using your common sense.  Recipes for crumb cake, and its cousin the coffeecake, were invented long before electricity, meaning:  no electrical appliances required.  Regarding the cake layer, cakes using baking powder and/or baking soda as leavening agents fall into the category of quick breads, meaning:  they can be successfully mixed together in one bowl with nothing more than a wooden spoon.  Regarding the crumb topping, like its cousin, streusel ("streusel" being the German word for "scattered or sprinkled"), "back-in-the-day", cooks quickly and simply "cut" the fat or shortening into the flour using their fingertips, a knife and spoon or a pastry blender.

IMG_6567The day I stopped over-thinking crumb cake = the day I started making great crumb cake.

IMG_6511Part One:  Making some Big, Fat, Buttery Crumbs  

IMG_6486For the crumb cake crumbs:

1  cup cold, salted butter (2 sticks), cut into cubes

2 1/2  cups cake flour, not self-rising (not all-purpose flour)

6  tablespoons brown sugar

6  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon salt

IMG_6496Step 1. Cut butter into 1/2" cubes and place in a large bowl.

IMG_6500 IMG_6506 IMG_6509~ Step 2.  Using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, combine the cubed butter, flour, both sugars, cinnamon and salt.  

"Cut" butter into the dry ingredients and stop when mixture is full of lots of dime-sized crumbs.  Set crumb mixture aside, and, without delay, prepare the cake pan and cake batter as follows:

Part Two:  Preparing the Cake Pan & the Crumb Cake Batter

IMG_6387For the crumb cake batter:

3  cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons each:  baking powder and baking soda

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  cups sugar

3/4  cup salted butter, softened

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3  large eggs

1 1/2  cups sour cream

IMG_6489 IMG_6494~ Step 1.  Prepare the cake pan.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to the fit the bottom of a 10" x 10" square baking pan w/a removable bottom. Insert bottom of pan into pan and spray the bottom of the pan with no-stick cooking spray. 

Insert the parchment  and spray top of the parchment and inside of pan with cooking spray too.

IMG_6389 IMG_6391 IMG_6394 IMG_6398~Step 2.  Prepare the crumb cake batter.  In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla extract together for a full two minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.  On low mixer speed, in three increments, add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream, beating well after each addition.

Part Three:  Layering & Baking the Crumb Cake

IMG_6515 IMG_6520~ Step 1.  Transfer batter to prepared pan.  Using a large rubber spatula, spread batter evenly, then, give the pan a few back and forth shakes across the countertop to even it out completely.  Using a large spoon, distribute crumb topping over batter.

IMG_6522 IMG_6530~ Step 2.  Bake cake on center rack of 325 degree oven 45-50 minutes, making sure a cake tester inserted into several spots comes out clean prior to removing cake from oven and placing it on a cooling rack to cool, in the pan, for 30 minutes.

Cool crumb cake completely, about 1-1 1/2 hours...

IMG_6552... dust w/powdered sugar, slice, &, enjoy every crumby bite!

IMG_6575Deli- Bakery- & Coffee-Shop- Style Crumb Cake:  Recipe yields 12, 2 1/2" squares of crumb cake, or, 12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; pastry blender; paring knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 10" x 10" square baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack

IMG_6478 IMG_6459Cook's Note: I grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Because of the large Pennsylvania Dutch influence in this area, I am no stranger to coffeecake either. My recipe for ~ Come on Over for Coffee & a Classic Coffeecake ~ can be found by clicking into Categories 6, 9 or 26.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)


Happy Mother's Day Nancy -- Unlike yourself (I'm not a professional or schooled baker), many of my dessert recipes really do come from my grandmothers (& one great aunt), all Eastern European. Having always loved cooking, I really have spent as much time as possible by the side of any cook who would have me and learned what I could while I could. During my engagement and marriage to my 1st husband, a period of about 8 years, I was lucky to have Nana too, my fiance's grandmother (who lived with them and did most of the cooking). Nana and her husband Pap-pap, were German speaking Pennsylvania Deutsch. Nana loved having me in her kitchen and I loved being there -- her streusel and crumb pies and cakes, sho-fly pie, pot pie noodles & pot pie, egg noodles, friendship bread, hot bacon dressing w/dandelion salad, chicken and waffles, and, German potato salad are some of my favorite recipes to this day!

Funny, but I don't really remember them where I lived--rural area west of Baltimore. Maybe some people in the city made them--don't know. I have looked for them in antique American cookbooks and they are rarely there. Yes, the word streusel is German and means to strew, so they were, as you suggest brought by German immigrants. Sad to say, nobody in my family made streusel coffee cake, tho they were of German descent on both sides.
The crumb mixture isn't hard, but the proportion of fat, sugar and flour has to be right for a desirable end result.

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