~ Deli-, Bakery-, & Coffee-Shop- Style Crumb Cake ~
If 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:
Coffecake 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.
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
"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
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
~ 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.
~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
~ 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.
~ 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...
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
Cook'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)