As much as I love Baked Explorations, a lot of the recipes in this book are fairly labor intensive, so I'm always happy to try an easy recipe like the "New York-Style Crumb Cake" every now and then. Before I read this recipe, if you had asked me what the difference is between crumb cake and coffee cake, I wouldn't have had any idea. Now I know that crumb cake is supposed to be distinguished by: 1) an obscenely large ratio of topping to cake; 2) a topping devoid of nuts; and 3) a cake that is swirl free.
The crumb topping for this cake is made from dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, warm melted butter, and all-purpose flour. The resulting mixture resembles wet dough; the recipe notes that it's important to allow the topping to rest and dry out a little (even suggesting that you spread the topping mixture out on a baking sheet to help it dry faster) in order to create large crumb chunks.
The cake portion is made from creamed butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. After spreading the cake batter into the pan, the recipe instructs you to pick up a handful of the topping, squeeze it together in your fist, and break off chunks. I don't think I let my topping rest long enough and I regret not taking the time to spread it out on a sheet to dry out a bit, because my topping was still a little wet at this stage and didn't easily form round crumbs. Also, although the recipe warns, "Remember, the topping layer will look outrageously thick," it didn't seem like an outrageous amount of topping to me. I could still see bare spots of cake batter through the crumbs after I sprinkled on all of the topping.
During baking, my crumbs grew together to produce what was pretty much a continuous layer of topping. Nonetheless, the topping was delicious. It was crunchy and a little on the sweet side, although the cake wasn't very sweet, so the cake and topping went well together. I tasted the cake separately, and while it was moist, it wasn't particularly flavorful or remarkable on its own. However, I think the purpose of the cake is merely to serve as a conveyance for the crumbs, and thus, who really cares?
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this cake, given that it was somewhat plain in comparison to the types of coffee cakes I tend to favor, which usually include things like blueberries, chocolate chips, nut toppings, and/or swirls (of cinnamon, chocolate, nuts, or any combination of them). But what's not to like about an exorbitant amount of sweet, buttery, cinnamon topping paired with a moist cake? Plain or not, the cake is an indulgent treat.
See what the other members of Baked Sunday Mornings had to say about this cake, here.
Recipe: "New York-Style Crumb Cake" from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.
- "It's Kind of Crummy, All Right: Sour Cherry Crumb Cake," June 23, 2010.
- "The Best Topping Isn't Always on Top: Buttermilk-Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake," January 27, 2010.