A Fine Crumb and a Mighty Fine Cake: Graham Cracker Streusel Coffee Cake

I keep graham crackers on hand strictly for use in baking projects, and the last time I bought some, the jumbo-size box was on sale and cost less than the regular-sized box of crackers. So of course I purchased the big box, but it's taking me a while to get through it. When I stumbled across a recipe for a "Graham Cracker Streusel Coffee Cake" from Pastry at Home, I jumped at the chance to make it.

Technically, this recipe calls for cinnamon graham crackers and I always buy the honey graham variety. But the headnote points out that if you use honey grahams, you can just add a little extra cinnamon to compensate. So I made the graham cracker streusel by combining graham cracker crumbs, chopped walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and melted butter. Because I already had my food processor out to grind the graham crackers, I also used the processor to chop the walnuts, ending up with very small pieces. 

The cake batter is made with the reverse creaming method, where you put all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl; add softened butter; and then incorporate the liquid ingredients. I modified the method slightly to the technique used by Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Cake Bible. I have made countless cakes from The Cake Bible, and they never fail -- although Bernabum uses the reverse creaming method for high-ratio butter cakes that have at least as much sugar as flour by weight, and that's not the case with this coffee cake. 
I did start with all of the dry ingredients (cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt) in my mixing bowl, but then I added about a quarter of the milk along with along with very soft butter, beating them together until I got a batter that was creamy (like American buttercream), instead of the texture of coarse sand as specified in the recipe. Then I incorporated the other ingredients (the remaining milk, eggs, and vanilla) in three additions, beating the batter to aerate after each addition. I spread half of the cake batter into a buttered and parchment-lined loose-bottomed pan, sprinkled on half of the streusel, and then repeated the layers with the remaining batter and streusel.  
This cake was so freakin' good. The cake itself had a very fine-textured crumb that looked much tighter than the crumb pictured in the photo accompanying the recipe. In fact, it looked just like the crumb of a Rose Levy Beranbaum butter cake. The cake had a tremendous amount of flavor. If I hadn't baked it, I would have guessed that it had sour cream in it, as it had what I would describe as a classic vanilla coffee cake flavor. And the streusel was so good -- it was crunchy and full of buttery, cinnamon flavor, and the extra layer of streusel in the middle of the cake was so satisfying. The light touch of cardamom made the spice mix a little more interesting and I thought it was a great addition.
I couldn't taste the graham crackers in the streusel, but I don't doubt that they contribute to its deliciousness. The only thing I might change next time is the leave the pieces of walnuts a little larger, to get a little more texture. But this is one of the most delicious coffee cakes I have ever made. Most coffee cakes are not all that memorable to me, but this one is special and a standout.
Recipe: "Graham Cracker Streusel Coffee Cake" by AnnMarie Mattila, from Pastry at Home.