Take Your Taste Buds on a Trip: New Deli Crumb Cake

Zingerman's "New Deli Crumb Cake" gets its punny name from the fact that the crumb topping is spiced with cardamom, ginger, and cloves. The recipe includes a step I have never seen before for a crumb topping -- you have to make it a day in advance and let it sit out at room temperature overnight, to dry it out and make it less likely to sink into the cake batter. To make the topping, you combine flour with brown sugar, salt, ground cardamom, ground ginger, and cloves; add a mixture of melted butter and coconut oil; and stir in sweetened, flaked coconut and pistachios. I spread it out on a sheet pan and left it on the kitchen counter overnight.

For the cake batter, you cream softened butter with sugar; add eggs, followed by sour cream and vanilla; and mix in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt). I poured the batter in a buttered and parchment-lined 9-inch pan and sprinkled on the topping before putting the cake in the oven.
My topping did not sink into the cake at all (although it was nicely adhered), so I guess the drying-out tactic worked. I was surprised at the refined texture and quality of the cake itself -- tasted in isolation, I would have guessed it was a very good yellow birthday cake. Often, a crumb cake or coffee cake has a more rustic feel, but this cake was quite impressive and delicious on its own. And then there's the crumb topping. At first, I was taken aback by the intensity of the spice level -- but the more I ate, the more I liked it. The spice seemed to continually build and I could have sworn it manifested as a physical sensation of heat in my mouth. Along with the pistachios and coconut, the crunchy crumb topping delivered a ton of interesting textures and savory flavors. Combined with the excellent cake underneath, it was just so good.

This is not a cake for shrinking violets who don't like spice. But if you want to take your taste buds on a trip, this cake is a great way to get there. I've never tasted another cake quite like it. 
Recipe: "New Deli Crumb Cake" from Zingerman's Bakehouse by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo; a lightly adapted version of the recipe is available here from The New York Times.