There's coffee cake, and then there's coffee cake. I'm not talking about the ordinary, ho-hum, run-of-the-mill yellow cakes with a smattering of thin cinnamon streusel. The real deal is crumb cake as it's done in New York: tender cake absolutely loaded with buttery, crunchy crumbs that fall all over the place and positively burst with flavor.
Hungry yet? I bet you're wondering how to make such a wickedly good concoction. Well, this delightful treat is from the folks at America's Test Kitchen, whose recipes have never failed me. The cake itself is extremely easy to make and comes together quickly--less than 5 minutes. The crumbs, on the other hand, are another story. Each crumb is formed individually by hand from a soft dough, and there are literally hundreds of crumbs. This process took me a good 45 minutes to an hour; it definitely fell into the "labor of love" category.
The successful cake you see here is, in fact, my second attempt. You see, at first, I thought that the recipe was a dud, or at least not the best crumb cake recipe out there. I later figured out that I had made two mistakes: for one, I tried to substitute my usual milk and vinegar mixture for buttermilk; secondly, I made the crumbs pretty big. This was unfortunately a bad combination: the buttermilk substitute made the batter too thin, and the heavy crumbs sank, giving the finished cake an appearance (but not texture) somewhere between sausage cornbread and fruit suspended in Jell-O. The second time, I used real buttermilk and made smaller crumbs, and I was much more successful.
The cake was absolutely delicious and definitely worth the effort! You may even need to brew some coffee to give yourself an excuse to indulge. :-)
Adapted from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008.
Makes one 8-inch square cake.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (7 ounces) cake flour
** Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and set oven rack to upper or upper-middle position. **
1. Whisk the warm melted butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt together in a medium bowl.
2. Stir in flour until mixture becomes a thick dough and no streaks of flour remain.
3. Let cool 10 minutes.
4. Lay sheet of wax paper on workspace.
5. Break off pieces of dough and roll them between your fingers to the size of peas. The crumbs must be relatively small. Set each crumb on wax paper so that all the crumbs are in a single layer or are slightly overlapping.
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, softened
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In large bowl, whisk together cake flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
2. With electric mixer on low speed, add butter pieces one at a time. Mix until no large chunks of butter remain, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Add buttermilk, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until batter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping sides of bowl if necessary.
4. Scrape the batter into a greased 8 x 8-inch pan and smooth the top with a knife or rubber spatula.
5. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over cake, working from the edges toward the center so as not to make the center too heavy.
6. Bake in preheated oven until crumbs are golden and a toothpick inserted near center comes out with moist crumbs, 35 to 40 minutes.
7. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy warm or at room temperature. If desired, dust with powdered sugar just before serving.