Make it Naked

NY Crumb Cake

Grandpa is back on a crumb cake kick. Not that he was ever off but the Philly Fluff distracted him for a bit. It turns out the Philly Fluff bakery is under new ownership. Young owners. With new cake recipes. He’s told me before how “young people these days don’t know how to pick up a broom or shovel snow.” Well, add bake a cake to the list. Damned young people. He said they were nice, so he let them know that the flavor was right, but the texture was off. I can only imagine how that played out. But I can tell you how it ended. He’s not eating Philly Fluff anymore. So, crumb cake it is. And this crumb cake is it.

According to Grandpa there are two critical measures to gauging good crumb cake. First and foremost, the crumbs should be large and the topping should easily fall apart when cut. It shouldn’t be “mud,” as he calls it, when it’s too wet and thick. The second being the powdered sugar. Not too much. Too much means they’re covering something up. Powdered sugar is like cake make-up. Less is more.

This crumb cake is definitely up to Grandpa’s standards. The cake is a light and fluffy yellow cake that is the perfect base for what really matters here…the crumb. The buttery crumbles firm up nicely after baking and add a hint of cinnamon to the cake. A light dusting of powdered sugar is the essential finishing touch.

My sister and I are actually in NY this weekend. We had plans to help him with a few things to expedite the move. But he had different plans. Plans that involved banana cream pie, pignolis, almond cookies, and of course, crumb cake. I would love to sit here and tell you all about it. But I can’t. Do you know what happens when you eat banana cream pie, pignolis, almond cookies and crumb cake? Your brain shuts down. I am in a sugar-induced state of unconsciousness. My fingers can’t type. Words don’t make sense. So just trust me when I tell you to make this. Just this. No pies. No cookies. Just crumb cake.

NY Crumb Cake (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated) For the crumb: Ingredients: 1/3 cup sugar 1/3 cup light brown sugar 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick- I used salted), melted and still warm 1¼ cups cake flour Directions:

  1. Whisk the sugars, cinnamon, salt and butter in a bowl to combine.
  2. Add the cake flour and stir with a spoon or spatula until the dough is thick and forms a ball. Set aside to cool at least 10 minutes.

For the cake: Ingredients: 1¼ cups cake flour 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 6 tablespoons butter (I used salted), cut into 6 pieces, softened at room temperature 1 large egg 1 large egg yolk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon almond extract 1/3 cup buttermilk Confectioners’ sugar for dusting Directions:

  1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position. Preheat oven to 325. Line an 8 inch square baking dish with parchment paper leaving a little overhang for easy removal. Set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt on low to combine. While the mixer is running, add the butter one piece at a time, and continue to mix until the mixture becomes mealy (1 to 2
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    minutes). Add the egg, yolk, extracts and buttermilk. Beat on medium-high to high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, at least 1 minute.

  3. Pour batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly.
  4. Taking small pieces of the cooled crumb dough, using your finger tips, roll into large pea-sized pieces and place on the cake in an even layer.
  5. Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean (35-40 minutes; mine took 40). Remove from oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes. Remove by lifting parchment out of pan and dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.


  1. The original recipe states that you can use sour cream instead of buttermilk. I tried both. The sour cream yielded a more dense, less fluffy cake. I preferred the buttermilk here but both work.
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    used both vanilla and almond extract because I think the almond extract adds a nice sweet flavor. If you don’t have it, just use 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

  3. I think the cake flour is critical here for the light, airy texture of the cake. The original recipe warns that all-purpose flour may result in a drier cake.
  4. Be sure to lightly top the cake batter with the crumbs. Don’t press them into the cake. Enjoy!

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Posted on May 14, 2011

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