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new york-style crumb cake

May 23, 2011

Full disclosure: I’ve made this recipe before, and it was an utter failure. However, I knew it wasn’t the recipe’s fault. I may or may not have completely disregarded Cooks Illustrated’s warning that using powdered buttermilk might result in a batter so thin that it can’t hold up the crumbs. Hey, they said “may,” so it might’ve turned out okay, right? Well, um, it didn’t. The crumbs did, indeed, sink right into the batter, so that I ended up with a mushy, half-raw cake with random pellets of sugar scattered throughout it. Which might not have been bad, but it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for.

I’d mostly forgotten about the recipe until Chris brought home a sample of Cake Boss’s crumb cake from work. It was pretty good—the crumbs were nice and crunchy, and the cake was flavorful—but also a little dried-out and worse for the wear after its commute up from New York. So I knew what I’d have to do—and I knew my study group would probably be willing testers.

This time around, I actually bothered to go out and buy real buttermilk. And it was worth the effort. The crumb topping was generous and crunchy, but not too messy, and the cake was plush and a little tangy from the buttermilk. And, well, my study group allowed me to continue studying with them, so you know it couldn’t have been *too* bad…Also, I ended up with a mostly-full carton of buttermilk that’s now also mostly-spoiled. Poop.

New York-Style Crumb Cake
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar [I used light brown…I drew the line at buying buttermilk]
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk

1. For the topping, whisk sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in medium bowl to combine. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. For the cake, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 16-inch length parchment paper or aluminum foil and fold lengthwise to 7-inch width. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and fit parchment into dish, pushing it into corners and up sides; allow excess to overhang edges of dish.
3. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed to combine. With mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping once if necessary.
4. Transfer batter to baking pan; using rubber spatula, spread batter into even layer. Break apart crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread in even layer over batter, beginning with edges and then working toward center. Bake until crumbs are golden and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. [Mine took closer to 45-50 minutes; I moved it down to the middle rack after 40 minutes to prevent burning. Make sure you really dig around with the tester—the crumbs tend to bake up really solid pretty quickly, which means that they can clean off any clinging batter from escaping toothpicks before you realize your cake’s actually two steps past gooey.] Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan by lifting parchment overhang. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated

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