breakfast, brunch

the family crumb cake.

June 13, 2015

my family's ny style crumb cake.

When I was little, I had no idea where our coffee cake came from, beyond the obvious fact that it came from my mom’s oven. Once it was out of the oven, it went directly into our mouths, and that was that. As I got older, I realized this was the same cake my grandma and her sisters made, making it probably the first “passed down from generation to generation” recipe I knew about.

My family on my mom’s side hails from New York. Queens, to be precise. I had no idea how much this would affect my breakfasts at the time, but now I totally get it. Because that crumb cake I grew up with is considered the classic New York Style crumb cake. 

my family's ny style crumb cake.

The MotherCake, basically.

It was only recently that I found out just how much our family crumb cake aligned with what New Yorkers think of when they think of crumb cake. Enter the Baked Explorations cookbook: in it, you’ll find a recipe for one. If you pare down the measurements from a 9 x 13 size to an 8 x 8 size cake, our recipes are almost identical, right down to the almost-ridiculous amount of crumb topping. Color me delighted.

...also beautiful plain.

…also beautiful plain.

Technically, I shouldn’t know this information. My mom has kept this recipe from us for decades, always insisting she make it, perpetually resistant to hand it down, lest she find out that this cake is the only thing we need her around for (false.) If that were true, we would have discarded my mom about 7 years ago when she accidentally left a printout of the crumb cake recipe – emailed by my grandma – on the computer. My sister noticed her slip-up, and after some sisterly hand signals and eyebrow-waggling, discreetly printed off said email and we’ve had it ever since.

my family's ny style crumb cake.

Hi, mom. I’ve had this since 2008. Ashley started it.

So Mom: if we really only kept you around because of your crumb cake prowess, you’d be gone by now. We love you. We’ve had this recipe for years now. I’ve worked on fine-tuning it over time, and I feel like the recipe I’m giving you is sort of a carefully-preserved-yet-updated version of our family cake. I can’t give you the original, because I see my mom in a few weeks and she’ll have access to several sharp objects and also a pool, and you never know what could happen.

my family's ny style crumb cake.

So here: behold my lovingly-restored version of my family’s classic New York crumb cake. If you ask us, we’d tell you we only make this cake around holidays and during summer vacation when we’re all together, but that would be intentionally misleading. Because by “holidays” we mean when two or more of us are in the same house together, or whenever any holiday, no matter how obscure, happens.

And sometimes we just make it on a Thursday and eat it. Because it’s that kind of cake.

my family's ny style crumb cake.

Cake part adapted from my grandma’s recipe, which is secret and remains as such. Crumb part adapted from both my grandma’s recipe and the New York-Style Crumb Cake recipe found in Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

My Family’s Classic New York Crumb Cake (but not exactly, so as not to give away any family secrets)

Serves | varies |  (not gonna lie, sometimes I pop it in the freezer and chunk away at it myself, so…serves as many or as few as you want/need it to, depending on your hiding skills)

for the crumb:

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon*
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

for the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • confectioners’ sugar (optional), for dusting

*I use Vietnamese cinnamon in basically everything: if you know me, you know this by now. If you’re using cinnamon, first check the label if you’re not sure what type it is: the stuff you find in grocery stores doesn’t always make a huge differentiation on the label. If you’re using the more mild Ceylon cinnamon variety, up your cinnamon to 3 teaspoons. 

Make the crumb:

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, both sugars, salt, and cinnamon until evenly distributed. Add melted butter and use a rubber spatula to mix until combined. Set aside.

Make the cake:

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Grease bottom and sides of an 8-inch cake pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula, add egg and vanilla, and beat until incorporated, 1 minute; scrape down sides again.

In a small bowl, whisk together milk and sour cream until smooth. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in two parts, alternating with milk mixture, stirring until just combined. Remove from stand and use a spatula to incorporate any dry patches in the mixture, paying special attention to the bottom of the bowl (where things tend to hide). Pour into prepared pan.

Using your hands, work the crumb mixture into large crumbs by squeezing handfuls of the mixture together and then gently crumbling them back into the bowl. When you have a good mix of large, medium, and small crumbs, use your hands to pile them evenly over the top of the batter. Bake on medium rack of oven for 30 to 35 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness; no one likes a dry crumb cake, so your cake is done when the a few moist crumbs cling to the toothpick. Remove and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar if you so desire (it really is wonderful both ways) and serve immediately.

This cake stores remarkably well in the freezer, so eat it with in 3 days of making it, but then go ahead and store it away if there’s any left.

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24 Comments

  • Reply Mellissa sevigny June 13, 2015 at 6:49 am

    That crumb to cake ratio is perfection! I’d give just about anything to have a giant wedge of that beauty with my coffee this morning! Thanks Shannon’s mom!

    • Reply shannon June 17, 2015 at 7:52 am

      yay thank you, Mellissa! Since you’re in NY now, you’ll have to maybe – at a time when you’re feeling cakey – try this out and compare it to a NY bakery crumb cake to let me know how i measure up. Or put Mr. Hungry on the case; i feel like he’d be up for that.

  • Reply Wendy June 13, 2015 at 7:50 am

    I won’t go so far as to say that there are certain foods from NY that are the BEST of their kind ( whether I believe those NY versions to be the best or not, New Yorkers can be so uppity about that sort of thing), BUT my personal favorite coffee cake (ratio crumbs to cake, 1 gazillion to 1) is NY style….your family coffee cake style. I have had success with creating a satisfying crumb topping (and have been tempted to stop there and just call it crumb dessert). I have not had success with the “right” kind of cake underneath. The cake needs to be tender yet substantial (it has to hold up to all of those crumbs) and it can’t be dry. Coffee or milk along side should be optional not required in order to swallow (as I mentioned my previous attempts at coffee cake have yielded less than stellar results). To say I am excited that you shared an adaptation of your grandmother’s secret recipe is an understatement. I am guessing that the sour cream in the batter will solve my coffee cake woes. Thanks, Shannon. Thanks, Ashley (for your stealth). Thanks, Shannon’s mom and grandma, for the recipe, even if this isn’t exactly it. 🙂

    • Reply shannon June 17, 2015 at 7:50 am

      The right cake underneath is SOOOO essential! I can’t tell you how many times a crumb cake has looked delicious, and indeed, the crumb part HAS been delicious, and then you get to the cake part and it’s all “whomp whommmmmp” and it’s just a total letdown. This cake, on the other hand, will not let you down. I’m thrilled that this may help you in your quest to find the perfect cake part for your crumb cake – i agree that the sour cream in this goes a long way to really give the cake a stability and moistness that’s a perfect foundation for all that crumb. I hope you love it! Even though it’s not exactly hers, my grandma will be excited to know you’re going to use a recipe based on hers. 🙂

  • Reply Grandma and Grandpa June 13, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Hi Shannon!

    We just read your latest blog on the crumb cake. It looked good enough to eat right off the screen. You and Ashley are something! We look forward so much to seeing you all soon. God has really gifted you in writing, Shannon. We are so proud of you and your sister — two beautiful and wonderful grand-daughters!!

    Love you, Tim, and Stella!!!
    Grandpa and Grandma

    • Reply shannon June 17, 2015 at 7:47 am

      Hi, G’s! Ashley and i ARE something, i know. And we’ll see you in a few very short weeks (or in my case, less than 1 week). Thank you for the crumb cake recipe, and i’m sorry mom had to hide it from me for so long. You should talk to her about that.

      GUYS: THESE ARE MY GRANDPARENTS, JUST SO YOU KNOW. And this is their first comment ever probably on any blog and they’re probably the first ones to read any post i publish, so, they are awesome.

  • Reply movita beaucoup June 14, 2015 at 4:54 am

    Why this sounds very much like the recipes Rosie Beaucoup keeps hidden lest 2.0 and I stop coming over to visit. (As if we’d ever stop visiting! SHE FEEDS US!) Related: if your family had a swimming pool growing up, Rosie won’t share her prized recipes with you. Because: they’ve had enough already.

    So, I’m putting this on my baking list. And then I’ll share with Rosie.

    • Reply shannon June 17, 2015 at 7:45 am

      Our moms are twins; i’m convinced. There are too many similarities at this point to ignore.

  • Reply John@Kitchen Riffs June 14, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    Crumb cake is to NY kinda what gooey butter cake is to St. Louis — it’s everywhere. And it’s good stuff, too. Yours sure looks like the crumb cake I remember from when I lived in New York — thanks for this.

    • Reply shannon June 17, 2015 at 7:44 am

      Analogy = perfect, John: that’s so true! I was really proud and excited to discover how closely it resembled the Baked NY crumb cake, because i feel like they’d know a traditional NY one when they saw it, so now i feel like i’ve been eating the real thing my whole life, even though i’ve never lived there.

  • Reply Abbe @ This is How I Cook June 14, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    I like so need this NOW! This is not fair that I should discover this recipe at almost 10PM. I truly could eat just the crumbs. My mom never made stuff like this. Well, she did but it was always made with Bisquik! Love you new look by the way!

    • Reply shannon June 17, 2015 at 7:42 am

      ooh, late night crumb cake is sort of the BEST CRUMB CAKE tho, Abbe! Maybe not if you have to make it at night, but a great snack if you just get to eat it at night (sometimes with ice cream? it happens)

      Thank you for your sweet works about my site makeover! I wanted it to be similar in style, but cleaner, maybe a little brighter. STILL haven’t been able to sit down and do all the things with it that i need to, but it’s a process. I’m hoping to work on it for the rest of the summer to really get it where i want it to be.

  • Reply Dana Staves June 15, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    Oh my gracious. I need this crumb cake in my life.

    • Reply shannon June 17, 2015 at 7:41 am

      Agree wholeheartedly, Dana.

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats June 16, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Haha, I love the story of how you got the recipe. So glad you’re sharing it with us! Btw, when I commented on your fb post about this, I guess my dad saw it in his fb feed and told me that he send the link to my mom so that she would make it for him. My family loves us some crumb cake (heavy on the crumb!).

    • Reply shannon June 17, 2015 at 7:40 am

      ha! well i hope your dad likes the cake if your mom ends up making it: it’s really good, and absolutely my favorite crumb cake to make (and eat lots of). My sister and i can be sneaky when we want to be.

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats June 17, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    You guys are SO FREAKING SNEAKY! I LOVE IT! Can you imagine being “that person” though? Who hoards recipes and keeps them secret? I’m always the first to be like “OH YOU LIKE IT? IT’S SO EASY IT HAS THIS AND THIS AND THAT AND LET ME WRITE IT DOWN FOR YOU” hahaha ~

    Thank you for stealing this recipe, though. Because I definitely need to make it. Crumb is Aaron’s favorite part. (To be fair, isn’t the crumb EVERYONE’S favorite part?)

  • Reply Monica June 18, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Love the story behind this cake. It’s very easy to fall in love with just by looking at it. The crumb is so beautifully generous and as importantly, that cake beneath promises to be moist and the perfect companion to it. I’m craving crumb cake, Shannon.

  • Reply Ashley June 18, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Such an awesome story! A cake with a heritage…which is something I’d guess we all want.
    Also, maximum crumb, always.

  • Reply Willow @ Will Cook For Friends June 19, 2015 at 11:51 am

    I love the story behind this crumb cake! I never knew any of my grandparents, and as far as I know none of them had any cooking skills beyond opening cans of vegetables and overcooking meat. I guess that makes me a trailblazer in my family, but it doesn’t stop me from longing for something as nostalgic as this. I think the solution is for me to make this cake, because obviously it’s choc full of passed-down-from-generation-to-generation love. And butter. And brown sugar. Mmm…

  • Reply Wendy June 24, 2015 at 9:38 am

    I made this cake twice this week and it is only Wednesday! Most of one cake was sent in to my husband’s employees. The quickest turn around time ever on my husband bringing back an empty container. I brought a still warm pan of coffee cake to them at 4 pm, not sure if everyone was even still in the office. The empty pan came home that night. 🙂 The second cake hitch hiked on a UPS truck to Chicago. Its is very unlikely that we will get to test out the freezer worthy qualities of that cake. I had suggested that they eat half and freeze half…I was told, “Maybe next time.” Thanks for the recipe, Shannon! 🙂

  • Reply elizabeth June 24, 2015 at 10:51 am

    A.) I had no idea that this crumb cake was of New York origins so I’ve learned something today.

    B.) This makes me almost sad I don’t work in an office anymore (almost) because if bringing this in for my coworkers wouldn’t entail lugging it to the train station and schlepping it on Amtrak, I totally would make it and do just that.

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