Crumb cake: baking outside the box

WARNING: Crumby cake. Not suitable for consumption while driving to work, walking around the house, or sitting at your computer. Post-consumption use of vacuum cleaner highly recommended.

Luckily, the food police have not yet, in their wisdom, chosen to add this warning to every bakery box of crumb cake. Though it would be appropriate, if not entirely welcome.

There’s no doubt about it: Crumb cakes are crumby. Not crummy; crumby, as in rife with crumbs. And we’re not talking simple cake crumbs here; your lap, the kitchen counter, and (if consumed on the go) your car seat are liable to be showered with sugar-dusted nuggets of soft/crunchy streusel whenever you enjoy this cake.

So, caveat eater.

Eating crumb cake is kind of like eating watermelon or a mango: best done over the sink, or outdoors. But this tidiness challenge isn’t necessarily a negative. Entenmann’s is famous for its boxed crumb cake; and one of the best parts of an Entenmann’s Ultimate Crumb Cake is being the person who opens the box, because you get to dump out and eat all the crumbs that have fallen off the cake in transit.

Yes, this is a plain vanilla cake. Yes, it’s old-fashioned. But just as certain things never go out of style—black as a fashion statement, Winnie the Pooh, popcorn—crumb cake has maintained its place as a minor deity in the dessert pantheon.

Never baked your own crumb cake? Now’s your chance. But remember: napkins are mandatory.

Your car upholstery, navy slacks, and dining room rug will thank you.

Read our Classic Crumb Cake recipe as you look at these pictures.

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Want to give all kinds of baked goods outstanding flavor? Here’s a lineup of some of my favorite baking enhancements.

You’ve probably heard me wax poetic about Vanilla “Crush” before, a blend of Madagascar and Tahitian vanillas. It’s simply the most aromatic, flavorful vanilla I’ve ever used; AND it’s flecked with vanilla bean seeds and tiny shreds of vanilla bean, to take it to a new level of richness.

Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor gives baked goods that certain “bakery” flavor—a bit of butter, a hint of vanilla, a touch of citrus… Lemon oil is simply the essential oil of lemon peel. It adds true, pure lemon flavor without having to zest a lemon (and cleaning the grater, and possibly grating your knuckles).

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Yogurt is a wonderful cake ingredient, as it tempers gluten, yielding a more tender cake. This is nonfat yogurt I made in our Yogourmet yogurt maker. I added nonfat dry milk to make it nice and thick. It’s very tasty, not as acidic as store-bought.

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So, enough with the preliminaries—let’s get down to business. Start with butter, sugar, salt, and the aforementioned flavors: vanilla, Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor, and lemon oil.

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Beat until smooth. This is chunky, not smooth; keep beating.

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Ah, yes. THIS is smooth.

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Add 1 egg.

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Beat till smooth, then add another egg.

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Beat till smooth, then add the final egg, again beating till smooth.

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Quickly and gently beat in the flour and baking soda.

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Next, the yogurt.

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Stir to thoroughly combine. At this point, it’s best not to beat the batter, as that will toughen the gluten in the flour.

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Spread the batter in a lightly greased 9” x 9” pan.

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If you like, scatter blueberries (fresh or frozen) on top. (I was experimenting here, so only put the berries on half the cake.)  Put the cake in a preheated 325°F oven, and let it begin baking as you make the crumb topping.

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Combine melted butter, flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt, vanilla, and Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor (if you like). Mix till uneven crumbs form. Pay close attention: if you mix too long, instead of crumbs you’ll have a solid mass.

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When the cake has baked for 30 minutes, remove it from the oven. You’ll see that it’s barely set; handle it carefully. Note that this isn’t the cake with the blueberries; it’s a later version. You’d be surprised how many times we might bake a recipe for these blog posts; we always seem to have some new experiment we want to try.

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Sprinkle the crumb topping over the surface of the cake. (See that faint vertical line down the center? I was doing another experiment, to see if melting the butter for the topping was a good idea. I decided it was.)

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Bake for an additional 15 minutes, till a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The crumbs may have become a slightly darker shade of gold, but definitely won’t have browned.

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When the cake is completely cool, sprinkle heavily with confectioners’ sugar. I’m running it through a sieve here, which makes a nice, even layer of sugar.

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Here it is, your classic crumb cake. Notice it’s living up to its name. Be sure to serve this cake either on a plate, or with a napkin, or outdoors, unless you want a crumb trail on your dining room floor.

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And here’s the blueberry version. Very tasty indeed.

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Classic Crumb Cake.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Netgrocer: Entenmann’s Ultimate Crumb Cake, 35¢/ounce

Bake at home: Classic Crumb Cake, 12¢/ounce

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Jackie

    I wish I had this yesterday. I was looking for some type of crumb or coffee cake to bring to my mom’s for Mother’s Day. I made a pie instead. It looks yummy. I can’t wait to try it. I am so HAPPY to see a new post. I’m addicted to this site and check it everyday.
    THANK YOU !

    Reply
  2. Angela

    I was wondering something. When a recipe calls for melted butter, do you melt the butter first and then measure or measure the amount and then melt? I would love to finally have an answer for this question and I figured since the some of the best bakers in the country read this, y’all are the ones to ask! Wonderful blog and I am going to make this cake this week!
    Thank you! Angela in VA

    Angela, they should actually be the same volume, but it’s easier to measure after melting. Since butter sticks are marked into tablespoon-size pats, it’s easy to melt how many tablespoons you want. Also, you can do it by weight – 4 ounces = 1 stick = 1/2 cup melted. PJH

    Reply
  3. Mike T.

    Hmmm, PJ, looks great! Just wish you had posted it last week as well. I could have taken this for last night, and picked up the ingredients when I as in the store. ;-)

    Reply
  4. A J

    I was glad to see this also (new post AND the cake…I check
    this site just after emails and the weather:)! We’ve been
    needing a simple small cake for a sweet treat when we don’t
    need a big amount of leftovers to add to our waistlines just
    because the stuff keeps saying “Eat me, I’m here”!
    This will be “just right”.

    Reply
  5. Barbara

    Wow! This is a great recipe! I made it for Mother’s Day. We had some fresh strawberries and the granddaughter wanted to put a dollop of whip cream on each slice and top it with a lovely chocolate dipped strawberry. It was very yummy and everyone complimented us. (We served it in fancy dessert bowls so as not to miss a crumb) :) Thanks for the recipes. This is an addictive site!

    Reply
  6. barbara

    Could this recipe be doubled and use a 9 X 13 pan? I make dessert every Tuesday for a group and I need that amount. Thanks!

    Barbara, you’d increase by 1 1/2, not doubled. Give it a go – PJH

    Reply
  7. Nancy

    Is there any risk of the cake sinking when removed after only 30 minutes? Did you try putting the crumb part on before baking? Can’t wait to make it – this looks great!

    Yeah, Nancy, the crumbs sunk in and became soggy when I put them on before baking. Is there a risk of sinking at 30 minutes? Yes, if you’re not careful. You’re walking a bit of a tightrope here – need to put the crumbs on with enough baking time left to firm them up, but if you put them on too soon, the cake will sink. Take a look at the cake before you take it out; it shouldn’t be raw or be jiggling like Jell-O, but should definitely look undone. But don’t stress- you’ll do fine. PJH

    Reply
  8. Sandy

    To make crumb cake in a 9 X 13 pan, did you mean to increase ingredients by only 1/2 and not a full double.
    Yes, that’ a good way to put it. Each ingredient would be increased by half of the original amount. One cup would increase to 1 1/2 cups. etc. ~MaryJane

    Reply
  9. Susan

    Did you try this with your White whole Wheat flour. I have been replacing regular white flour with the white whole wheat in all my recipes and wanted to know if I should add more liquid if replacing the flour. Do you recommend only replacing half or 2/3 instead of all the flour? My boys love crumb cake and this would be a great addition. Thanks
    Hi Susan,
    Try subbing half WWW flour at first, and then increase the amount of WWW if you like the results. Do keep an eye on the liquid, and add 1-2 tablespoons if it appears overly dry. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  10. Anne

    Oh, what terrific timing – my husband loves yellow cake, which is something I don’t understand at all. We’re both active Weight Watchers, so a single layer cake will be terrific. His birthday is next week and I’ll make this one with delight. He doesn’t dig lemon in his yellow cakes, so I’ll have to sacrifice that, but I trust the extra vanilla in this recipe will overcome the deficit. I’ll make it with lemon for me! Many thanks – these recipes, pictures, and comments are wonderful! -Anne

    Glad we could help with the birthday, Anne – hope he enjoys it! PJH

    Reply
  11. cindy leigh

    I think this is the same recipe I found on KAF recipe section of the web site, because I was looking for recipes for my homemade yogurt. It’s AWESOME! The texture, density, flavor, and crumbs- excellent! I cut into squares and bagged for lunches for the week but they disappeared way before Friday!

    It is indeed the same recipe, Cindy – I just converted it over to the new format. It’s so plain, yet so… good. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  12. Joni M

    my oh my, this cake sounded really special as I’m reading along–and then you went and added blueberries??? Yikes, preheat the oven, give me my spoon and let me get at it!!! Oh my, my mouth is absolutely watering! All that aside–thank you so much for such a fun blog to check in on every day–absolutely LOVE this site! AND your products–am anxiously awaiting the arrival today of my latest order! Wish I’d have gotten some of the vanilla bean crush–oh well, next time!

    Ah, Joni, that’s the nice thing – there’s always a next time! We’ve been around for 219 years, and aren’t planning on going anywhere (besides the kitchen) :) PJH

    Reply
  13. kate

    I made this last nite & while I’m not a lover of crumb cake, I actually had all the ingredients, so…why not! I even had blueberries and I must say they added the little something that made me love it. That said, since for a few months it’s just me here, can I freeze this with any success?

    Sure, Kate. You know how frozen baked goods are – the better they’re wrapped and the shorter amount of time frozen, the better they’ll taste. So caveat emptor – 6 months in the freezer is going to yield a pretty freezer-burned, off-taste “treat.” – PJH

    Reply
  14. Diane

    I made this recipe last night but left out the lemon flavoring and added cinnamon to the topping. Since we watch our fat intake, I also substituted 1/4 C of lowfat margarine for the 1/2 C of butter and used only 2 eggs instead of 3. My family absolutely loved it and my daughter said it was as good as the crumb cake at the Coffee Beanery restaurant! Thanks much!

    Reply
  15. cindy leigh

    a note to Anne about the lemon flavor. The flavorings blend together to yield a rich, cake-y flavor and we could not distinguish one flavor, like lemon, over another. If you don’t tell him it’s in there, I’m betting he won’t notice. My bunch is not overly fond of lemon, and no one noticed. BTW- I didn’t have all the KAF branded extracts, so I used their lemon oil, my vanilla, and my butter extracts. And because we loosely follow WW too, I used fat free sugar free plain yogurt.

    Reply
  16. Margaret

    My grandfather was a baker in the 1890′s until 1934. I have his cookbook from the bakeshop with handwritten recipes. There is a crumb cake recipe in it. Unfortunately, the ingredients are in pounds, quarts, gallons, etc. I have cut down some of his recipes but not this one. I will have to see how your recipe compares to his.

    What a wonderful resource, Margaret. I hope we’re up to snuff! PJH

    Reply
  17. Paul Basten

    If doubling the recipe – how do you ‘double’ 3 eggs?

    Paul, a large egg weighs about 1 3/4 ounces out of the shell. Mix 5 eggs; measure out 7 7/8 ounces; and make a little scrambled half-an-egg with the rest! Or do it by volume, if you prefer. PJH

    Reply
  18. MaryAnn

    Since we returned from sunny Florida I have been waging a mighty battle with some tiny ants and I was getting the upper hand and then I made this delicious crumb cake. The ants thought the shower of crumbs and confectioners sugar was my way of holding up a sign saying, “welcome home!” Oh heck! Hey, it was worth it.

    Wait a minute – you FORGOT to put up the “welcome home” sign? They must have been irritated, the little dears… PJH

    Reply
  19. Karen

    I made this plain on one side and with blueberries on the other. We enjoyed it both ways but liked the blueberry side best. My cat loved the crumb topping.

    Ah, a cat with good taste… so rare these days! PJH

    Reply
  20. Carolyn

    Once I had a suiter to dinner and was going to impress him with a delicious cherry pie with dutch crumb topping. I melted the butter before mixing it with the flour and sugar. When we sat down to eat the pie the crumb topping was a bunch of hard little bullets. :( must have been margarine instead of butter, but I never tried that again. Cold right out of the fridge butter for my crumb toppings.
    Hi Carolyn,
    Ohh, poor you! We have all learned that lesson along the line, too bad it had to be in front of company. Hope you enjoy the recipe. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  21. Knead2quilt

    A few days ago I made this cake (but used a different recipe for the crumb topping) and brought it to a pot luck at my office. After the cake had cooled I gave it a light dusting of powdered sugar then drizzled some apricot jam across the top and then gave another light dusting of powdered sugar. The cake disappeared almost immediately and received rave reviews — including “This is the BEST coffeecake you’ve ever brought to us!” which, of course, made my head swell to a tremendous size. This is definitely a keeper recipe.

    Reply
  22. Lydia

    Made this cake yesterday with good results. Used lemon flavoring (1tsp) instead of lemon oil which I didn’t have. I made the crumbs according to the “tip” using cold butter and shortening instead of melted butter which turned out well. Using a 10″ square pan, the cake rose to the top of pan leaving no room for crumbs and were way too much. In my opinion, the cake should be baked in a 9″x13″ pan (as pictured). I managed to sprinkle 3/4th of the topping which did stick. Will make with blueberries next time! You are my “baking bible”,……THANKS!

    Thanks for connecting here, Lydia; I guess you’re right, 10″ x 10″ might be a tad too small. – PJH

    Reply

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