Grandma's Crumb Cake

My senior year in college, I lived in a house with my friend Tara. We had a front porch, a French-inspired curtainless shower, an out of tune piano, a rickety dining room table, a big kitchen and not a single cookbook. Photos ripped from Vogue covered our walls and though we hosted countless dinner parties, guests always had to bring their own silverware.

When I married Daniel (who once asked me out in that very house while reclaiming some forgotten forks and knives), Tara surprised us with a black binder full of recipes from all our friends and family. Even though our shelves are now overflowing with cookbooks thanks to my job at Food Network, these are the recipes I cherish most.

Sometimes I just flip through, laughing every time I see Keith’s “recipe” for perfect pork chops (pork chops + OJ + George = delicious), a meal he made night after night on his George Forman grill when Daniel and I lived with him. And though we’ve never tried either of the two recipes from Daniel’s Dutch step-brother David, I love how they’re both peppered with foreign food-related words my husband mastered after a few visits to Amsterdam. There are even two recipes for love, one handwritten in perfect pink and black script by Nina, and another sexier version in tangled English and Portuguese from Daniel’s ex-stepfather Othon.

And then there is Kristen’s Grandma’s Crumb Cake, the one recipe I practically know by heart, its simplicity so soothing. Kristen and I met while living in Paris and it was there that we bonded over our shared love of good food, especially sweets.

Made by combining some basic ingredients that practically everyone has in their pantry, her family's recipe makes for a very quick, easy and oh-so-satisfying homemade sweet. I usually fold in fresh berries, loving how they bring a burst of color to the cake, though Kristen tells me that apples and peaches work just as well.

The part of the cake that is the most addicting however is the crumb topping, a combination of sugar, flour, butter and cinammon. Rolled into fat, buttery balls, the crumbs are sprinkled on top of the cake, then baked till crispy and golden. Dusted with a hearty sprinkling of powdered sugar, the cake looks and tastes better than any boxed variety you'll ever find.

When Kristen and I made Grandma's Crumb Cake together a few weeks ago while waiting for some take-out Thai to arrive, she accidentally added an extra cup of flour while doubling the topping ingredients, something she does to ensure a nice thick layer of sugary crumbs.

Our cake looked like it had been sprinkled with sand, but that didn’t keep us from devouring two thick slices each.

In honor of a special brunch Daniel and I hosted for the Sokorellis on Sunday, I went the Grandma’s Crumb Cake route once again, opting to keep the topping ingredients the way grandma intended.

Best when warm, I baked the cake just an hour before they arrived, then served it as a sweet prelude to Oeufs à la Cantalienne and Sweet-and-Spicy Bacon, a brunch menu we'd discovered from Molly of Orangette. That part of the meal dserves its own post entirely, but since I could never top Molly's delicious descriptions of both recipes, I advise you check out her inspiring words.

What I can say though (while borrowing Keith's unique recipe writing skills for a second) is that baked eggs + spicy bacon + multiple slices of my favorite homemade sweet on the side = pretty perfect Sunday. Not to mention that the few leftover pieces of Grandma's Crumb Cake haven't made the past few days half bad either.

Grandma’s Crumb Cake

Cake ingredients:
¾ cup of sugar
¼ cup butter
1 egg
½ cup milk
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 pint fresh blueberries, washed and drained
Note from Kristen: Grandma often substitutes chopped apples, peaches or raspberries for the blueberries. All are really yummy but my personal fave is peaches and blueberries together.

Crumb topping ingredients:
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
½ cup butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine sugar, butter, egg, and milk. Mix well. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the sugar mixture. Fold in the fruit of your choice. The mixture will be thick. To make the topping thoroughly combine the four ingredients.

Spread the batter in 13”x 9” x 2” baking pan. Sprinkle on the topping mixture and bake for 35-45 minutes. When cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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Anne Stesney said...

I must try this immediately! I wonder if frozen blueberrie will do?

Anonymous said...

Now I know exactly what to do with those ziplock baggies filled with ripe, sugared peaches from the peak of the summer's season. My freezer is still filled with them. Every year I poach rhubarb, then a few weeks later, those awesome, perfumed strawberries from Long Island's East End. No one in the city ever gets them; they are so fragile they never leave the region.

If you lightly sugar, and gently press them to push out just a few juices, then freeze them as soon as you can, the aroma when you thaw them remains there--and it's killer.

Anonymous said...

I had planned to make this crumb cake with blueberries, but since there were none at my local farmers' market this weekend (I was a few weeks too late), I settled for raspberries and peaches. They made for a very tasty combination. I plan to make this crumb cake again to take home for day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast. Thanks Kristen's grandma!

Litas said...

Many thanks for sharing! This hit the spot. I didn't have any fruit around so I heated up some boysenberry preseve, drizzled it over the cake mixture, then topped it with the crumb. Delish!
P.S. The Food Network rocks my socks

Lia said...

Anne, I've never tried frozen blueberries, but I'm sure they'd be ok. Let me know how it goes!

Michael S., I'm not sure I could wait that long to put those peaches to use! I think I'd end up just eating those on their own, but I bet they'd be great in Grandma's Crumb Cake.

Judith, raspberries and peaches sound delicious. I'm going to have to try that sometime. I like to use cranberries too during this time of year.

Litas, your boysenberry preserves sound great too. I'll have to remember that for next time I crave crumb cake but don't have any fruit in the house!

Rachel Ruff said...

I saved this recipe for a nice January cold morning. Instead of sugar I am going to substitute Splenda. Have you tried Splenda in any of your recipes?

Lia said...

Rachel, to be honest I avoid all artificial sweetners. I don't like the way they taste and can't help but think that they're really bad for you. My recommendation would be to cut back on the sugar in this cake. It has a lot and I'm sure it would be just as good with less. Let me know how it works out!


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