My husband grew up in Queens, NY so he knows what this cake should look and taste like. I have been trying variations of a crumb bun recipe for many years with not a whole lot of success (and there are a lot of them out there!). Some were passable, but “not like I remember” he would say. I found this one on America’s Test Kitchen website and decided to give it a try. They called it NJ Crumb Buns because of a bakery in Hackensack that “has been at the center of the crumb bun universe since 1948”. My husband and two of his brothers declared this recipe a keeper.
The other part of the story is my husband came home from work on the very same day that I found this recipe and told me that a co-worker had brought in a piece of NY Crumb Cake that his wife had made. He said he liked it so much that he asked if she would share the recipe with me. He came home the next day with the recipe and guess what?…Yep, the exact same recipe. It was meant to be!
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
We found that we could pile the crumb topping high on this cake—just like they do in Jersey—by paying special attention to the types of flour and sugar we used in each layer. Using all-purpose flour in the cakey base made it satisfyingly chewy. Cake flour, which is finer and lower in protein than all-purpose flour, gave the topping its signature soft crumbs. Just the right mix of white and brown sugars ensured that the crumb buns had the optimal flavor and texture.
GATHER YOUR INGREDIENTS
- 2 ¼ cups (11 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 pkg. or 2 ¼ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces and softened
- 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
- ¾ cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
- ¾ cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 cups (16 ounces) cake flour
- Confectioners’ sugar
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Note that we call for both all-purpose and cake flours in this recipe. Do not substitute all-purpose flour for the cake flour (or vice versa), or the cake will be airy and fluffy and the topping will be tough and dry. We developed this recipe using Pillsbury Softasilk bleached cake flour; the topping will be slightly drier if you substitute unbleached cake flour. (Barbara’s note: I have used King Arthur Cake flour which is unbleached and not enhanced and yes, you can see a difference so use Softasilk if you can). You can use either light or dark brown sugar in the topping. Be sure to use instant or rapid-rise yeast in this recipe and not active dry yeast.
- FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. (Barbara’s note: Wait until the cake is halfway through the rise process or you will be heating your oven for over an hour). Grease 13 by 9-inch baking dish. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook, combine flour, milk, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Knead on low speed until dough comes together, about 2 minutes.
- With mixer running, add butter 1 piece at a time, waiting until each piece is incorporated before adding next. Increase speed to medium-high and continue to knead until dough forms stretchy, web-like strands on sides of bowl, about 6 minutes longer (dough will be soft and sticky).
- Using greased rubber spatula, transfer dough to prepared dish. Using your floured hands, press dough into even layer to edges of dish. Cover dish tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature until slightly puffy, about 1 hour.
- FOR THE TOPPING: Ten minutes before dough has finished rising, whisk melted butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together in bowl. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture forms thick, cohesive dough; let sit for 10 minutes to allow flour to hydrate.
- If dough has pulled away from sides of dish after rising, gently pat it back into place using your floured fingers. Break topping mixture into rough 1/2-inch pieces using your fingers and scatter in even layer over dough in dish. (Be sure to scatter all crumbs even though it may seem like too much.)
- Bake until crumbs are golden brown, wooden skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, and cake portion registers about 215 degrees in center, about 35 minutes. Transfer dish to wire rack and let cake cool completely. Using spatula, transfer cake to cutting board; cut cake into 12 squares. Dust squares with confectioners’ sugar and serve.