In the universe of coffee cakes, the crumb cake has its own orbit. There’s just something about those beautifully crisp buttery crumbs that compel us to reach for a slice. The origins may have come from the streuselkuchens of Germany but make no mistake, crumb cakes are very much a part of American baking culture as a result of the influx of immigrants to New York.
Crumb cakes are by nature very simple. This one is an incredibly tender cake, thanks to the brown sugar, butter and milk that moisten and tenderize, resulting in really nice soft crumb. For something a little different, I took a slight detour and added cocoa powder to the crumb mixture. It’s a delicious change-up if chocolate is your trusty friend.
This cake is super easy to pull together. And since I always think of spring and summer as brunch season, you’ll want to add this recipe to your collection alongside all those other kugelhopf, bundt and streusel-laden gems. Let me assure you, the aroma of this cake baking in your kitchen is the best kind of morning wake-up call, impossible to resist.
- I use my hands to mix the crumb topping. It takes about 3- 4 minutes because the brown sugar, flour and cocoa become a pretty fine powder when combined. But if you keep working it as directed, it comes together in nice clumps.
- The salt in the crumb mixture is there to enhance the cocoa powder.
- Room temperature butter is not oily or soft. It should give just a bit when you press a finger into the surface.
- Cream butter and sugar on medium speed to avoid breaking the fragile air bubbles you’re trying to create. This is the stage where the texture and crumb are being developed.
- A quick way to bring eggs to room temperature is to place them in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. Cold eggs will impact the volume of the cake.
- For cake mixing, always add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next. The batter is ready for the second egg when it no longer has a shiny slick on the surface.
- Scraping down the bowl of your mixer is crucial to thoroughly emulsifying the butter and egg mixture and then fully integrating all of the remaining ingredients. It may seem like a bother but it’s what helps to build the structure of your cake.
- Don’t skip the allspice. Contrary to popular belief, allspice isn’t a blend of a lot of different spices. It’s actually the sun dried unripened berry of the Pimenta dioica plant. It's sometimes referred to as Jamaica Pepper because early spice explorers striking out to the New World believed they had discovered the black pepper they coveted. The term "allspice" is likely due to the fact that its aroma and flavor strongly suggest the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and cloves. Allspice does contain a trace of eugenol, the essential oil that gives cloves their distinctive flavor. I often use allspice as a backnote to amplify other spices, especially cinnamon. It’s also a key ingredient in Caribbean jerk dishes.
- My crumbs didn't dislodge when I turned out the cake. You can use a 9" springform pan if you prefer.
- More brunch ideas on Pinterest.
Brown Sugar Chocolate Crumb Cake
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup (1 5/8 oz) flour
3 tablespoons (15 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 oz (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
4 oz (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs @ room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk @ room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9” x 2 1/2 “ cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
For the chocolate crumb, place the brown sugar, flour, cocoa, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Stir together until it looks like a fine powder. Cut the cold butter into 1/4” pieces and toss with the cocoa mixture. Pinch the butter until it flattens into smaller pieces that resemble small peas. Then grab big handfuls of the mixture and squeeze it together until it begins to adhere into large compressed clumps. This will take about 3 – 4 minutes. Then take the large clumps and break them into smaller clumps. Chill until ready to use.
For the cake, sift flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and allspice together and set aside.
Cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add vanilla and blend.
Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Add a third of the flour mixture alternately with half the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down bowl to be sure everything is incorporated. Pour the batter in the prepared pan and spread evenly. Cover the top of the cake batter with chocolate crumb mixture and gently press down just a tiny bit.
Bake until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 – 32 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Run a thin knife along the edges and invert the cake. Remove the parchment and turn the cake again so it’s right side up. Cool completely.