This is the Big Crumb Coffee Cake of my dreams, and oh, I have dreamed about this for a very long time–like, 15 years, I’m afraid to say. It dates back to the bakery where I worked in high school that used to fill a sheet tray with gorgeous, cinnamon and brown-sugar clustered buttery crumbs, spread a thin layer of cake doughnut batter over it and, once baked, flip it out onto a tray where it was showered with an avalanche of powdered sugar. The proportions were perfect every time: one-third cake to two-thirds of the kind of rubble that were impossible to walk by without pulling off a piece of crater-leaving telltale sign. Not that I would do a thing like that. Of course not. But I sure did think about it. Honestly, I still do.
I haven’t found an acceptable substitution since, and please do not even waste my time with these so-called excuses for crumb coffee cakes from the Seinfeld-hoarding Drakes to Entenmann’s. I don’t even want their thin, small and barely-adhered crumbs near my Big Crumb Coffee Cake, lest their mediocrity smudge its splendor: a tangy, impossibly moist, vanilla-flavored cake base ceilinged with hefty crumbs that will make all streusels that came before pale in contrast.
Oh, and rhubarb–or the reason it took me eight months to make this. Before I knew it, the rhubarb were gone from the store last summer and I was stuck waiting until this year’s rhubarb season, which is still months away. I tapped my feet. I marked my calendar. I pondered alternative fillings, ones I think you will enjoy as well, but I really wanted rhubarb. Then last week I saw some at the store–not even great-looking ones, mind you–and I snapped. I had Melissa Clark’s Rhubarb Big Crumb Coffee Cake in front of me in a matter of hours, and even though it is gone–foisted on coworkers and friends and anyone who promised to get it out of my arms reach–I can still smell it. I can still taste it.
I miss it so.
‘Big Crumb’ Coffeecake with Rhubarb
Adapted from The New York Times 6/6/07
Not rhubarb season? Don’t fret. I think this cake would be amazing with a blueberry, raspberry, sour cherry or any other tangy fruit filling you can think of. Simply adjust the sugar level accordingly–most of these will need far less than rhubarb does to make them palatable.
Butter for greasing pan
For the rhubarb filling:
1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
For the crumbs:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups cake flour (I was out and used all-purpose and it worked great)
For the cake:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour (ditto on the all-purpose flour–worked just fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. For filling, slice rhubarb 1/2 inch thick and toss with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.
2. To make crumbs [this step now updated, see comment #150] in a large bowl, whisk sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then, add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon. It will look and feel like a solid dough. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.
3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.
4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.
5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.