Bakers' Dozens: Elements of a Perfect Crumb Cake

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My first real attempt at baking started with a classic coffee cake. I have always been fascinated by the crumbs that sit atop coffee cake or crumb cake. In fact, my mother taught me how to choose the perfect crumb cake the same way mothers teach their daughters how to pick out the perfect pair of shoes.

My passion for buttery crumbs led me on a career journey to bake the perfect crumb cake. In order to bake a delicious cake, you need to start off with great ingredients. After all, there are just a handful of ingredients in any one cake.

Flour is one of the main ingredients, and it’s an important one! I prefer cake flour to all-purpose flour.

Cake flour yields a more delicate crumb texture that’s entirely different from all-purpose flour. It has a lower protein content, about 7 percent, as compared with 10 or 12 percent in all-purpose flour. The lower the protein, the lower the gluten content, and the lighter the cake. And who doesn’t like a lovely light and airy cake instead of something that’s dead weight?

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Cake flour is also ground finer than other flours. When a recipe calls for a specific flour, there is a good reason. Purchase a good-quality cake flour (I like Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur).

Eggs are hugely important. I try always to use large eggs, because they are the perfect size for my recipes. Whatever size the egg, it’s important to buy the size eggs that a recipe calls for; otherwise you may end up with a dry cake.

I prefer organic eggs, but they’re expensive. When baking, always start with room-temperature eggs. It helps the mixing process if all of the ingredients are at the same temperature. They will take less time to mix into the cake, which means less gluten development. OK, let’s just say your cake will have a much better consistency.

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Butter is super important when it comes to baking. Here’s the dealio: All butters contains between 15 and 20 percent water. This is significant. I prefer butter with a butterfat content between 82 and 84 percent. The higher the fat percentage, the lower the percent of water. Excess water is not helpful in making butter crumbs. Buy the best quality you can afford.

Spices are equally important, especially if the spice you plan on using is as old as your youngest child or has been in your cabinet since you moved into your house. When spices sit and sit and sit, the delicate oils become exposed to air and light. Four-year-old ground cinnamon will not taste like a fresh jar of cinnamon.

Get the Recipe: Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake

Before you throw them away, repurpose spices by throwing them into a pot of water and making potpourri. When you purchase new ones, write the year on the jar and replace it after a year; this will keep your spices fresh and flavorful. I have several friends who pack up their spice cabinet each time they move. They would be better off leaving the old jars behind.

See how to make Hedy’s crumb cake, step by step.

Pastry chef and cookbook author Hedy Goldsmith is a James Beard Award finalist for the nationally contested Outstanding Pastry Chef category. Her creations grace the menus of The Genuine Hospitality Group of restaurants, including flagship Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami. Her first cookbook, Baking Out Loud, was published by Clarkson Potter in 2012. Hedy has been featured in multiple national media outlets, including NBC’s Today show, The New York Times and People magazine.

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