Crumb cake: baking outside the box

WARNING: Crumby cake. Not suitable for consumption while driving to work, walking around the house, or sitting at your computer. Post-consumption use of vacuum cleaner highly recommended.

Luckily, the food police have not yet, in their wisdom, chosen to add this warning to every bakery box of crumb cake. Though it would be appropriate, if not entirely welcome.

There’s no doubt about it: Crumb cakes are crumby. Not crummy; crumby, as in rife with crumbs. And we’re not talking simple cake crumbs here; your lap, the kitchen counter, and (if consumed on the go) your car seat are liable to be showered with sugar-dusted nuggets of soft/crunchy streusel whenever you enjoy this cake.

So, caveat eater.

Eating crumb cake is kind of like eating watermelon or a mango: best done over the sink, or outdoors. But this tidiness challenge isn’t necessarily a negative. Entenmann’s is famous for its boxed crumb cake; and one of the best parts of an Entenmann’s Ultimate Crumb Cake is being the person who opens the box, because you get to dump out and eat all the crumbs that have fallen off the cake in transit.

Yes, this is a plain vanilla cake. Yes, it’s old-fashioned. But just as certain things never go out of style—black as a fashion statement, Winnie the Pooh, popcorn—crumb cake has maintained its place as a minor deity in the dessert pantheon.

Never baked your own crumb cake? Now’s your chance. But remember: napkins are mandatory.

Your car upholstery, navy slacks, and dining room rug will thank you.

Read our Classic Crumb Cake recipe as you look at these pictures.


Want to give all kinds of baked goods outstanding flavor? Here’s a lineup of some of my favorite baking enhancements.

You’ve probably heard me wax poetic about Vanilla “Crush” before, a blend of Madagascar and Tahitian vanillas. It’s simply the most aromatic, flavorful vanilla I’ve ever used; AND it’s flecked with vanilla bean seeds and tiny shreds of vanilla bean, to take it to a new level of richness.

Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor gives baked goods that certain “bakery” flavor—a bit of butter, a hint of vanilla, a touch of citrus… Lemon oil is simply the essential oil of lemon peel. It adds true, pure lemon flavor without having to zest a lemon (and cleaning the grater, and possibly grating your knuckles).


Yogurt is a wonderful cake ingredient, as it tempers gluten, yielding a more tender cake. This is nonfat yogurt I made in our Yogourmet yogurt maker. I added nonfat dry milk to make it nice and thick. It’s very tasty, not as acidic as store-bought.


So, enough with the preliminaries—let’s get down to business. Start with butter, sugar, salt, and the aforementioned flavors: vanilla, Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor, and lemon oil.


Beat until smooth. This is chunky, not smooth; keep beating.


Ah, yes. THIS is smooth.


Add 1 egg.


Beat till smooth, then add another egg.


Beat till smooth, then add the final egg, again beating till smooth.


Quickly and gently beat in the flour and baking soda.


Next, the yogurt.


Stir to thoroughly combine. At this point, it’s best not to beat the batter, as that will toughen the gluten in the flour.


Spread the batter in a lightly greased 9” x 9” pan.


If you like, scatter blueberries (fresh or frozen) on top. (I was experimenting here, so only put the berries on half the cake.)  Put the cake in a preheated 325°F oven, and let it begin baking as you make the crumb topping.


Combine melted butter, flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt, vanilla, and Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor (if you like). Mix till uneven crumbs form. Pay close attention: if you mix too long, instead of crumbs you’ll have a solid mass.


When the cake has baked for 30 minutes, remove it from the oven. You’ll see that it’s barely set; handle it carefully. Note that this isn’t the cake with the blueberries; it’s a later version. You’d be surprised how many times we might bake a recipe for these blog posts; we always seem to have some new experiment we want to try.


Sprinkle the crumb topping over the surface of the cake. (See that faint vertical line down the center? I was doing another experiment, to see if melting the butter for the topping was a good idea. I decided it was.)


Bake for an additional 15 minutes, till a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The crumbs may have become a slightly darker shade of gold, but definitely won’t have browned.


When the cake is completely cool, sprinkle heavily with confectioners’ sugar. I’m running it through a sieve here, which makes a nice, even layer of sugar.


Here it is, your classic crumb cake. Notice it’s living up to its name. Be sure to serve this cake either on a plate, or with a napkin, or outdoors, unless you want a crumb trail on your dining room floor.


And here’s the blueberry version. Very tasty indeed.

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Classic Crumb Cake.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Netgrocer: Entenmann’s Ultimate Crumb Cake, 35¢/ounce

Bake at home: Classic Crumb Cake, 12¢/ounce

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I think your question is has anyone made crumb cake and then froze it. Yes, it is possible to do. Allow to defrost at room temperature. Enjoy! Elisabeth@KAF

  1. Lydia

    Made this cake yesterday with good results. Used lemon flavoring (1tsp) instead of lemon oil which I didn’t have. I made the crumbs according to the “tip” using cold butter and shortening instead of melted butter which turned out well. Using a 10″ square pan, the cake rose to the top of pan leaving no room for crumbs and were way too much. In my opinion, the cake should be baked in a 9″x13″ pan (as pictured). I managed to sprinkle 3/4th of the topping which did stick. Will make with blueberries next time! You are my “baking bible”,……THANKS!

    Thanks for connecting here, Lydia; I guess you’re right, 10″ x 10″ might be a tad too small. – PJH

  2. Knead2quilt

    A few days ago I made this cake (but used a different recipe for the crumb topping) and brought it to a pot luck at my office. After the cake had cooled I gave it a light dusting of powdered sugar then drizzled some apricot jam across the top and then gave another light dusting of powdered sugar. The cake disappeared almost immediately and received rave reviews — including “This is the BEST coffeecake you’ve ever brought to us!” which, of course, made my head swell to a tremendous size. This is definitely a keeper recipe.

  3. Carolyn

    Once I had a suiter to dinner and was going to impress him with a delicious cherry pie with dutch crumb topping. I melted the butter before mixing it with the flour and sugar. When we sat down to eat the pie the crumb topping was a bunch of hard little bullets. 🙁 must have been margarine instead of butter, but I never tried that again. Cold right out of the fridge butter for my crumb toppings.
    Hi Carolyn,
    Ohh, poor you! We have all learned that lesson along the line, too bad it had to be in front of company. Hope you enjoy the recipe. ~ MaryJane

  4. Karen

    I made this plain on one side and with blueberries on the other. We enjoyed it both ways but liked the blueberry side best. My cat loved the crumb topping.

    Ah, a cat with good taste… so rare these days! PJH

  5. MaryAnn

    Since we returned from sunny Florida I have been waging a mighty battle with some tiny ants and I was getting the upper hand and then I made this delicious crumb cake. The ants thought the shower of crumbs and confectioners sugar was my way of holding up a sign saying, “welcome home!” Oh heck! Hey, it was worth it.

    Wait a minute – you FORGOT to put up the “welcome home” sign? They must have been irritated, the little dears… PJH


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