12.7.08

The Fastest Cake in the East

All but crumbs were left behind

I did a mock interview for class where one of the questions that I was asked was – what’s the quickest, easiest recipe an “urban baker” can make in their tiny kitchen.

I replied, “Jam Crumb Cake.”

And I know that I am right. It’s the simplest one-bowl cake recipe I have come across and every time I’ve made it, it’s taken under an hour and has come out perfectly each time. I like to think that it’s the most versatile cake that anyone can make. And it’s completely customizable, something that anyone living today is extremely familiar with.

So before I continue to rhapsodize about the customizability of the Jam Crumb Cake, here’s the recipe:


Jam Crumb Cake*

For cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick butter-flavored shortening
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup raspberry jam or preserves

For crumb topping
1/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
½ cup of butter flavored shortening
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9-inch square or round cake pan.
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Whisk together shortening (softened), milk, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Dollop jam all over surface, then swirl into batter with spoon.

Make crumb topping:
Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend in shortening with your fingertips until incorporated (tip: add the liquid a little at a time so that the mixture can "clump" and not become a smooth paste). Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of cake.

Bake cake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.

While writing the recipe down I thought about things I’d like to try differently with the cake. I’d like to make a Florida version (as I am currently in the airport terminal, waiting to begin soaking up the humidity). Instead of jam, maybe a lime custard and in the crumb topping, instead of spices, maybe a hint of nutmeg and coconut? When I get back to the Northeast, I am definitely going to try this one out.

I’ve also wanted to try a black forest version, maybe using cherry preserves and dark chocolate ganache instead of the jam. See? In a space of a minute (seriously, one minute at an airport is a long time) I’ve come up with two rather creative iterations.

One thing any baker should have ready at their fingertips is simple recipes that can easily adapt to different tastes or moods. Something that can be made in under an hour and will have your “taste testers” drooling for more – that’s definitely the Jam Crumb Cake.

*recipe provided and adapted from original, courtesy of Gourmet, December 2007
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