comscore This crumb cake has an amazing texture | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

This crumb cake has an amazing texture


Most crumb cakes are more about the crumbs than the cake.

A thick, nubby topping of cinnamony streusel will make up for any dry blandness underneath, so that bottom layer often ends up seeming like a mere vehicle to bring crumbs to mouth.

But a truly great crumb cake — a tender, velvety bed with a blanket of shaggy nuggets on top — achieves harmony, each bite a balanced interplay of spices, butter and sandy brown sugar. I’ve been obsessed with making them ever since I started baking as a kid.

My earliest childhood models were cut squares from our local deli in Brooklyn in New York City, more crumbs than cake. As much as I still adore this iteration, grown-up me thinks crumb cakes are even nicer when the ratio skews toward cake — as long as the cake is good enough to hold its own. The test is, would I devour this cake if there were no crumbs? When the answer is yes, the recipe’s a keeper.

Such is the case with this pineapple-strewn, ginger-crumbed version, which calls for a classic sour cream batter spiked with lime zest and some rum or vanilla to accentuate the fruit.

The key to keeping the cake moist is not to overbake it. A toothpick inserted into the center should emerge with a few crumbs clinging to it, not perfectly clean. Another test for doneness is to press the center of the cake lightly with your finger; as soon as it springs back, it’s ready. Since everyone’s oven can be radically different, keep your eye on the cake, especially once the scents of cinnamon, ginger and browning butter make your stomach growl.

To some crumb cake aficionados, the addition of pineapple, or any fruit, is heretical, and, if this is you, feel free to omit it. The richly spiced crumbs flecked with bits of candied ginger and chopped nuts make this cake special enough as it is.

But to me, the succulent pockets of pineapple take it to the next level.

One thing to note: Although caramelizing the pineapple may seem like overkill for a cake this sweet, it’s essential for the texture, concentrating the juices so the pineapple chunks don’t weep and make the crumbs mushy.

Because of its moisture content, pineapple crumb cake doesn’t keep as long as its fruitless counterparts. But it freezes well — on the very off chance there’s any left at all.

Pineapple-Ginger Crumb Cake

Ingredients for the pineapple:

• 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan

• 1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen pineapple chunks, diced into 1/2-inch pieces

• 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

• 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

• Pinch of fine sea or table salt

Ingredients for the crumb topping:

• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

• 1/2 cup dark brown sugar

• 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped almonds or other nuts

• 2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger

• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Ingredients for the cake:

• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 2 large eggs

• 1 tablespoon dark rum or vanilla extract

• 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan or a 9-inch square metal pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the paper.

Prepare the pineapple: In a skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add pineapple, brown sugar, allspice and salt, and saute until pineapple chunks are glossy and lightly browned in spots, 7 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Make the crumb topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, almonds, candied gin ger, ground ginger, cinnamon and salt. Stir in melted butter, pinching the mixture with your fingers, until 1/2-inch crumbs form. Set aside.

Make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer and a large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, then beat in rum and lime zest. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

On low speed, beat in half of the flour mixture until smooth, then beat in the sour cream, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in remaining flour just until incorporated.

Scrape batter into prepared pan. Scatter cooled pineapple evenly across the surface of the cake. Top with ginger crumb mixture.

Bake until the center of the cake springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs, 45 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving.

Total time: 1 1/2 hours, serves 8.

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