I’ve lived in Woodstock for a long time now, but deep down I’m still a Jersey girl. There are a lot of things that you can only find in the Garden State. The best tomatoes come from there. Springsteen, the sweetest blueberries and salt water taffy come from there. And then, there’s the crumb buns!
Every weekend of my young life, my sister and I went to stay with our maternal grandparents. And every Sunday morning, we had crumb buns from the local bakery. They were the BEST! A thin, yeasty layer of cake topped with a lot of tender sweet crumbs that had a slight crunch on the top, all dusted generously with powdered sugar.
Being young, I just assumed that they would always be a part of my life. But when I grew up and moved away, they were nowhere to be found. And I looked. Every time I passed a bakery, anywhere, I would stop and check it out. Were there any crumb buns that lived up to the ones of my childhood? Nope.
Last week I was flipping through one of many of my food magazines, and a photo caught my eye. My crumb buns! They looked exactly like what I used to eat. I knew just from the picture that they would be “the ones.” And there they were. I found them! And now I can share them with you. Yum!
1. A stand mixer with a dough hook is the way to go for this recipe. And even though yeast can be intimidating, the mixer will do all the work for you. You’ll find they're pretty easy to make.
2. The reason you combine the yeast first with some warm milk and sugar is to make sure it’s active. You don’t want to go to all of this trouble and not have it rise.
3. You’ll find you’re going to make alot of crumb topping. This is not a mistake. Trust me, you’re going to happily use it all.
Janice Kollar is a former jingle singer, music arranger, and the pastry chef and owner of Peace, Love and Cupcakes in Woodstock. New York. She is the winner of two Food Network competitions, The Best Cake in the Country and Re-wrapped. She c0-authored The Butch Bakery and is currently working on another cookbook. Follow her sweet and savory kitchen adventures on her blog, MyWoodstockKitchen.com.
Real New Jersey Crumb Buns
Makes 12 servings. Recipe slightly adapted from Cook’s Country Magazine, February 2017.
For the cake:
- ¼ cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast, one ¼ ounce package
- 2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, I like Heckers
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces and softened
For the crumb topping:
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 ¼ sticks (18 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 4 cups cake flour
- confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Make the yeasted base:
Adjust the oven rack to the middle of the oven. Generously butter a 9” x 13” baking dish.
In a small bowl, heat ¼ cup of the milk to 100-105 degrees. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the flour, milk, sugar, egg and salt and yeast mixture. Mix on medium-low speed until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Keep the mixer running and add the butter one piece at a time, allowing each piece to be almost incorporated before adding the next.
After all the butter has been added, turn up the mixer to medium- high and continue kneading until the dough forms a ball, and slaps against the side of the bowl, about 6-7 minutes. It will be soft, smooth and a little sticky. With a buttered spatula, scrape the dough into the buttered baking dish. Using your fingers press the dough out to the edges in one even layer. (You can flour your fingers if the dough is too sticky.) Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about one hour until slightly risen and puffy.
Make the crumb topping:
While the dough rises, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium-size bowl, combine the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add to the sugar mixture, stirring to combine. Add the flour and stir until the mixture forms a thick well-mixed dough. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the dough and let sit until ready to use.
Make the buns:
Check the dough and press it back into the edges of the pan if needed. Break off ½” to 1” pieces of the crumb topping, and evenly scatter them all over the dough. There’s a lot, but that’s what we want.
Bake until the crumbs are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. If you have thermometer, it should read about 215 degrees in the center.
Cool completely. Cut into twelve 3” squares.