Apple Crumb Cake: A Naughty Version of the Nice

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Apple Crumb Cake
Apple Crumb Cake

I first tasted this apple cake at a lovely brunch my friend, Leslie, hosted about a year ago. It was a simple, satisfying cake, full of juicy chunks of apples, warm spices, and a bit of crunch on the surface and around the edges. As I helped myself to a second serving, I grilled Leslie for the details and she promised it was silly easy -- a one bowl affair that didn’t even require a mixer. Sold.

Leslie’s apple cake is awesome as is. I made minor tweaks to it, cutting down a bit of the sugar and swapping in olive oil for the light vegetable oil. This cake feels wholesome. The kind of breakfast cake or snacking cake I could whip up on a whim and eat without feeling guilty.

Sometimes though, times call for something...well, a little less wholesome. Sorry Les, I got nasty with this apple cake. I added two sticks of butter and layered it with thick swaths of decadent New York-style crumb topping. I know, I’m a depraved soul. Forgive me. Or, um...thank me.

Bring on the crumb
Bring on the crumb


The inspiration for the crumb topping comes from one of my favorite baking blogs, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. Peabody and I met on a press trip over Harry & David pears and I immediately respected her immodest use of butter. Peabody didn’t let me down, and indeed I found what I was looking for on her site. A thick, cakey, swoon-inducing crumb topping, the kind you find perched on top of old fashioned crumb cakes or crumb cake doughnuts, the kind that those Hostess Crumb Cakes never have enough of.

And then I had another brilliant idea. What’s better than crumb topping? Well, three layers of crumb topping, of course. Why be stingy with the good stuff?

The best part is, this is still a pretty low-maintenance cake. It basically requires three main steps:

#1: Make the crumb topping

New York Style Crumb Topping
New York Style Crumb Topping

#2: Make the apple cake batter

Apple cake batter
Apple cake batter

#3: Layer it all together: crumb, apples, crumb, apples, crumb.

Layers of goodness
Layers of goodness

Really though, when all is said and done, you kind of lose track of where the crumb layers end and where the apple cake starts, and it all becomes one heavenly morsel.

apple crumb cake

This Apple Crumb Cake is simply out of this world. It has a comforting heft to it. It will remind you of apple picking and old fashioned doughnut shops. The cake on its own is wonderful, but the crumb topping just pushes it over the edge.

And, think of it this now have a naughty and nice version to choose from!

Apple Crumb Cake with Glaze
Apple Crumb Cake with Glaze

Apple Crumb Cake
This is officially my new favorite coffee/breakfast/snack/anytime cake. It has a comforting heft to it. It will remind you of apple picking and old fashioned donut shops. The cake on its own is wonderful, but the crumb topping makes it swoon-worthy. You will eat every last crumb. Promise.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 8-10 servings


For the Apple Cake:
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup olive oil
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced (about 3 cups) – I used 1 Granny Smith and 1 Honeycrisp

For the Crumb Topping and Layers:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
3 1/2 cups cake flour *


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Make the crumb topping: Whisk sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a medium bowl to combine. Add cake flour and stir with a spatula or spoon until the mixture resembles thick crumbles; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Make the apple cake batter: Put all ingredients in one large bowl. Mix with your hands, gently, but thoroughly (do not use a spoon or mixer).
  4. Assemble: Lightly grease your bundt pan (or 9x13 pan). Now layer your crumb topping and apple cake mixture. Start with a bottom layer of a third of the crumb mixture, then half of the batter, second third of the crumbs, remaining half of the batter, and finally, the last of the crumbs.
  5. Bake for 1 hour. Test that it’s done by inserting a knife or skewer. If it comes out clean it’s done. Loosen the edges with the edge of a knife and invert the cake onto your serving plate to cool.

Cook’s Note: I think that this cake is plenty sweet as it is, but if you are looking to bring this over the edge on the presentation and indulgence front, feel free to drizzle on some powdered sugar icing after the cake has fully cooled. Recipe for the glaze below for your sweet tooth pleasure:

Powdered Sugar Icing (aka White Fondant Glaze)
Recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

4 cups powdered sugar
6 tablespoons (or up to 1/2 cup) warm milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Slowly add 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Only add as much milk as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste. Whisk in the vanilla.

* If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute using this handy formula:
1 cup AP flour – 2 tablespoons AP flour + 2 tablespoons corn starch = 1 cup cake flour.
Be sure to sift everything well, 3-4 times, before using.

Apple Crumb Cake
Apple Crumb Cake: Naughty.