I found this recipe for crumb cake on a cold Chicago day that made spring seem like a dream that would never come true. I thought about it every day. Strawberries, strawberries, strawberries. I tried other recipes that seemed more appropriate for my climate. Strawberries, Strawberries. I wanted delicious fresh spring berries that were freshly picked, deep red, and perfect. Strawberries.
I couldn’t wait. I did something stupid and bought 4 pounds of giant, unnatural looking strawberries at a supermarket. Even as I did it, I knew it was a mistake. I knew I should be patient, but I was desperate. I carried my giant plastic container of strawberries home and hoped for the best.
They were terrible. Well, not exactly terrible but they were the most uninteresting strawberries I had ever eaten. Flavorless. Disappointing. Now I had 4 pounds of mediocre strawberries taking up half of a shelf in my fridge and was kicking myself for not just waiting a few weeks for the real deal.
I decided to proceed with the recipe as planned and secretly thought I could trick all of you. You wouldn’t know what the strawberries tasted like and I am sure they would photograph well despite their lack of flavor. I would be able to salvage something from this whole experience.
By the time these strawberries were tossed with sugar and a vanilla bean, roasted in the oven with a crumb cake topping and served with some freshly whipped cream—they were surprisingly wonderful. I was shocked. And that means that this recipe is wonderful because if it can turn a really lousy bunch of strawberries into this very excellent dessert, imagine what it will do with your strawberries?!! Your strawberries which you waited to buy from your market fresh from the farm and bursting with flavor?! Your version of this crumb cake will be even better than mine, and mine is pretty amazing. So, when you find those perfect strawberries, you now have something to do with them.
Some interesting strawberry facts I learned on the internet (which may or may not be true):
- There is a strawberry museum in Belgium.
- Strawberries are members of the rose family.
- On average there are 200 seeds on a strawberry.
- If you split a double strawberry in half and give the other half to someone they will fall in love with you. (I think this one is true…)
Warm Strawberry Crumb Cake (adapted from a Gerald Craft recipe in the April 2009 issue of Food & Wine)
- 3 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved (8 cups)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 1/2 tablespoons of water
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- 1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- generous pinch of salt
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
Make the Filling: Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, toss the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch slurry and vanilla seeds and let stand until the berries release some of their juices, about 30 minutes. Pour the fruit filling into a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish set on a sturdy baking sheet.
Meanwhile, Make the Crumb Topping: In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients with your fingers until a coarse meal forms; press into small clumps.
Make the Cake: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the vanilla extract and scrape down the bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the batter in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk.
Spoon the batter over the fruit filling, spreading it to the edge. Sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling, the crumb topping is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly. Serve the crumb cake warm or at room temperature. (It will keep overnight in refrigerator. Reheat before serving.)
***Since I was not confident in my strawberries, I cut this recipe in half and it worked well. This was great with unsweetened whipped cream but I think it would be even better with ice cream. Maybe some black pepper ice cream?