Until recently, I had no idea what a crumb bun was. They don’t exist on the west coast, and especially not in Canada. Apparently they only exist in New Jersey, which isn’t terribly helpful, and unfortunately, they are a thing that Nick is not content to live without.
About six months ago I acquired a recipe that purported to be authentic – hours of following the recipe EXACTLY and letting the bread rise to the precise specifications and topping the whole thing with a crunchy streusel topping, also from the recipe. The result?
“These aren’t them.”
“The topping’s too crunchy.”
“Yeah, I don’t really like these. Good try, though.”
That he is not smothered in his sleep is a testament to my enduring patience.
And so crumb buns were largely forgotten. By me. Nick speaks of them often enough that they never fully disappear, and fails to understand that, “crumb buns – you know, like, I don’t know. They’re kind of like cake, but not, and the topping is, you know, crumbly and stuff” is not a description I can work from.
And then, recently, as luck would have it, Nick’s parents went to New Jersey. They brought some home, and I set out to copy the recipe.
These have a yeasty, subtly sweet, almost eggy taste. And while Nick swears that the most important part of these is the streuselly crumb topping, I’m inclined to believe that he has no idea what he’s talking about – the base is the part that’s the riddle. I made two batches of dough before I got to a recipe I felt would work. The final dough smelled a lot like the crumb bun sitting on the arm of my couch, so I figured that’d be a start.
I figured out the problem early on: Lemonade. How am I supposed to be creative if I’m all inhibited and crap? Right? Of course! So I popped open a bottle of prosecco and set to work. Result? The right stuff.
So with the dough rising in it’s buttery pot of incubation, it was time to microanalyse the crumb part of the crumb bun. It’s not completely soft, but it’s not crunchy either. It’s buttery and cinnamony and slightly nutty, and the recipe I used for these those many months ago was right on with the taste, even if it was way off on the texture. Solution? Add more butter. (Fact: “More butter” is almost always the correct answer.)
Here’s the recipe.
New Jersey Crumb Buns
- 2 tbsp. yeast
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup for kneading
- 1/4 cup almond butter
- 1 1/2 cups butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 4 cups flour
Heat the milk until just warm, about 105°F. Forty seconds in the microwave should do it. Sprinkle your yeast over top and let sit until foamy, about five minutes.
Meanwhile, cream together the sugar, salt, and butter – beat these until the sugar dissolves and the butter becomes fluffy and lighter in colour. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla. Pour in the yeast-milk mixture and continue to beat. At this point the batter will separate and you’ll probably think that you’ve ruined everything. I promise, you haven’t. Add in the flour gradually while continuing to beat the mixture.
The dough that’s produced will end up quite a bit softer than a regular bread dough. Flour your work surface, and knead the dough – eight minutes should do. It should be soft and elastic and have a slight sheen. Place the dough in a large greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Throw a kitchen towel over top, and let rise in warmth and comfort until doubled in bulk, about an hour and a half.
Make your streusel. Cream together almond butter, regular butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Gradually add in your flour, the same way you did with the bread part. Don’t over-beat this – you’ll see it form loose, crumbly chunks. Break apart any overly large crumbs with your fingers – crumbs should be about the size of peas. Refrigerate these until ready to use.
Cover a baking sheet (make sure it has sides) in buttered parchment paper. Once your dough has grown to the appropriate size, give it a quick knead, and stretch it out so that it’s about 10 x 16 inches. Cut into rectangles approximately two inches wide by four inches long, and lay them out on the pan so that they’re close but not touching. Brush the tops with milk, and sprinkle about half the streusel over the tops, pressing lightly to make sure it sticks. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled (again). One-and-a-half or two hours.
When the buns have risen, sprinkle the rest of the crumb over the tops.
Heat your oven to 375°F. When the little red “the oven is not ready” light shuts off, put in the buns and bake for about thirty minutes. Cool on a rack, and then, when cooled, sprinkle these with confectioner’s sugar. Inhale. Delightful smell.
When Nick finally ate one of these, the reviews were mixed. The bread part is spot-on. Tremendous news, as that was the part I was most concerned about. The streusel?
“It’s better from the store my mom buys them at.”
He gets nothing. Ever. And I’m pouring out the rest of his beer.
The crumb wasn’t as soft as he’d wanted – it turned out a bit softer than an apple crisp kind of topping. Still good though. In the end, he ate but half of one of these. I have more than two people can eat left over, and they’re going stale waiting for validation. They are, or I am – either way, it’s not good. I’ve never liked Nick.
I am not sure whether I am going to continue to play at this – I think if Nick wants soft streusel topping, he can find a recipe and make it himself. He has to learn sometime, and I figured out the bread – that was the hard part. I have an inkling as to what might make it work. I might even share my theory with him. But for now, he gets dishes. And a healthy amount of fear.