Creative Cooking: Crumb Cake

“Your EKG is abnormal.”

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to make an allergy friendly version of a crumb cake recipe for an office party.  I was told, though, “Please don’t change anything other than to make it gluten and dairy free for my co-workers.  It’s a delicious recipe, and I don’t want to lose the taste.”

I did as instructed, but it killed me emotionally. Simply reading the ingredients was enough to give anyone a heart attack. Between the cake batter and the crumb topping the recipe called for two cups of full fat sour cream, four cups of sugar, four cups of butter, four whole eggs, and of course, white flour.

I’m sure the gentleman was correct in saying that the crumb cake was delicious. All that butter and sugar, how could it not be. My question, though, was whether it couldn’t be just as delicious as a healthier version of itself. I thought about that question again this week as I laid in a hospital bed after a severe stomach flu rendered me completely dehydrated which in turn caused an abnormal EKG.

I was sent home yesterday and spent this morning being checked out by a cardiologist. Fortunately, because I do lead a healthy lifestyle of exercise and good eating choices, the abnormal EKG did appear to be caused by low potassium levels and not anything being wrong with my heart itself. I thought, though, about how differently the results could have been if I did eat crumb cake the way a lot of people do.

Food is to be enjoyed, and I want to eat delicious crumb cake just like other people. I think, though, that what one eats should be the best it can be for my body’s health. So, I confess, that after I made the crumb cake as I was asked, that I went to work creating a healthier version which I shared with my writing group, a friend, and my family, all of whom declared it to be delicious. It took a little though, but I was able to make a few simple changes which made all the difference.  Let me share….

The Sugar: Four cups of sugar is crazy. Really. As I’ve mentioned in the past, sugar is a poison to our body, and we’re better off avoiding it if we can. As I’ve also mentioned, sugar replacements aren’t the end all as well. They still have calories and still can cause some fluctuations in one’s glycemic index, but that you can lose so much less in a recipe and are not as refined has pluses which sugar does not. So, I opted to use a cup of Agave for the cake batter and 1/2 cup of coconut sugar in the crumb topping which reduced the sweetener from 4 cups to 1 1/2 cups. Everyone agreed the cake was plenty sweet enough.

The Butter: Four cups of butter is A LOT. I agreed, though, that for a good crumb topping you did need a substantial amount of butter to get the right consistency and taste. So the question was how to create a balance between quantity and quality. In the end, I swapped grapeseed oil for the butter in the cake batter. As a plant based oil it has health benefits which butter does not, and as a liquid fat, I only needed to use 1/2 cup versus the two cups of butter in the original recipe. For the crumb topping, I decided I could halve the amount and use one cup of a vegan soy free butter which still reflected the taste and consistency of a good crumb topping. So, I was able to decrease the fat from 4 cups to 1 1/2 cups.

The Eggs: Eggs are not bad in general. In fact, they’re quite good for you. But as with all things, moderation is the key, and four whole eggs carry a lot of cholesterol in those egg yolks, which is not always good for people with certain health risks. This was an easy enough fix, though. I simply opted to use 3/4 cups of liquid egg whites which eliminated yolks altogether but kept the liquid ratio needed for the cake batter.

The Sour Cream: I admit, I love sour cream. Even the tofu version I have to eat because of my dairy allergy. It’s creamy texture and tangy taste definitely make for a delicious crumb cake. The problem is that even the vegan version isn’t really that great for you. Being made from tofu only adds a small margin of protein, nothing concrete enough to counter the fat and other additives. So, I thought about for something different to give the cake it’s moisture and flavor. In the end I decided to use pureed pumpkin because it would lend a pretty orange color to the cake as well as all those good minerals and vitamins which our bodies need. Two cups of pumpkin instead of sour cream eliminated a lot of extra fat and calories from the cake.

The Crumb Topping: This was key to do correctly, because crumb cake is, after all, about the crumb topping. If it didn’t meet expectations, all would be lost. As I previously mentioned, I had reduced the quantity of butter to one cup and swapped 1/2 cup of coconut sugar for the two cups of white sugar , but there was still the problem of how little nutritional value the white flour in the topping had, not to mention my allergies to wheat. I finally chose to use a combination of gluten free whole rolled oat and gluten free oat flour. With the addition of protein and fiber, I felt better about the topping being healthier than the original version. I also reduced the overall amount of “flour” and used 2 cups instead of the original three cups to reduce the extra calories.

The Flour: White flour is another food to be avoided if at all possible. There is no nutritional value to white flour, and if you’re like me and allergic to wheat, you can’t have it anyway. The problem, though, is that my usual switch, which is to use high fiber, high protein gluten free flours like bean flours and sorghum flours wouldn’t necessarily give me the texture I wanted for the crumb cake. Crumb cake batter is supposed to be a medium batter, not light and airy but not overly dense. Since I had altered the crumb topping, though, to have more fiber and protein, I decided I could be more lenient with the cake batter, and I opted to use a gluten free baking mix that was a mixture of brown rice flour and sweet white sorghum with potato and tapioca starches that worked well.

The Flavoring: Since I had omitted the sour cream which usually gives a good crumb cake its flavor, I needed to consider adding some spices to the pumpkin replacement. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves did the trick.

The Ratio: Because crumb cake is all about the crumb topping to cake ratio, and because I was reducing the amount of flour and butter, I opted to cook the cake in an 11 x 15 pan which meant I could distribute the crumb topping over a shallower depth of cake batter to ensure that there wouldn’t be more cake to crumb topping which might prevent enjoyment of the any piece given.

The Appearance: Crumb cake usually has a powdered sugar coating which makes for a beautiful presentation. I admit, I didn’t want to eliminate the aesthetics because for me presentation is important, too. I could, however, greatly reduce the amount used. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. I was able to use one tablespoon and create the same appearance without all the added sugar.

Crumb Cake


Cake Batter:

2 1/2 cup gluten free flour blend (use a version with brown rice flour)

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cloves

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup liquid egg whites

2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin

1/2 cup grapeseed oil

1 cup Agave

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Crumb Topping:

1 cup gluten free whole rolled oats

2 cups gluten free oat flour

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1 cup vegan soy free butter

1 tbsp powdered sugar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 11 x 15 pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Mix together the gluten free flour blend, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. Blend together the liquid egg whites, pumpkin, grapeseed oil, and agave. Add to the dry ingredients with the apple cider vinegar, and blend until the dry ingredients are fully moistened.
  4. Pour cake batter into the prepared baking pan.
  5. Combine the whole rolled oats, oat flour, coconut sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Using clean hands incorporate the vegan butter into the mixture until everything is completely mixed and you have no dry ingredients leftover. You’ll have a nice clump which you can then crumble for the crumb topping.
  6. Evenly distribute small chunks of the crumb topping over the cake batter.
  7. Bake the prepared cake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake is puffed and golden.
  8. Cool the baked cake on a wire cooling rack. Using a sifter, gently sprinkle the powdered sugar to completely cover the crumb topping.




Recipe Revamping: Oatmeal Crumb Cake

“But it’s a craving….”

When I was pregnant, I never craved the unusual combinations like pickles and ice cream. I always craved one type of food. So, with my oldest I couldn’t eat enough whole grain bread, which was odd because I tended to prefer rice to bread as a norm – probably the Asian influence. With my middle child, I wanted vegetables all the time – fresh, cooked – how didn’t matter, but quantity did. My youngest seemed to want protein, chicken in particular, which struck me as ironic since with my middle child, I couldn’t eat chicken without feeling sick.

It’s been years since I’ve been pregnant, but I find that from time to time my body will crave something for days, and I usually take it to mean that I’m missing some nutrient or vitamin that my body needs.

Last week I wanted oatmeal. I couldn’t stop thinking about oatmeal, but I really wasn’t in the mood for eating a straight bowl of oatmeal. The weather was nice and sunny, and oatmeal for breakfast has always struck me as a cold weather food.

I started looking around for an oatmeal cake, but I discovered that most oatmeal cake recipes don’t actually have a lot of oatmeal in them, and the oatmeal cake recipes I found seemed to call for a lot of sugar, butter, and eggs. So, I set to work revamping a recipe….

Original Recipe:

Cake:  1 1/2 cups butter, 2 cups sugar, 4 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking soda

Crumb topping:  2 cups flour, 3/4 cup light-brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups butter

Revamping the Recipe:

  • The oatmeal/flour ratio and substitution: Since I wanted a cake which had a lot of the goodness of the oats, the first thing I did was swap the oats to flour ratio. I opted to use 2 1/2 cups of gluten free rolled oats with 1 1/2 cups of gluten free sorghum flour. For the topping, I added 2 cups of gluten free oats to the recipe and cut the flour down to 1 cup of gluten free sorghum flour.
  • The butter: 3 cups of butter is just nuts! I decided to use 1/2 cup of vegan butter in the cake and added 2 1/2 cups of mashed, ripe bananas instead to help make the cake moist without all the fat. (You won’t taste the bananas in the cake, which was good for me because my middle child doesn’t like bananas but loved this cake!) For the topping I cut the butter to 1/2 cups of vegan butter, so that overall the new recipe had 1/3 the butter of the original.
  • The eggs:  4 whole eggs seemed a bit much so I decided to use only 2 eggs, but I added 1/2 cup of a homemade buttermilk (1/2 cup soy milk plus 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice) to keep my liquid amounts the same and to keep the protein I’d be losing from the extra eggs.
  • The sugar: Since I don’t use refined sugar, I swapped out coconut sugar for the refined sugar and cut the amounts, using only 1 cup of coconut sugar in the cake and 1 cup in the topping.
  • The spices: The cake didn’t call for any flavoring other than salt and vanilla. I cut the salt in half to 1/2 tsp, increased the vanilla to 1 tbsp, and added 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp ginger. For the topping, I increased the cinnamon to 1 tsp.
  • The pan:  The original recipe called for baking the cake in a 9 x 13 pan.  I opted to use a 11 x 15 pan to increase the ratio of cake to crumb topping.

The results were wonderful. Everyone who tried the cake loved it, and my children decided it was their new breakfast choice and have asked me already if I can make it again, now that they’ve finished off the original. The complete recipe is below for anyone who wants to try it.

Oatmeal Crumb Cake


1/2 cup vegan butter

1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas

1 cup coconut sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup soy (or other milk) plus 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

2 cups mashed ripe bananas

1 tbsp vanilla

1 1/2 cup sorghum flour

2 1/2 cups gluten free rolled whole oats

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

2 tsp baking soda

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup sorghum flour

1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup vegan butter

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and either grease or line a 11 x 15 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Blend the butter with the 1/2 cup of banana and coconut sugar; then add the eggs, milk with lemon juice, rest of the banana and vanilla.
  3. Combine the flour, oats, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and baking soda.
  4. Mix the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Combine the oats, flour, coconut sugar and cinnamon. Using a pastry knife cut the butter into the dry mixture until all the butter is incorporated and crumbly clumps are formed.
  6. Evenly distribute the topping over the cake.
  7. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is golden brown. The cake would have puffed and will be firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.
  8. Serve immediately or at room temperature. Keeps well on the counter top for days.


Simple Pleasures: Chocolate Chip Muffins

website choc chip muffins

“Well, can you make it a junky, healthy snack, then?”

My son has a sweet tooth – there is no doubt about that – and every day he looks for a way to finagle a treat. For a mom who’s trying to feed her children healthy foods, it can become tiresome to always be “fighting” about what is good and what it isn’t. So, I’m always creating recipes which can be a compromise between what my son considers a treat and what I think is healthy.

The other day, my son really wanted something “junky” as he called it, and I advocated for something healthy. When he asked me for a “junky, healthy snack” I laughed, but then I got to work. After all, if I could create something he thought was “junky” but it really wasn’t, then we’d both be happy.

I asked my son what he wanted, and he replied that he wanted a chocolate chip muffin. He, of course, meant one of those monstrosities they sell at the store which is all white flour and butter and huge chocolate chips, a lot of them. I wasn’t going for that, but it did give me an idea, and the result was a low fat chocolate chip muffin which was full of potassium from bananas, antioxidants and fiber from dates, and protein (and fiber) from oat and garbanzo bean flour – plus the muffins were free of dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, nuts, and refined sugar. What more could a mother ask?

And my son plus my daughters, and later, my writing group, all enjoyed the muffins immensely.

Chocolate Chip Muffins


8 ounces of pitted, chopped dates

1 cup gluten free rolled whole oats

1 cup boiling water

2 tbsp ground golden flaxseed

6 tbsp water

1 cup gluten free oat flour

1 cup garbanzo bean flour

2/3 cup potato starch

1/3 cup arrowroot starch

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp ginger

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Four 6 inch bananas (comes to about 1 1/4 cups mashed)

1/4 cup safflower oil

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners or grease them so the muffins won’t stick to your pan.

2.  Use a food processor to finely chop your dates into tiny pieces. (This will distribute the dates throughout your batter.)

3. Mix the finely chopped dates with the oats in a bowl, and pour the boiling water over them, pushing the dates and oats down into the water so they are covered. Let sit.

4. Whisk together the flaxmeal with the water, and set aside.

5. Whisk together the oat flour, garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, arrowroot starch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.

6. Mash the bananas and mix with the oil and the dates and oatmeal mixture and the flaxmeal mixture.

7. Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients along with the apple cider vinegar. Mix up quickly just until the dry ingredients are moist.

8. Evenly scoop the muffin batter among the 24 muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes or until the cupcakes are golden and puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

9. Remove the muffins to a wire rack and cool completely.  These keep well in a tightly covered tupper ware container.