Neighborhood Crumb Cake

There's a place near Casa Appetite, a place where the Mister and I like to go if nobody feels like cooking. It's become our neighborhood joint, even though it's too far to walk and it's not really a joint at all. I grew up just outside of Philadelphia, where diners and delis were (and still are) an integral part of the cultural landscape. This kind of localized, community eating is harder to come by in a cosmo city like Washington, so when you do find a neighborhood spot, you latch on real quick and don't let go.

Crumb cake, a reminder of the good ole days. (Kim O'Donnel)

The place in question is The Liberty Tavern, a renovated historic building (a Masonic lodge in a former life) on a corner in Clarendon, Va. The cool kids probably know it more as the 'in' place for a drink, but we've managed to escape the bar noise by visiting earlier in the week or opt to sit upstairs in the much more tranquil dining room.

But I digress. A restaurant-focused column this is not. However, I cannot deny the inspiration bestowed upon me during a recent Sunday brunch at "Libtav," as we at Casa Appetite like to call it. I'm not really a brunch person; it's often too much food that's too mediocre. Whatever chef Liam Lacivita and his crew are doing, they're doing something right. This brunch is slammin'.

One of their parting gifts on the dessert table is the kick-butt crumb cake that took me back to the bakery in the old neighborhood where we'd buy crumb buns on Sunday morning. Lacivita was kind enough to share his recipe notes, which I've translated (cooks often write in extreme short hand) for home use.

Try this one over the long holiday weekend; you'll have good ole crumb cake in just over an hour. P.S. Even better, no mixer or fancy apparatus is required, just the push of a rubber spatula.

Have a very crumb-y weekend!

Dutch Crumb Cake
Adapted from Liam Lacivita, executive chef, Liberty Tavern, Arlington, Va.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) butter or shortening (I used Earth Balance shortening with success), diced
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an eight-inch round cake pan or similarly sized rectangle pan or baking dish.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon. With the tips of your fingers, work fat into mixture until completely integrated. It's okay to see flakes of fat.

Reserve 1/2 cup of this mixture for the topping, to be used later.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine egg, buttermilk and baking soda. If using vanilla, add now.

Using a rubber spatula, fold wet ingredients into dry until well combined.

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar with the reserved flour mixture. Pour batter into pan. Top with crumb mixture and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out almost clean.

Note: Amounts may be doubled for two cakes.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 15, 2008; 10:32 AM ET Baking , Breakfast
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I am completely making this over the weekend... thank you!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | February 15, 2008 11:14 AM

If I wanted to add oatmeal to the reserved topping, will it change the consistency/density of the cake's crumbly-ness?

Posted by: Sarah | February 15, 2008 2:15 PM

My mother used to say that the best cake recipes use buttermilk. This one looks like a keeper.

Posted by: Dave | February 16, 2008 8:42 AM


I can't find the referred-to recipe for carbonara (that someone wanted to modify, mentioned here: and I'd really like to try it. Can you link to it? Thanks!

Posted by: Jen | February 17, 2008 11:46 AM

I love crumb cake too. That doesn't look like a lot of butter for the cake and crumbs, but I'm not not complaining.

Posted by: Jessica "Su Good Sweets" | February 17, 2008 4:32 PM

Made this Saturday and loved it! Not too sweet, and great with coffee and the paper!Thanks!

Posted by: Cap Hill | February 19, 2008 11:41 AM

Made this today and found the batter very stiff and dry so I added another egg and it was a brilliant cake. Thanks for the recipe.

Posted by: Ailsa, Australia | February 22, 2008 8:07 PM

Delicious! Very quick and easy. I used a pastry blender instead of fingers to cut in the butter and that worked fine.

Posted by: Sharon | March 2, 2008 7:50 AM

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