What Crumbalina makes when Crumbalina bakes is the most crumdiddlyumptious Crumbalina Crumb Cake! With love in every batch, every crumb is made from scratch!! –Bianca Brigandi
Crumbalina Cakes is the baking business owned by my Aunt Lina, my Mom’s younger sister. Growing up, her crumb cake was literal legend within the walls of our family but also extended out to friends far and wide.
Just one bite of this cake and you were hooked for life. At every family gathering, we would anxiously keep our eyes peeled for the presence of a large sheet pan covered in tin foil, our signal that the cake was in the house!
Words really cannot do justice to the flavor and consistency of what I would call the best crumb cake ever. Moist, dense, and oh so buttery, the crumb sprinkled generously with powdered sugar that resembled a coating of pure fresh snow speckled over the silent terrain. It positively melted in your mouth mere seconds after gaining entry. I can still close my eyes and recreate the experience year later. It was the cake itself that became my crack. You see, the crumb cakes I was used to, the ones from the old-timey New York bakeries and even that supermarket staple known as Entenmann’s, had the same basic problem, hopelessly stale cake with virtually no butter flavor (because butter was not used in the recipe) and after a day or so, crumb so stale that even the birds didn’t want it. It seemed to me that the only people willingly buying and consuming these God-awful concoctions were the grandfatherly set. If the store-bought cake was fresh enough, I would sneak off as much crumb as I could get away with before anyone noticed the top terrain. I wouldn’t touch the cake with a ten foot pole and I was a pudgy sweets-addicted kid. It almost never worked and I was eventually reprimanded and told that in order to get the crumb, I had to consume the cake as well. This from my mother who always noticed everything, especially when I thought I was being clever.
Aunt Lina’s cake was sinfully moist and oh so unfathomably fresh. I now know the secret is tons of butter but I do not profess to know what exactly goes into this cake and I never wanted to. I loved the mystique.
As I remember her story, the recipe originally came from her ex mother-in-law, a rather stodgy woman who believed that recipes should remain in tight family seclusion, never to be shared. Luckily for us, my Aunt concluded that was all the reason she needed to share the recipe with everyone she knew. Talk about a backfire, a good ole mother-in-law burn. I am not sure I truly remember the first time I ate this heavenly cake but I surely do remember the early appearances at family dinners and parties. From the first bite, the buttery scent wafting through the air, you knew this was like no other crumb cake. It was otherworldly. It even looked completely different from the doorstops that would result in a Sunday morning bakery stop after church. Merely calling it a crumb cake seemed somewhat blasphemous but then again you could have called it a toilet sponge and I still would have eaten it.
The cake became a fast family hit, a showstopper if you will. People loved it. It was that good. If you have never tasted it, I almost feel sorry for you. The funny thing was that even though my Aunt shared the recipe with other family members, I cannot recall a single one ever making this cake. It was as if the recipe became solely my Aunt’s and no one would have dared attempted it. Maybe someone did attempt it but I have no doubt that all things being equal, it still would not have tasted the same. There is that unlisted human element that goes into a signature dish. It is unique to the person making it and cannot be replicated. This crumb cake so belonged to my Aunt that we all forgot that it didn’t originate with her, kind of the same way we all forgot about her mother-in-law after my Aunt marriage ended. We even called it Aunt Lina’s crumb cake. The first question often asked at family get-togethers during greetings was “did Aunt Lina bring her crumb cake?”
It was soooooo darn good!
Today, I no longer eat Aunt Lina’s crumb cake due to dietary changes that best serve my health. Our ties to food and food memories are largely emotional. The tastes and smells of favorite family foods growing up are etched into the limbic system of the brain and the times we had while eating them are as easily conjured up as the food itself. I no longer feel that I have to eat the cake in order to conjure up my amazing memories. Nor do I feel any sort of deprivation. I will always have fond memories of the Aunt Lina’s crumb cake. I still remember what it felt like to bite into that perfect piece, the texture, flavor, and scent fresh from the oven. I could even taste the love that went into every one of those cakes that I now feel fortunate to have shared. I would know my Aunt’s cake blindfolded. The attachment to food that many of us cannot let go of is never solely about the food itself but rather the people and relationships surrounding it. We all have the freedom to choose to eat or not eat food that has long been an integral part of our personal history. We get to keep all the positive memories that go along with it whether we continue to indulge or not.
My Aunt is an amazing woman. She is a great example of someone personifying a recipe so completely that it literally became part of who she is. I am thrilled to see the evolution of a life’s work come to fruition.