As much as I love cooking, baking feeds something in me that is just different. Some of it has to do with my insatiable sweet-tooth, with whom I do daily battle. Some of it has to do with the perfect shareability of baked goods, you can offer someone the extra pork chop or leftover potatoes, and they can wave them off, but almost no one says no to the slice of cake or sack of cookies. There is a reason we don’t put candles on a birthday meatloaf.
And when I say I love to bake; I mean I love to bake. I am not a pastry chef, I am not laminating doughs for Viennoiserie, I am not chilling gelée layers for entremets, I am not piping anything. I am baking the way my grandmother baked, fairly simple homey sweets, cookies and bars, pies and tarts, cakes that have two layers and one frosting. I am not allowed to enter myself into The Great British Baking Show contention, and I don’t have children, so my need to decorate my baked goods into showpieces or make them look like beloved animals or dioramas is literally nil. I occasionally indulge in a sprinkle, that is about as fancy as I get.
But let’s be clear, while I might not be making sugar paste flowers or piping photorealistic succulents on top of my cupcakes? I do believe in fancy when it comes to flavor. I love experimenting with new ingredients and techniques, especially when it can up my game on something previously basic.
Now I have talked to you before about the magic of alternate sugars. These magical sweeteners like honey crystals and maple sugar can bring a lot of flavor to a baked dish, which is always exciting, since regular granulated sugar is sweet but bland. And I have waxed rhapsodical about flavor powders, those amazing intense powders of freeze-dried and pulverized fruits, vegetables, seasonings and even cheeses that can pack a wallop with easy shelf-stable storage.
So today I am going to tell you that these secret weapons are your best friends for streusel. Now I know what you are thinking. Streusel? All of this florid lead-up is to talk about a crumble of sugar, flour and butter which is essentially a garnish? Yes. Yes, I am. And here is why. The streusel hits the palate first. Whether you are biting into a coffeecake, a crumble, a pie or muffin, if it is topped with streusel, then that is what you taste first. And while the topping, essentially a shortbread dough crumbled up, is perfectly fine, it is also a wonderful blank canvas for some other interesting flavors that can take your simple bake and make it extra special.
For streusel recipes, any of the alternate sugars can be swapped out in a 1:1 ratio for the granulated sugar. So, imagine your pumpkin bars with maple sugar streusel, or your walnut coffeecake with a honey crystal streusel, or your fig muffins with date sugar streusel. Feeling me yet? (also, it is at this point in writing that I discover that streusel is a really awkward word to type over and over, but I’m going to persist, because that is how much I love you.)
Now let’s talk bringing flavor powders into the mix. These are a bit trickier, since the intensity of their flavor varies. But luckily, since they are powder, you are just going to start by swapping them out for a portion of the flour in your recipe. To start, you will want to remove one tablespoon of the flour that is called for in your streusel recipe and replace with a tablespoon of the flavor powder, for every half-cup of flour. So, if your recipe calls for a full cup of flour, you want to measure that, remove two tablespoons, and add two of powder. If your recipe is only one-fourth cup of flour, swap out half a tablespoon. Start with this standard ratio, and then taste your streusel. Streusel doesn’t really change that much in the baking except for texture and the raw flour taste cooks off. If you want more flavor coming through, you can continue to add by teaspoons till you get the flavor you like. Then use streusel as directed.
Apple crumble? What about a cheddar streusel? Coconut bar? Think pineapple streusel for a tropical one-two punch. Or go mono-flavor, with a cherry pie topped with sour cherry streusel. Lemon muffins are great with a matcha streusel and chocolate chess bars love an espresso streusel. Tomato powder is weirdly lovely with berries.
Even better? Double up by mixing your alternate sugar with a flavor powder. Coconut sugar with passion fruit powder, honey crystals with blueberry powder, date sugar with mango powder, vanilla sugar with instant espresso powder. Whatever fun sugar or flavor powder you use, your next streusel will be next level.