I replaced half the flour with hazelnut meal; I used plain yogurt mixed with a teaspoon of lemon juice instead of buttermilk; I swapped out cinnamon for cardamom; I arranged sliced fruit (first pears, then figs) on the top before baking; I forewent the crumb topping for a drizzle of honey-lemon glaze; I sprinkled with nigella seeds; I baked it in a tart pan. I took a simple Cinnamon Cake and Frankensteined it into a Fruit-Dappled, Cardamom-Honey-Lemon Hazelnut Cake. (Maybe I am the monster???)
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Bittman's cake tolerated all my prodding and nudging. My tweaks and swaps resulted in a strangely delightful and delightfully strange dessert—tart from the lemon, sweet from the honey caught on the fruit, and tender from the nut meal, with the wildcard ingredient (nigella seeds!) adding a welcome savoriness.
Would Bittman be upset that I took his crumble-topped cinnamon cake and messed with it utterly and completely? I like to think he'd be proud! (And maybe I can ask him today on Facebook Live? He'll be here at 4:30 PM EST.)
Suggestions for taking this cake and toying with it some more:
Instead of figs (which might be hard to find this late in the season), use thinly sliced apples, pears, or poached quince.
Try oat flour in place of the hazelnut flour and cinnamon in place of cardamom. Or try a mix! A pinch of nutmeg (and even a pinch of coriander) would also be welcome.
Or drop in Concord grapes and use almond flour. Replace the vanilla extract with almond.
Brown the butter (then cool completely) before stirring it into the batter.
Use brown sugar in place of the white.
Add the crumble back in! It's a simple mix of 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons butter.
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