Greg and Lucy Malouf were rather direct. They told us to be patient and chill.
But the cookbook authors best known for their modern takes on Middle Eastern cuisines weren’t merely being flip. Rather, they were sharing their tips—which we soon learned were rock solid—for making better streusel. It’s not the advice we expected.
The Maloufs have cast a fresh, exciting lens on the culinary traditions of the Middle East, drawing on travels from Muslim-influenced Spain to the Arabian Peninsula. An Australian native of Lebanese descent, Greg is a Michelin-starred chef based in Dubai, while Lucy is a food writer and editor living in England.
Formerly married, the pair separated while working on their first book, “Arabesque.” But in the many years since it was released, they’ve maintained a professional partnership that’s still going strong. In “Suqar,” their eighth book, the Maloufs explore decidedly more sweet-toothed territory. The resulting compendium of Middle Eastern-inflected desserts is a lavish spread featuring the likes of bay-butterscotch baklava, saffron ice cream and ladyfingers perfumed with orange blossom water.
One standout in the collection is the elegantly simple plum traybake cake, which caught our attention for several reasons. We loved its plush, sour cream-enriched crumb and spiced-sugar almond topping. And each slice reveals cooked plums the color of a desert sunset, spilling out blushy pinks and rosy purples.
The traybake cake also features two unusual techniques that intrigued us. First, its buttery crumb topping is made ahead so that it can be frozen before it is applied to the cake. And second, that topping isn’t applied until the cake is half-baked.
The freezing at first puzzled us, but it turned out to be a great solution for one of our chief annoyances with crumb toppings. Lucy explained that when chilled, the topping holds its texture and structure better in the oven. “Crumbles do have a tendency to kind of melt into the hot fruit.”
And adding it to the cake halfway through the cooking prevents it from sinking into the batter, while giving it just enough time to brown. As a bonus, the Maloufs like to make the freezer-friendly topping in large batches, a nice way of ensuring that some is always on hand to top other desserts, such as compotes, ice cream and puddings.
This cake is “a good example of what Greg and I describe in our book as a ‘freewheeling’ approach,” Lucy says, a meeting of the minds that blends “techniques and traditions with bold flavors to create something a bit different.”
While many of the Maloufs’ recipes use Middle Eastern cuisine as a starting point, this English-style traybake more closely reflects Lucy’s British heritage. “We chose to use cardamom and cloves, which are used in Arab cooking in savory as well as sweet dishes,” she says. “Both have a kind of dry, heady warmth to them. And cardamom has a distinctive eucalyptus note, which plays well with the licorice notes that plums can develop when cooked.”
Back at Milk Street, we found that, indeed, the frozen topping worked wonders, solving so many of our streusel struggles. And when it came to the topping’s spice profile, we took a freewheeling approach of our own, keeping the cardamom, but replacing the ground cloves with coriander and allspice for a warmer, more citrusy version.