The other day a friend called to say he’d made the apple crumble from A New Way to Cook. He was thrilled that it was so easy, yet offered many of the satisfactions of a pie (which he was afraid to make) with much less work. I’d forgotten how easy and delicious crumbles are, nothing more than fruit baked with a crunchy, buttery topping made of sugar, flour, butter, and ground almonds. Like pies, crumbles are great year round, made with whatever fruits are in season. In the chill of winter, I turn to local apples and pears, often scenting them with rosemary or thyme. (The crumble, above, was made with fall plums and a pinch of lavender.)
The basic method for making a crumble is simple:toss 5 or 6 cups (from 1 ½ pounds) of sliced fruit (peeled if desired) with sugar and lemon juice according to its sweetness, and bake under the nut topping. For juicy fruits such as peaches, plums and berries, add 2 tablespoons flour to fruit/sugar/lemon juice filling.
You can flavor the fruit filling with vanilla extract, rum, cognac, rosewater or orange flower water… pinches of herbs for unusual contrast..spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg… and orange or lemon zest. Or replace the almonds in the topping with sliced hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts. (You can prepare the topping several days ahead and keep it in a jar in the fridge to use at a moment’s notice.)
Recipe/Method: Apple (or Pear) Crumble with Rosemary
Serve warm in a bowl with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of creme fraiche or whipped cream.
Serves 4 to 6
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 large apples (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled, cored, and sliced into thin wedges
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350. To make the Crumble Topping, spread the almonds on a baking sheet. Roast until they are just golden and fragrant, 6 to 7 minutes (do not allow the nuts to brown past golden). Set aside to cool.
In a food processor, grind the nuts, flour, sugar and salt to a medium-fine meal. Transfer to a medium bowl. With your fingers, work in the butter by pinching and rubbing the mixture until it is very crumbly. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
In a buttered 10-inch baking dish, toss the apples with the sugar, rosemary or cinnamon. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the fruit and toss again. Spread the fruit in the dish and sprinkle the topping evenly over it.
Bake until the fruit is tender, the juices are bubbling and the top is browned, 50 to 60 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover lightly with foil.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Here’s an example of a slight shift in the essential recipe above, using pears, vanilla and lemon zest. Proceed as directed in the Apple Crumble, above, preparing the filling using:
4 large ripe, fragrant pears, peeled, cored, and sliced into thin wedges
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and mixed with the sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest