Making fresh fruit crumbles has become an obsession for me. I love developing the dessert with rich, fresh, luscious flavors from seasonal fruits. With the addition of just a few good flavorings, nuts and spices, you can create a really superior fruit crumble.
The topping is what makes a crumble so special to me. Of course, the fruit is a major component, but when you take your first bite into a crumble and you taste the rich, buttery, sugary, crunch topping, you just know that what’s to follow is going to be spectacular. The fresh fruit, combined with spices, sugars, flavorings and hints of citrus cook down so that all of the fruit juices create a smooth, thick, lush, gooey and scrumptious syrup. Sometimes a little cornstarch can help achieve that thick syrup consistency.
My tale of three crumbles begins with one I started making this summer: Peach Crumble.
Take 6-7 large, peeled, firm, fresh peaches, slice them into wedges, and place them in a bowl with a half of cup of sugar. Tossing the peaches with the sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice and letting it sit for half an hour helps to release juices, ensuring a deep peach flavor. After that, place the peaches in a heavy saucepan and cook the peaches on medium to low heat until they just begin to soften.
Next, add the spices and flavorings:
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- a couple of grates of fresh nutmeg with your Microplane
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
As a chef at The Chopping Block, I have the opportunity to try amazing products like Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla bean paste and the Pride of Szeged ground cinnamon. You can also use the vanilla extract that you might already have in your pantry as well as any brand of cinnamon. But I warn you! Once you try this vanilla bean paste, you’re going to be hooked.
Once the peaches and their juices come to a slight boil, I slowly add a corn starch slurry, which is one tablespoon of corn starch dissolved in a couple of tablespoons of water. Make sure to keep an eye on the peaches. The corn starch will thicken the peaches in a very short time. Depending on how juicy your fruit is, you may not need the entire slurry.
Place this filling in a buttered casserole dish or pie plate and dot the top with a couple of small pieces of unsalted butter. Next, it’s time to prepare the crumble topping.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks of very chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces.
Mix all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, work the butter into the dry ingredients, until large clumps form. This recipe will yield enough topping for a second crumble. After generously sprinkling half of your crumble topping on top of your peach filling, place the dish on a parchment or Silpat-lined sheet tray. You’ll definitely want something under that sheet tray to aid in clean up in case the juices overflow.
Place the crumble in a 350 degree oven, set the timer for 30 minutes and rotate the pan halfway during cooking time. After a half hour, you should see juices bubbling and the topping turning a nice golden brown color. If that hasn’t happened yet, leave it for another 5-10 minutes or so. After it’s done baking, pull the crumble out of the oven and place on a wire cooling rack. Let it sit for about a half an hour and then dig in! If you want to make it a seriously over-the-top dessert, serve with a really good Gelato or ice cream. Salted Caramel Gelato goes nicely.
My second crumble tale involves tart sour cherries.
Sour Cherry Crumble
If you can grab a bunch of sour or tart cherries from a farmers’ market, go for it. But you can also use frozen ones from the supermarket. My favorites are actually from Costco. Once I stumbled upon these frozen beauties, my life making crumbles got easier. No more pitting cherries and their availability is pretty frequent. Did I mention not having to pit cherries?
With this crumble, I follow the exact same cooking technique as for the peach crumble, but I substitute almond extract for the vanilla bean paste. Nielsen-Massey also makes a great almond extract. I usually add ¼ teaspoon almond extract and 1/2 cup sugar to the frozen cherries. If you want to add a citrus note, a teaspoon of lemon juice will do the trick. Cherries work incredibly well with the flavor of almond. Omitting the cinnamon and nutmeg will keep that fresh cherry taste.
Cherries tend to leach out a great deal of liquid, so a bit more corn starch might be necessary for your slurry. In fact, you might need to double it. Once again, keep an eye on the cherries as they cook and thicken.
I like to vary the topping for this cherry crumble by adding a half a cup of tasted slivered almonds to the same recipe used for the Peach Crumble.
The third crumble tale is actually my favorite: Apple Crumble.
I love using Honey Crisp apples for crumbles this time of year, but Granny Smith are also nice. Peel and core 6-7 apples and cut them into 2 inch chunks.
Place the apples in a large bowl with a couple of tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a teaspoon of cinnamon, ½ – 1 teaspoon whole teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract. Add ½ cup of granulated sugar and ½ cup of dark brown sugar. Instead of cooking the apples in a heavy sauce pan and adding a corn starch slurry like I did with the peaches and cherries, instead just add 2 tablespoons of corn starch to the raw apples. Mix together and pile high in a buttered baking dish. Dot a bit more generously with butter, about a tablespoon or so. Pile your crumble topping on the fruit and once again place on a parchment lined or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Place in a 350 degree oven and cook for about a half hour, making sure to rotate the pan halfway through the cooking time.
Once the crumble juices begin to bubble and the topping turns a nice golden brown, you have one seriously, buttery, crisp Apple Crumble.
These are my tales of three crumbles. Why not come up with a few tales of your own? Try other fruits. Try additions to the fruits like brandy, rum-soaked golden raisins, maybe even some toasted chopped walnuts. You can add fresh blueberries to the peach one, and a couple of tablespoons of almond liqueur to the cherry crumble. Experiment, and let me know how it goes!