Would you call this performance a kind of Housewife Burlesque? I don’t know but I think she’s fabulous! Watch and tell us what you think.
“Everybody’s good at cooking something, I’m good at cooking Crumble.” Since May when Lorraine Bowen was on Britain’s Got Talent, my kids go around singing this song, so I sing it too now. We all sing it–it’s catchy!
Here we have a large forage of end-of-September blackberries picked by husband and son.
And despite that it’s now October, there are still perhaps some bramble bushes fruiting in abundance.
And here we have some windfall apples put by a neighbour in front of his house on the street for anyone to take home– #foodisfree.
And here we have a crumble mix.
It’s made from equal parts Gluten Free Flour, and Khorasan Flour, also known as Kamut® (and believe me I hate that registered-trademark symbol around food and seed varieties) but if you think about “Khorasan” as a region, an ancient breadbasket now enflamed with war, you have to think about ISIS and terrible violence. Read here about a seed bank rescued from Syria, and here about seeds that were in a highly protected vault that have been retrieved. And this is a great and useful discussion on why seeds are such an important aspect of food sovereignty.)
But now back to Crumble.
I’d made a great apple cake with half (“ancient grain”) Khorasan Flour (a whole grain) and half gluten-free flour for a gluten-reduced yet fairly soft cake. The crumb was great so I was keen to try more with this easy flour mix. Though crumble doesn’t need to cohere so gluten doesn’t matter so much anyway…
Crumbles seem a universally beloved British desert. The traditional ones, in the Lorraine Bowen “Sunday afternoon pudding” sense, are soft, sweet cooked apples topped with buttery, floury crumbly crumb, and custard (Birds perhaps for convenience) or light cream or ice-cream– or creme fraiche, in the case of the photo above. To me Crumble is “nursery food,” meaning comfort food to a child’s palette (which isn’t to disparage) and to the child’s palette within the adult’s body as well.
Of course there’s no “perfect” crumble because I don’t go with that concept at all, as we all have different tastes (though the fabulous Felicity Cloake might beg to differ). And thus because I’m an inveterate mixer of flours and user-upper of ingredients, it occurred to me that Crumble could be put forth as a no-recipe pudding in one’s personal campaign to demystify daily cooking.
Indeed in a survey of recipes, there’s hardly even agreement about proportion of flour(s) to butter to sugar, which is great because you can prepare your dessert based on how much fruit you have to use, how sweet you like things, and how buttery and therefore moister/ richer or cake-y/ dry to absorb the fruit flavours and creamy additions. Even more, some people love fruity puddings topped with crumble, and others prefer stodgy crumble accented by the sweet acidity of a little fruit, so even the proportion of fruit to topping is yours to decide. You kind of can’t go wrong.
What do you have there to work with? Take your hard fruit and prepare it. If apples, maybe peel and core (scrap vinegar time!)– sweeten as you wish, season as you wish (cinnamon a classic of course) and maybe pre-bake to give the harder fruits a head-start. As for berries, especially when foraged, make sure stems and grit are removed, then sweeten gently too. Once you add a little sugar (brown or white or whatever) or honey or syrup or stevia if that’s your thing, and let the fruit sit, you’ll see how much liquid comes out and you might want to thicken this with a little flour, or cornstarch (dissolved in liquid before adding to the bulk of the fruit) or ground almonds or what you wish…
I do like to think of the word “crumb” sitting there in the name “crumble.” A crumble topping can feel a little like pastry before it’s been unified with that small bit of water. As a basic guide, if you imagine an amount of flour (wheat, white or whole, or gluten free, or any of the assundry choices including polenta and amaranth (not quinoa! quinoa flour is bitter!), or a mixture with ground nuts or seeds or oats– you can play because with half an eyeballed amount of fat, butter lovely but coconut oil and olive oil work well– and maybe a third or less of a sweetener, and “crumbled” together, you get a dry topping that will cook nicely sitting on top of a lovely simmering fruit mixture in a medium oven.
Marguerite Patten’s The Basic Basics Baking Handbook, a Grub Street classic, is my reference here. Her flour:butter:sugar ratio is 6:3:4 (in ounces– and not so exact in grams or cups). I take this as an invitation to eschew precision! Mary Norwak in English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury suggests 3:2:1.
So when I went to make my crumble, I estimated on a similar basis–about 3/4 the amount of butter to my flour mix (which was half and half but needn’t have been)– and sugar, well in my case, probably a little less than half, but all done with a carefree, estimating style that takes a little of the stress away from desserts.
Mix the ingredients together with light, happy fingers.
Spread on top of your fruit, which you’ve prepared and arranged in a baking dish of appropriate size.
Bake in a medium oven for half an hour or so, until fruit is bubbly and the topping is lightly brown. Some like crumble crisp, some like crumble soft.
We’re always taught we don’t need recipes for cooking necessarily, but baking is about precision, and I’m slowly figuring out how this is one of those disempowering tales that keep people out of the kitchen– along with an idea of “perfection” rather than “good enough.”
The Apple Blackberry Crumble we ate was rather yummy, not perfect, but a perfect use of what we had on hand in the kitchen, and a lovely cozy-supper dessert.