Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Being a Brit, liking crumble is mandatory in our house. It would be practically unthinkable to get through the winter without piping hot apple crumble and custard -- or summer without rhubarb crumble straight from the fridge with ice cream.
Crumble by its very nature is just about the most relaxed, thrown together dessert you can make. But as with any kitchen endeavor, a little bit of care and attention turns something mediocre into something magical.
Having tinkered around with crumble far too much to be healthy, I’ve come to believe that as with so many things in life, it’s all about the butter. Specifically: adding enough.
Personally I’m a crumble purist and just use plain old white sugar, flour, butter, and a pinch of salt. But feel free to add chopped nuts, oats, or brown sugar to your topping.
How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) in 5 Steps
1. Slice your fruit, peeling optional. Mix with any sweetener (sugar, maple, honey) and other flavorings you like (booze, spices). If you're using apples soften them first on a medium-low heat on the stove for around 10 minutes. Other fruits won't need this. I don't add any thickener to my fruit -- I honestly don't think it needs it and I think you get a fresher, cleaner taste without.
2. Rub 1/2-inch pieces of cold butter into flour. I now use a ratio of 1 cup of butter to 1 heaped cup of flour -- which for me is the key to getting a rich, pebbled crunchiness (rather than something that resembles breadcrumbs).
It's fine to mix the flour and chilled butter in the food processor if you’re short on time -- but I seem to get a better result (and less cakey texture) if I make it by hand as the pieces are less uniform.
3. Mix in about 3/4 cup sugar (and chopped nuts or rolled oats, if you're not a purist like me). If you have time, stick your crumble mix back in the fridge before baking -- like pastry, it seems to like a little chill before cooking.
4. This is important: when you tip the crumble on the fruit, don't be tempted to press it down -- it needs its space. (That is the secret of a great, craggy, crumbly texture!).
5. Bake at 400° F till the top is browned and the fruit juices are bubbly, about 30 minutes (depending on how deep your fruit is). Serve with vanilla ice cream -- custard optional.
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Photos by James Ransom