You guys, it is time for us to have a little talk about dessert. Namely, that you should be eating more of it.
Now, I like to host dinner parties, and have even hosted the occasional dessert party, but half the time I am feeling too lazy or too broke to cook, so I invite my friends over for drinks instead. Except that within five minutes, I am craving dessert, and there is no ice cream in the freezer because I’ve been stealthily sneaking scoops of it for breakfast over the last week or so, and it’s not like I can abandon my guests for the next hour to assemble a cake from scratch, so what’s a girl to do?
Crumble, my friends. The answer is always crumble. Why? Because it can be thrown together at the last minute, it uses ingredients you almost always have on hand, and it doesn’t require a recipe. It’s sort of healthy-ish — well, for dessert, anyway. And might I mention that whipping up a crumble on whim will forever render you a confectionery goddess/god to all of your friends? The epithet, “one of those people who can just throw together a dessert at a moment’s notice” could be added to your very own name. Classy, right?
Before we get started, here are the things you’ll need to have kicking around the house to make dessert:
- Flour: doesn’t matter the kind, though best to steer clear of the more pungent ones like buckwheat. Any of the following will do in a crumble: all-purpose, whole-wheat, oat flour, spelt flour, cake & pastry flour.
- Oats: or any oat-like flake. Feel free to sub in quinoa flakes, kamut flakes, or spelt flakes if they’re what you’ve got.
- Sugar: brown, white, organic, not. Coconut sugar, date sugar, palm sugar, demerara sugar — go wild.
- Salt: come on now, you definitely have this guy.
- Fat: any light-tasting oil (canola, sunflower, safflower, etc.), melted butter, or coconut oil
- Fruit: the key ingredient in any crumble. Now, fresh fruit would be great, especially if it’s in-season (nothing beats a midsummer peach, or fall apples), but it’s honestly much easier to keep a freezer stocked year-round with frozen fruit to top up your fresh stuff, and sometimes the produce actually tastes better (i.e. the raspberries in frozen bags were picked at the height of their season, whereas the fresh ones available in the wintertime are pretty terrible). Since I drink smoothies anyway, I’ve always got frozen blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, but frozen rhubarb and peaches work just as well, and are widely available. The only real fruit to avoid are bananas. Repeat after me: “I solemnly swear never to put frozen banana in a crumble. Ever.” Those babies are for banana bread only.
Okay, you intrepid little dessert makers. Are you ready?
How to whip up a crumble, tough-cookie style
1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Find a pyrex or baking dish appropriate for the number of people you’re serving. Just dessert for you? Use a really little one. Serving 6 people? Use a 8×8″ dish. More? 9×13″.
3. Fill that dish up a generous 3/4 of the way to the top with fruit. Really sweet fruit (e.g. pears, peaches) should be balanced if possible with tart fruit (e.g. rhubarb, raspberries). Winning combinations include: apples or pears + raspberries; peaches + blueberries; strawberries + rhubarb; peaches + plums; raspberries + blueberries + strawberries; peaches + rhubarb.
4. The golden ratio for a crumble topping is 1 part oats : 1 part flour : 3/4 part sugar : 1/2 part fat : pinch of salt. If you can remember this, you will never, ever need a recipe again. So if you’ve selected the 8×8″ baking dish, and it looks like you need maybe two generous cups of topping for all that gorgeous fruit, you’d throw together in a bowl 1 cup of oats, 1 cup of flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup of canola oil, and a teeny pinch of salt. Or if you’re making topping for a 9×13″ dish, you might want 2 cups of oats, 2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 1 (scant, I beg of you) cup of oil, and a pinch of salt. We are not talking about tough math here, people. If I can do it, you can do it.
5. Stir the crumble topping ingredients together until the oil is spread throughout and clumps begin to form. With your hands, crumble the mixture on top of the fruit, distributing it as evenly as possible until all the fruit is covered.
6. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350F and cook for another 20-30 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is crisp and golden.
Now get baking, you epithet-craving devils, you. And let me know how it goes!