by Felicity Cloake
from Completely Perfect: 120 Essential Recipes for Every Cook (Fig Tree)
Crumble is the ultimate childhood pudding: hot, sweet, and incredibly comforting. It took me nearly two decades to make something that matched up to the stuff we scoffed at school. Dot the dinner lady, I salute you – how I wish I’d asked for the recipe, instead of just seconds.
Interestingly, The Oxford Companion to Food suggests that crumble probably originated in the Second World War, as a quicker, easier alternative to pastry, and would have originally used whatever fat was available at the time. These days, butter is de rigueur, but sprinkling over a little water, as suggested by Nigel Slater in his Real Fast Puddings, helps to bind the mixture together – Nigella Lawson cleverly freezes the topping before cooking it, which slows down the melting of the butter, and gives the baked crumble a more satisfyingly craggy texture.
To boost the flavour, Mary Norwak, author of English Puddings, suggests using light brown sugar. This imparts a rather sandy texture, so I compromise with a mixture of this and crunchy demerara, and also substitute some of the flour with ground almonds, although not quite so much as Jane Grigson recommends, as I find this makes it a bit spongy, like a cobbler. You can also add a few handfuls of oats on top, and a little ground ginger or cinnamon if you like.
100g plain flour
50g ground almonds
125g chilled, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
35g demerara sugar
35g caster sugar, plus extra for the fruit as required
About 900g fresh fruit, stoned or cored as necessary and cut into chunks – cooking apples should be softened in a pan with a tablespoon of water and a little sugar first
Handful of porridge oats / chopped nuts (optional)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon or ginger (optional). See point 3.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ 180C Fan/ Gas 6. Combine the flour, ground almonds, and butter in a food processor or large bowl, and pulse briefly, or rub with your fingertips, until the mixture resembles very coarse breadcrumbs with a few larger lumps. Add the sugars and stir through.
2. Sprinkle with a little cold water and rake through with a fork until you have a lumpy, crumbly mixture. Put this in the freezer for 10 minutes, or if making ahead, in the fridge until you're ready to bake.
3. Meanwhile, put your prepared fruit in a lightly greased, shallow baking dish, and sprinkle with sugar – taste it first to see how much you think it needs. You can also add any spices at this point (½ tsp ground cinnamon or ginger, for example, for apples or plums).
4. Arrange the crumble over the top of the fruit – don't press it down – and sprinkle with oats or nuts if using. Bake for about half an hour, until golden and bubbling, and serve slightly cooled.