Before crumbs
Before crumbs. Photo by Dan Peretz
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Dan Peretz
After crumbs. Photo by Dan Peretz

The battle over the copyright for this wonderful dessert has been waged for many years between inhabitants of Britain and those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The latter call it “streusel,” and add a baked pie crust, which endows it with European respectability. The British, on the other hand, consider the dish a type of what they call pudding, and it is served to schoolchildren at the end of a meal with a large tablespoon, straight from the pot.

Whatever the case, whether it’s “crumble” or “streusel,” neither of the European locations has what we have − ripe, sweet, juicy fruits that flood the market at the end of the summer season and beg to be placed in your shopping basket. Until you put them in the oven under a crunchy covering of golden crumbs, you won’t understand what a treasure we have readily available, waiting to sweeten our days.

The caramelized fruits, covered with sweet, crunchy, buttery flakes of dough, immersed in a bit of alcohol or spiced with lemon zest, turn the summer into a welcome guest and make us willing to postpone our anticipation of the cool days of autumn. The original meaning of “crumble” is to disintegrate or collapse, because of the crumbs piled on top. What’s really humbling about this wonderful dish is how easy it is to prepare.

Crumbs for crumble ‏(for a 26 cm. round baking pan‏)

There is no dough easier and simpler than crumbs for crumble. The basic recipe contains only three ingredients; there’s no need for a mixer or food processor; and it can be kept in the refrigerator for days. You can also prepare these crumbs on their own, on baking paper, and sprinkle them on a cold cheesecake or a chocolate cake, but they are at their best when baked over sweet fruits and infused on the bottom with the bubbling juices. It’s always a good idea to prepare a double quantity and keep it in the refrigerator − you never know when you’ll have guests, or will simply feel like having something sweet and hot.

1 cup ‏(140 gm.‏) flour
3/4 cup ‏(120 gm.‏)
sugar ‏(preferably, but not necessarily, light brown demerara‏)
100 gm. cold butter

Sift the flour into a bowl and mix with the sugar. Cut the cold butter into cubes, add to the bowl and begin kneading the ingredients with your fingers. The method is to “mash” the cubes of butter with the sugar and the flour, while rubbing your hands together, until you get damp crumbs of various sizes. There is no need to achieve a thin and uniform crumbly texture − on the contrary, crumble turns out crunchiest and tastiest when the crumbs are not uniform in size, and are baked in the oven to different degrees of doneness. It is very important not to tire out the dough. The crumbs should be cold when they enter the oven. The moment you achieve the desired type of crumbs, stop playing with them and transfer the bowl immediately to the refrigerator, covered with cling wrap.

The fruit

In some versions of crumble common in England, the fruits are cooked or scalded before baking. But in Israel the fruits are so juicy and full of sugar that this stage should be skipped. To my taste, cooking makes the texture too soft, and the flavor becomes bland. You can use any summer fruit suitable for baking, and of course you can bake two or more together and add spices, nuts, alcohol and/or cheese. In that way, for example, you can bake pears with shelled almonds, apples with lemon zest, white peaches with Muscat wine, or apricots with dates and mozzarella. The fruits become soft and caramelized in the baking dish and infuse the bottom of the crunchy crumble with their sweet juices, while the lemon zest and Muscat add to the fragrance and enrich the flavor.

Preparing the fruit for baking:

Crumble can be baked in any heat-resistant, flat, wide, and somewhat deep dish. Ceramic or glass dishes bake the fruit more uniformly and don’t burn the edges, although a metal pan will also do the job. The crumble can be baked in one large dish or in individual dishes. The height of the fruit and the amount of crumble remain identical. The easiest thing is to prepare the fruit directly in the baking dish, without getting other dishes dirty. Sprinkle a little sugar in the bottom of the pan and place a layer of pitted fruit above it, sliced or cut into large cubes that will leave the fruit stable and somewhat solid, even after baking. Scatter a bit more sugar over the layer of fruit and drip lemon juice over it to prevent it from darkening during baking. This is the time to add the lemon zest, cinnamon, alcohol or cheese you are using. Repeat until all fruit has been used. You can also mix the fruit a little more in the pan with your hands, and flatten it out.

Baking:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Take the crumbs out of the refrigerator and scatter a generous layer ‏(1.5-2 cm.‏) of them over the fruit. Bake for about half an hour, until the crumbs are golden brown.

Serving:

Crumble can be eaten hot, straight from the oven, or cold from the refrigerator. When serving it hot, you can place a tablespoon of vanilla ice cream on each serving, and eat it quickly before it melts. You can also drip a little vodka, whiskey or arak over it and enjoy the heady fumes. Crumble keeps well in the refrigerator for a day or two and is especially tasty with a tablespoon of sour cream or crème fraîche.

Crumbles from end-of-summer fruits

With a little experience, you will discover that all the tired fruit in the fridge can quickly and easily turn into a perfect crumble for quick entertaining, or a consolation prize at the end of a hard day. All recipes use a round 26 cm. baking pan.

Pear and almond crumble with lemon zest

7 soft pears, cored and sliced lengthwise
1 cup of blanched, sliced almonds ‏(100 gm.‏)
zest from 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp. sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon

Prepare crumble according to instructions above. Sprinkle the lemon zest and half the almonds among the pear slices. Add the rest of the almonds to the dough itself for an especially sweet and crunchy crumble.

White peach and Muscat crumble

8 white peaches, pitted and cut into thick slices
1/2 cup ‏(120 ml.‏) Muscat wine
3 tbsp. sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon

Along with the lemon and sugar, pour some of the wine onto the peaches. After baking, the fragrance is heady and the sweetness of the Muscat adds a wonderful amber caramel to the peaches.

Plum and spearmint crumble

10 ripe red plums, pitted and cut into thick slices
10-12 spearmint leaves, rinsed and torn by hand
3 tbsp. sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon

Prepare as in recipes above. The spearmint adds a refreshing aroma and a sweetish taste.