I learned the secret to making the best, crunchiest fruit crumble over two decades ago. Then I ignored it.
A pastry chef friend shared the technique. Instead of sprinkling the raw crumbs on top of the fruit, where they’d absorb the juices and turn a little mushy on their undersides, he spread them out in a pan and baked them separately, until crisp and cookie-like.
When fruit and topping finally met, the crumbs were much better able to hold their own. The parts touching the syrupy filling were slightly soft, but the rest of the mound became an irresistible, audibly crackling crust.
I didn’t have a very good reason for ignoring this smart move for so long. Somehow, that extra step just seemed cumbersome. Plus, traditional fruit crumbles are stupendously delicious, even if the topping is a little squishy.
This year felt different. I had more time around the house (like, all my time) to play around with methods like baking crumble topping separately.
So I did. And I’ll never go back. Spreading the crumbs out on a baking sheet and popping them in the oven for 15 minutes adds only a small amount of work.
The payoff is huge. Most of the topping, rather than melding into the filling, offers a separate, crunchy contrast to all that jammy fruit.
Even better, the sugared fruit still bubbles up as it bakes, pooling into gloriously sticky puddles amid the pebbly crumbs.
As with any crumble, you can use whatever fruit you’ve got on hand, even frozen fruit, though the juicier, the better. Make sure to bake it long enough so that the filling comes to a profuse simmer. This shows that the cornstarch has been activated enough to thicken the juices, turning them supple and silky.
You can bake the crumbs a couple of days ahead, but the crumble is best baked on the same day you serve it. That is when the topping is at its crispiest — which is, after all, the point.
THE CRUNCHIEST SUMMER FRUIT CRUMBLE
- 1-1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) rolled oats
- 1/3 cup (75 grams) light or dark brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, ginger or allspice, or lemon zest
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled
- 2 to 5 tablespoons light brown sugar (or white sugar), depending on sweetness of fruit
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 8 cups mixed berries (fresh or frozen); or cubed peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots; or pitted sweet cherries (or a combination)
- Ice cream or whipped cream, for serving
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
>> To make topping: In large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, sugars, salt and spices. Stir in butter. Using your hands, squish mixture to form coarse crumbs about 1/2-inch in size, although some will be smaller.
Spread crumbs in an even layer onto ungreased rimmed baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and solid when you gently poke them, about 15 minutes. Crumbs won’t change appearance much. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack to cool while you make the filling. (Crumbs can be baked up to 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.)
>> To prepare filling: In large bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Add fruit and gently toss to coat. Pour into ungreased 2-quart gratin dish or 10-inch cake pan, mounding fruit in center.
Spoon crumbs over filling and place crumble dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any overflowing juices (reuse the sheet you baked the crumbs on if you like). Bake until filling bubbles energetically around edges, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like. May be made up to 8 hours ahead and kept at room temperature, or warmed up briefly in a 350-degree oven. Serves 8.
Nutritional information unavailable.