If there are two camps – the pie camp and the crumble camp – then I think it is fair to say I am very much Team- Crumble. Do I love pie; making it, sharing it, eating it, etc? Why, yes, and if it is à la mode, well then all the better. But what I really love is when softened, lightly sweetened – and perhaps spiced – fruit is topped with a buttery sugary crown (no oats, please) and served up warm in big scoops in deep bowls (with a dribble – or several – of cold heavy cream).
Partial to crumble because…
I think I am partial to crumbles for a number of reasons. First, there is almost no other sweet that is easier to assemble, and who doesn’t love that: a simple treat that takes almost no time to throw together. Now, it is indeed true that when making an apple crumble, as I have done here, the process of peeling and coring can just be the tiniest bit laborious, but simple is still very much the name of the game.
Second, I love a crumble because, at least historically, they are made from butter and sugar and flour (oats need not apply) while a crisp, on the other hand, typically has oats in the topping (the name refers to the oats actually “crisping” up while baking). I have nothing against oats, I promise, but I don’t want them interfering with the butter and (brown) sugar crown blanketing my fruit. And honestly, oats in a crisp topping always make me think that some health-nut is trying to pull a fast one on me – ridiculous, I know, but what can I tell you? I must have had a bad experience with an oat-topped crisp as a child…
Third, to me crumbles are texturally perfect – soft sweet fruit topped with browned crispy crumbs of butter-y goodness, is kind of all I ever want in a dessert, and maybe in life.
This particular crumble is made from apples and cranberries, as tis’ the season, and all that. I used Granny Smith in this one, as I love their tartness alongside the sweet topping. I also added a cup and half of cranberries, for color and tang. I like a crumble made from brown sugar and Turbinado sugar, rather than granulated, as the brown offers up molasses/caramel notes and the Turbinado provides crunch. I season my apples only a bit, with cinnamon and nutmeg (and salt), so the apple flavor isn’t muted, only enhanced.
I think a good crumble topping requires a couple of things: cold butter, a proper flour-to-sugar-to-butter ratio (here we have the same amount of flour and sugar and a bit less butter), a rest in the fridge to firm up, and then a deliberate crumb-making process – I do not just sprinkle the crumble atop the apples, I spend time forming each “crumb” and I like them large, in case you were wondering. Not sure I can convert you to team crumble or not. But might I suggest you take a stab at this one, as no matter your team affiliation, I think you will be pleased.
For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup Turbinado sugar, or granulated
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
For the apples:
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp flour
2 scant tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
10 medium apples, I like Granny Smith, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 1/2 cup cranberries, frozen is fine
2 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 13x9x2-inch pan with cooking spray or softened butter.
To make the topping, in a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and the two sugars. Add the butter, and using your fingers, form medium crumbly clumps of topping. Place the bowl in the refrigerator.
To prepare the apples, in a large mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add the apples and cranberries and toss to coat. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the fruit and toss to coat again. Transfer to the prepared pan.
To assemble the crumble, remove the topping from the refrigerator and cover the apples with it, forming small or medium crumbs with your fingers, as you do so. Gently pat the crumble down.
Bake for about an hour, until the crumble is lightly browned and the filling bubbles a bit in the center. Let it cool at least 15 minutes before serving with a dribble of heavy cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Jessie is a baker and cookbook author; you can learn more about her through her website jessiesheehanbakes.com.