The Humble Crumble – The Best Dessert Ever?

Robin Boyle Australian, Dessert, Dinner

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Crumbles are the standby dessert for us, one of our signature dishes. They are so easy yet so delicious. I would almost go to say they are the best dessert ever!

We use a very simple topping, using just flour, sugar and butter. We find it gives as good a result, if not better, than tizzied up toppings made from oats, nuts or whatever. Give this simple topping a go before trying one with more ‘fancy’ ingredients.

The dish consists of three basic parts: the crumble mixture to go on top, the fruit to go on the base and some sugar to be stirred through the fruit before the topping goes on.

The crumble topping can be made well ahead of time – an hour, a day, or frozen for weeks and used straight from the freezer. We often make a double batch and freeze it in serving sizes.

A wide range of fruits – fresh or frozen – can be used as the base. We almost never precook any fruit as they cook through when baked, and there is little superfluous liquid. If you are concerned, you could consider microwaving hard fruits (like apple) for a few minutes, to barely soften. Apple is the standard crumble, but we often include some rhubarb, raspberry, pear or strawberry as well. Frozen fruit needs to be semi-thawed. We leave the skin on pears and apples. Rhubarb, which is really a vegetable, does not require precooking and gives a lovely final result.

The whole dessert can be assembled very quickly and cooked in the oven while the main course is being eaten. Crumbles are best served hot or warm. Serve with good cream or ice-cream or a good custard. Leftovers reheat well in the microwave.

Below we give the recipe and method for the crumble mixture and then we will talk about fruit options and baking the final dessert. Berries make a great base. You will see we give our recipe for rhubarb and raspberry crumble, one of our absolute favourites. Use it as a guide for other fruit combinations, along with the extra fruit suggestions below.

The dessert can be made in a large pie dish or in equivalent small dishes. Proportions can be increased or decreased as needed. If using small containers, use flatter ones rather than taller ones as the dish will shrink somewhat due to evaporation and condensing of the fruit.

First, a photo taken last week, on the night of our first virtual dinner party: apple and strawberry crumble.

The crumble topping

Ingredients (For 6 servings)

Make the topping by hand or with a food processor. The made-by-hand method gives a superior and more rustic result. We use both, depending on how much time we have. We use the food processor for large batches.

  • 200g (2 cups) plain flour
  • 100g to 125g (1 to 1 ¼ cups) sugar
  • 125g butter (cold), cubed

Food processor: Briefly process the flour and sugar. Add the butter and process briefly until mixture resembles small crumbs. Remove to a large bowl and rub through your fingers for several minutes and pieces will combine to give different sized “crumbs”.

By hand: Combine the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl to avoid spillage. (Maybe stand the bowl in the sink so you can reach in more easily.) Add the butter cubes to the flour and sugar and rub through your fingers for several minutes until the mixture resembles rough breadcrumbs. The crumbs do not all have to be small and fine.

Cover crumble mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. (Or freeze – when required there is no need to thaw it out first, simply smooth it over the fruit.)

Fresh and frozen fruit

As indicated above, we use a range of fruits, fresh and/or frozen. When we have excess fruit, we freeze it for later use in desserts: left over apples and pears, unpeeled, cubed; strawberries, raspberries, etc prepared, washed if necessary; rhubarb, stalks washed and sliced into 1 to 1.5 cm pieces; plums, sliced into suitable pieces; cubed pineapple; etc. We simply pop the fruit into a plastic bag or suitable container, trying to remove as much air as possible, then into the freezer. We don’t do any precooking before freezing. Frozen fruit can be used for a range of desserts: crumbles, cakes, tarts, summer pudding, … If the fruit is to be baked, half thaw them but don’t let them get too mushy, when the juice starts to run.

Thus, your crumble can be made from all fresh fruit, all frozen fruit or a mix of fresh and frozen. This way you have the option of making a crumble any time of the year. The difference between fresh and frozen fruit is hardly discernible.

Make up your own combinations. Here is a photo of the fruit ready for a crumble using fresh apple and frozen blueberry, strawberry and black currant. Some sugar is still to be stirred through, and then the crumble mixture smoothed on top before baking.

Rhubarb and Raspberry Crumble

Following are details about our rhubarb and raspberry crumble, one of our absolute favourite combinations. Use it as a guide for other fruit combos.

Rhubarb is available much of the year. The rhubarb does not have to be pre-cooked for this recipe. Frozen berries or rhubarb can easily be substituted for fresh: let them thaw for an hour or so but still firm.

If you don’t have many or any raspberries, other berries work really well. Use 50:50 rhubarb and berries – loganberries, blackberries, gooseberries, mulberries or blueberries can be substituted for some of the raspberries. Blackcurrants (frozen) make a great addition too and give a great cassis flavour. If you are to use another ‘hard’ fruit (such as apple) use about the same quantity as given for the rhubarb.

Reduce the amount of sugar if you wish – the less sweet, more sour taste can be quite appealing.

Other combinations to try:

– pear and strawberry is beautifully fragrant
– quinces quartered and poached until burgundy coloured, liquid reduced
– stone fruits (peach, nectarine, apricot) by themselves or with other fruits
– cherries (de-pipped), plums
– and don’t be too afraid to try drained tinned fruit or re-hydrated dried fruit

Ingredients (For 6 people)

  • one quantity of crumble mixture (see above)
  • 3 cups of rhubarb, washed, in 1 to 1.5 cm slices
  • 2 punnet raspberries (or other berries)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
  • quality cream and/or ice cream or custard

Use a 25-28 cm pie dish or equivalent. (Butter it if you wish, but we rarely do.)

Add the fruit to the pie dish and set aside until needed. (If frozen, allow time for the fruit to partially thaw.) Before cooking, spread the sugar over the fruit and mix in lightly. Spread the crumble mixture over the fruit base and bake at 180oC (fan-forced) for 35 to 40 minutes until the crumble is slightly brown and the juices bubble around the edges.

Serve with the cream, ice-cream or custard. Serves 6.

Degree of difficulty: 2/5 (Not difficult)

Following are a few photos of various combinations we have tried.