End of Summer and into Fall with a Fresh Fruit Crumble

crumbleinbowl2When I was a child, as far as dessert was concerned, I was “all in” for chocolate. Fruit desserts were okay, but somehow a little disappointing. Even with an added bonus of vanilla ice cream piled on top of a slice of apple pie or a warm peach crisp, a fruit dessert still didn’t hold a candle to anything chocolate. And yes, chocolate ice cream on top of a peach crisp or apple pie is just plain wrong.

Fast forward to many years later and I am now “all in” for fruit-based desserts. It’s not that I have given up chocolate, but these days whether it’s spring berries, summer peaches or fall apples, there’s a whole lot of fruit dessert making going on at my house. And my most favorite thing to make is something quick and easy with ingredients I usually have on hand. Enter the fruit crumble.

What’s the difference between a crumble, a crisp and a cobbler, you may ask?

Well, not a whole lot, really. In my opinion, the difference is mostly in the topping, although some cobblers do have a thickening agent added to the filling. For instance, the biscuit, dumpling or crust-like topping of a cobbler is flour-based, whereas a crumble topping is much more streusel-like in nature, has far less flour and often includes spices, oats and nuts. That would place a crisp—which has a higher butter and sugar to flour ratio in its topping than a cobbler, but typically does not include oats or nuts—somewhere in between a cobbler and a crumble.

Of the three, a crumble has become my favorite. The appeal is not only in the combination of flavors that a crumble provides, but in the textural contrast between the juicy, soft and sweet fruit and the toothsome, crispy, crunchy topping. It’s a perfectly balanced dessert. With a scoop of your favorite vanilla bean ice cream melting over a warm serving of crumble, you’re in for a heavenly experience!

Another thing to love about a crumble is how versatile it is. You can make it with berries or stone fruit, or a mix of the two. And when the spring/summer fruits are gone, you can make it with seasonal apples or pears instead…heck, throw in a few fresh cranberries with those apples, if you like. If your citrus du jour is orange instead of lemon, that will work just as well. So really, this is a year-round dish.

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Generally I am not a fan of overly sweet desserts, so my version of fruit crumble relies on less sugar than many recipes, which allows the natural sweetness of the ripe fruit to shine through. The addition of vanilla ice cream becomes an enhancement to the flavor and texture of the dessert, rather than making it overbearingly sweet.

Make this crumble with your favorite fresh fruit, add some vanilla ice cream, raise up your spoon and let’s toast the end of summer and the beginning of the fall season. Bon appétit!

Peach or Fresh Fruit Crumble
Serves 6

For the filling:
7-8 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced to yield about 7 1/2 cups total of fruit
(or you can mix peaches or nectarines, blackberries or blueberries and fresh cherries, or substitute an equal amount of *peeled or skin-on cored and sliced apples or ripe pears instead of stone fruit or berries)
1/2 cup granulated cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
zest of one lemon (or an orange will do nicely, too)

For the topping:
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp kosher salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Extra butter to grease your baking dish
Vanilla bean ice cream to serve (don’t skip, life is too short!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter either a 3-inch deep 7 x 11 or similarly sized glass or oval baking dish, and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the peaches (or whatever fruits you are using), sugar, cinnamon and zest and stir to combine well. Set the fruit mixture aside while you make the crumble topping. In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, oats, pecans, flour, salt and cinnamon. Add in the cut butter and mix with your hands until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is in pea-sized pieces.

Evenly spread the fruit into the bottom of your prepared dish. Cover the fruit evenly with the crumble mixture. Place the dish on a foil lined baking sheet before baking to catch any spills, and place into the oven. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit mixture is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow the crumble to cool about 15 minutes or to room temperature. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Leftovers, if any, can be covered with plastic, refrigerated and gently warmed to room temperature before serving.

*Note: If making this crisp with apples or pears, add 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to the fruit mixture and then proceed with the rest of the recipe as written.

Fresh out of the oven, a sea of crispy crumble over juicy fruit is just waiting for someone to dive in!

Fresh out of the oven, a sea of crispy crumble over juicy fruit is just waiting for someone to dive in!

Blackberry Lemon Almond “Snackin’ Cake”

Just lightly place the berries on top of the uncooked batter, and the cake will rise to the occasion!

When I was a kid, the United States had already been in the convenience phase of its existence for more than a decade, and it seemed like every day some new and different “space age” food or drink product was on the grocery store shelves. Just “mix and stir,” add the “flavor pouch,” “just add water,” or “just open the pouch and stick in a straw” was the name of the food game. The space-friendly powdered beverage “Tang” was wildly popular, as was any food item in a pouch that was similar to what the astronauts would eat or drink.

Have a blast…from the past!

And let’s not forget the T.V. Dinner. (Though some of us in Atlanta will remember a nightclub by the same name…or will we?) We all grew up with those ubiquitous aluminum sectioned trays that were popped into the oven, and when they came out a few minutes later, you peeled off the foil to reveal a wonderful, tasty (or not) meal of salsbury steak, apple cobbler, corn and string beans. Later on, they made more kid-oriented T.V. Dinners geared around favorite cartoons and T.V. shows, with fish sticks or chicken fingers and chocolate pudding. (I’ll confess, I did like those kid ones at the time.) But I digress…

One of these quick wonders was called a “Snackin’ Cake.” Honestly, I don’t remember exactly how easy it was to make a Snackin’ Cake or what they tasted like, but I think most of them were made by just adding water, an egg, and the mix into the supplied square pan, bake it, then top with the supplied package of frosting. Kind of like an adult-sized version of the “Easy Bake Oven” mixes. They had a cult following. But what I remember most is that they were square, and you were to cut them into square pieces, and have them as an after school snack or a dessert.

Fast forward to today, and we still rely a bit too heavily on convenience. But I hope we’re starting to realize that just because something is made “from scratch” doesn’t have to mean it’s hard to make. Au contraire. And, even though I don’t bake very often…mainly because I’ll eat it if I make it…I do like to bake quick and easy things now and then.

About a week ago, I saw a sale on blackberries in the market, and of course, I had to jump and buy some. First, I made the original peach and berry crumble that you can see here, which was easy and delicious. However, I still had some of these fine blackberries left. Sure. I could just EAT them, but where’s the fun in that? So I decided to try my hand at creating a cake by just putting things together and seeing if it would work. Yikes! Not the best way to approach the science of baking, I’ll admit.

But much to my surprise, it worked out really, really well, and it came out moist, flavorful and delicious. And better yet, I’ve made another one since then and it did, too! This cake combines the flavors of blackberry and lemon—which are just made for each other in my opinion—with the underlying tang (no pun intended) of yogurt and the mellow richness of almonds. It has a lovely texture from the almond meal…somewhat of a cross between a cake and a quick bread. It really needs no adornment, but you could certainly serve it with creme fraiche or ice cream. I baked it in a square pan, so once it came out of the oven, I started looking at it and you know what it reminded me of? A Snackin’ Cake! And hence the intro of this post. But this is not one of those somewhat prefab wonders of yesteryear. No sirree, this is a new, modern, bona fide, healthier and delicious, real homemade snackin’ cake…one for the 21st Century!

Now I think I may be on a roll with this snackin’ cake idea. I’m envisioning this very cake with strawberries, or cherries, or peaches…and that’s before adding any chocolate or booze! I’m starting to really like this baking thing again.

I think I’m in trouble now.

Blackberry, Lemon and Almond Snack Cake

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole, raw, skin-on almonds, ground to a fine meal in the processor
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1/2 cup milk (1 or 2% milk is fine)
1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square or circular cake pan.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest, stirring with a spoon to combine well. Cut in the cold butter in small pieces, then use your hands to combine it with the dry ingredients until only very small pea-sized pieces of butter remain, and it is well integrated with the dry mix. In a small bowl, combine the milk, yogurt and lemon juice with a whisk until well mixed. Add the egg to the wet ingredients and whisk just to incorporate. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until everything is moistened well, but don’t over stir. Add the vanilla extract and stir to incorporate. The batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared cake pan. Smooth the top of the batter, then set the berries on top of the batter (no need to press them) in a decorative pattern. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 22-24 minutes, watching closely. The cake is done when it is golden brown on top, firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool on a rack in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and finish cooling on the rack. To serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into 9 equal pieces. This is great by itself, but you could also serve it with a dollop of creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.

Did I mention this is great for breakfast, too?