Sunday, 23 October 2011

Homage to the humble crumble

Although Friday was National Apple Day, this fruit has dominated my culinary efforts for the past week – not, though, any other activities. I’d have to be beyond terminal boredom to have done this.

Leaving the apple pie to our friends across the Pond, for whom it has its own special cultural meaning, let’s turn to the humble crumble.

With Sunday’s belly pork cooking away ever so gently, I pulled out Delia’s Complete Cookery Course and turned to the section on puddings.

There is the basic recipe for a crumble topping, with my own calculations beside it for the reduced version for two people.

So, take 25g of diced, unsalted butter at room temperature and rub together with 75g of plain flour, using your hands.

The thing with this is that you need to do it as quickly as possible, so that your hands don’t get over hot and melt the butter further.

Once that’s done, mix in 25g of brown sugar.

That’s all there is to it – your crumble mix is ready to go.

I took three small apples out of the basket, peeled, cored and sliced them quite chunkily. They went into a small pan with a few drops of water and about one heaped dessert spoon of brown sugar, and then were cooked gently for a few minutes until softened.

I had decided to make individual crumbles rather than a large one and greased two small ramekins.

The fruit went in and was patted down, before the crumble mix was sprinkled generously on top, and in they went to a oven preheated to 160˚C, where they stayed for around 40 minutes, before being eaten, from the little pots, with a little very thick double cream on the side.

And they were nice – although I wasn’t completely satisfied with the topping.

Then came the quandary: there was still loads of the topping mix left. What to do? Throw it away, freeze it or …?

I decided to make another one the following day.

One of the things about learning to cook in the home, as opposed to professionally – and perhaps it’s particularly the case when you start late in life – is that you don’t get constant practice on any one dish.

You’re trying to vary what you eat; you’re trying new things. And personally, I obsess about serving up a variety of meals; that it’s some sort of duty to provide a wide range.

It’s only in the last year that I’ve really found that I’ve cooked a few dishes often enough now that I can do so without recourse to a recipe book.

But since we’ve never been a big pudding/dessert household, every time I get the urge to make something, it’s almost like starting from scratch again. And with a big gap until the next time you do it, it’s also difficult to remember any lessons you might have been aware of the last time.

On Monday, I nipped into Waitrose after work for a cat food run. Since they had some there, I picked up a large Bramley cooking apple. Unfortunately, while there are still English strawberries around (grown in polytunnels, presumably), there seems to be a shortage of blackberries, so my plan of a mixed crumble fell at the first hurdle.

Back at home, I prepped the apple and popped it in a pan with the same amount of sugar – and then had the idea that adding some of the left-over cider from Sunday’s belly pork roast, instead of water, might be a neat idea.

The fruit was cooked gently but for a little longer (not deliberately – I wasn’t timing it). Cooking apples – which had gone out of favour a few years ago until a TV chef had caused their revival – cook down much faster. It was pretty much a compote before I knew it.

But there’s no great problem with that. Instead of the cliché of nutmeg, I added a little ground ginger and then decanted the mix into the buttered ramekins for baking in the same way as the day before.

Feeling a tad lazy, I had also bought a tub of custard – there isn’t even any Bird’s in the cupboard. When the crumbles were nearing completion, some of that was whacked into a pan and gently heated through.

Perhaps because the cooking apple had been pre-cooked for longer and had, therefore, collapsed into more of a pulp, it was hotter – seriously, piping hot. Using ginger as the spice works perfectly well.

And so to Friday. After I’d found some blackberries (currently losing out in the shops to blueberries, which seem to be this year’s faddy fav), it was time for an apple and blackberry crumble.

But this time, I also changed the topping proportions, using 100g plain flour and 50g butter, with 25g sugar.

And I made sure too that the sugar was demerara – it had been a soft brown sugar in the previous versions.

The fruit was precooked with just a little water and a dessertspoon of that soft brown sugar, until it was just softened.

Decanted again into ramekins, it was topped and cooked for 45 minutes at 160˚C (temperatures are for a fan oven).

The topping on this version was much more as I expected and wanted – far crumblier, if you will.

The fruit combination is a classic for a good reason – and the inky colour from the blackberries is magnificent.

This was the best of the week – and was the perfect argument against my addiction to variety and for trying things regularly.

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