There are two topics when it comes to desserts that I’ve found will split people: the ideal dessert menu (up to two chocolate options, at least one lemon option, and a soft choice for brace/denture wearers – anything after that is inconsequential) and the perfect crumble.
It’s a surprisingly divisive dessert, when you get down to it: you can’t deviate much when it comes to a pie, but when it comes to this particularly British pudding, “crumble” can be both its name and what happens to your relationship with your best friend when you realise they’re devoted to some white sugar based sandy monstrosity. Don’t even get me started on a mushy apple filling.
Why yes, I do have strong feelings on this. How could you tell?
Any crumble is a marriage of flavours. The fruit layer, the one that diminishes any (badly placed) feeling of guilt over the butter, will inform the nuances of the crumble itself: the sugars; the spices; the nuts.
That layer of virtuousness, for me, is a vehicle – an excuse – for a thick layer of lightly spiced topping, made up equally of crumbs, oats, and little balls of what is essentially shortbread.
For an apple crumble I’d lean toward cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pecans. But for this, the most typically June fruit pairing, it’s almond – the flakes providing a little crunch – orange, and a touch of cinnamon.
I created this pudding backwards, armed with a tablespoon measure and an array of open containers, like potions class. With tasting, rather than measuring, coming first, I tallied up tbsps as I went along tweaking the taste. I chopped chunks of butter off and weighed the block that was left to work out how much I used. I rubbed butter into flour and sugars all at once – unorthodox, according to my cookery school trained flatmate, but the best way to ensure those biscuitty bits. I worked through the flavours, rather than by a recipe, and…I’d consider it for a dessert menu.
This is how we do it.
18 tbsp (140g) plain flour
2.5 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp white sugar
100g unsalted butter
5 tbsp (30g) oats
6 tbsp (30g) toasted flaked almonds, chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon
350g rhubarb, ends trimmed off and stems cut into inch-long pieces
1/2 tbsp marmalade
250g hulled and halved strawberries
1 1/2 tbsp light brown sugar
- We’ll start with the make-or-break bit: the topping. Put the flour, sugars, and butter into a large bowl and rub together until fully combined, with part crumbs and part balls of dough. Add the oats, almonds, and cinnamon and stir together with a spoon. Set aside, and turn the oven to 180C.
- Over a medium heat, cook the rhubarb with the marmalade until the rhubarb has just started to soften (you may need to add a little water, up to a tablespoon). Add the strawberries and the sugar, give it a quick stir to bring it together and remove from the heat. You may wish to add to a little more sugar to your taste.
- Transfer the fruit to your dish of choice, roughly smooth the top out, then evenly spread the topping over until you can’t fit any more on. Eat any leftover topping with a spoon.
- Bake on the middle shelf for about 20-25 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling, maybe a little over the side, and the crumble is a deep golden brown. Serve with ice cream, custard, or maybe creme fraiche, as you prefer!
Note: When making this, I tend to have the containers open and use measures to just dip into each when needed rather than weighing everything out, but have included the approximate weights in grams in brackets.