I learned the secret to making the best, crunchiest fruit crumble over two decades ago. And I subsequently ignored it.
A pastry chef friend shared the technique. Instead of sprinkling the raw crumbs on top of the fruit, where they absorb the juices and turn a little mushy on their undersides, he spread them out in a pan and baked them separately, until crisp and cookielike.
When fruit and topping finally meet, the crumbs are much better able to hold their own. The parts touching the syrupy filling may get slightly soft, but the rest of the mound becomes an irresistible, audibly crackling crust.
I didn’t have a very good reason for ignoring this smart move for so long. Somehow, that extra step just seemed cumbersome. Plus, traditional fruit crumbles are stupendously delicious, even if the topping is a little squishy. It had never been a priority to experiment with something already so satisfying.
This year felt different. I had more time around the house (like, all my time) to play around with methods like baking crumble topping separately.
So I did. And I’ll never go back. Spreading the crumbs out on a baking sheet and popping them in the oven for 15 minutes adds only a small amount of work.
The payoff is huge. Most of the topping stays discrete, rather than melding into the filling, offering a crunchy, cinnamon-scented contrast to all that jammy fruit.
Even better, the sugared fruit still bubbles up as it bakes, pooling into gloriously sticky puddles amid the pebbly crumbs. And it is a perfect vehicle for ice cream or whipped cream, which melts into a sauce, especially if you serve the crumble warm.
As with any crumble, you can use whatever fruit you’ve got on hand, even frozen fruit, though the juicier, the better.
Then, make sure to bake the crumble long enough so that the fruit filling comes to a profuse simmer at the edges of the pan. This shows that the cornstarch has been activated enough to thicken the juices, turning them supple and silky.
You can bake the crumbs a couple of days ahead, but the crumble is best baked on the same day you serve it. That is when the topping is at its crispiest — which is, after all, the point.
Recipe: The Crunchiest Summer Fruit Crumble
Yield: 8 servings
Total time: 1 3/4 hours, plus cooling
For the Topping:
- 1 1/2 cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup/50 grams rolled oats
- 1/3 cup/75 grams light or dark brown sugar
- 1/3 cup/65 grams granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, ginger or allspice, or use lemon zest
- 1/2 cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled
For the Filling:
- 2 to 5 tablespoon light brown sugar (or granulated sugar), depending on the sweetness of the fruit
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 8 cups mixed berries (fresh or frozen), or cubed peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, or pitted sweet cherries (or a combination)
- Ice cream or whipped cream, for serving
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Make the topping: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, sugars, salt and spices. Stir in butter. Using your hands, squish mixture until coarse crumbs form. Some should be about 1/2-inch in size, some smaller.
3. Spread topping in one layer onto a rimmed baking sheet. (You don’t have to grease it first.) Bake until crumbs are solid when you gently poke them, and are fragrant, about 15 minutes. They won’t change appearance very much. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack to cool while you make the filling. (Crumbs can be baked up to two days ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.)
4. Prepare the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch until well combined. Add fruit and gently toss to coat with the sugar mixture. Pour filling into an ungreased 2-quart gratin dish or 10-inch cake pan, mounding the fruit in the center.
5. Spoon crumbs over filling and place the crumble dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any overflowing juices. (You can use the same baking sheet you cooked the crumbs on.) Bake until filling bubbles energetically around the edges, about 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like. Crumble can be made up to 8 hours ahead and kept at room temperature, or warmed up briefly in a 350-degree oven.