As August draws to a close, September in view on the horizon, the gentle shift in wind and sunlight brings with it inspirations of fruit-laden desserts to elate in the plenty of nature during this in-between season. The heat of Summer sunshine injects sweetness in cascading nectars and soft, melting textures and the warmth of coming Autumn foretells of golden hues in red and orange, edible wonders aglow in the kiss of the passing season. For this palate on the cusp, the transition from Summer to Fall, I bring you a tender fruit crumble, abundant in reassuring tones to keep you company during the darkening, chillier nights.
You will need:
* 5 sweet and crisp red apples (I used Gala);
* 6 sweet, golden pears (any variety that suits you will do);
* 4 white flesh nectarines (I find they have a more delicate, aromatic flavour than the yellow ones, but either are fine);
* The juice of two large oranges, with or without pulp (this is as per your preference, for the sauce and to stop the fruit from browning during prep, both the fruit and juice will be cooked together);
* 8 medium green cardamoms;
* Ground cinnamon;
* 2 tablespoons of demerara, light or dark brown sugar (for the sauce, I used demerara);
* 1 and a half tablespoons of muscovado sugar (for the crumble topping);
* 125 grams cold, salted butter, cut into small cubes (more or less depending on intended number of servings and size of dish);
* 200 grams plain flour (same as above);
* 50 grams ground oats or oatmeal.
These are the quantities of ingredients that I used, however, you can tailor the recipe to suit your own tastes and serving preferences. For the topping, I tend to go with the rule of half the amount of fat to total dry ingredients and this works well for me each time. You can also peel the fruit if you wish to: ordinarily, I would, but as I am recovering from the flu, I thought I’d go for the optimum number of nutrients that I can, especially as the fruit is fresh and relatively unblemished. You can add more varieties of fruit or choose to highlight just a few- I felt that the pears, apples and nectarines would work incredibly well together, marrying the meeting of the two seasons in a perfect way.
* Begin by juicing your oranges and pouring the juice directly into an oven-proof dish. I used a ceramic lasagne dish, but make sure that whatever you use is large enough to hold all the fruit and crumble topping in an even layer, eliminating the possibility of spills and allowing for an even bake;
* Next, peel, or wash thoroughly if you choose to leave the skin on, and segment your fruit, making sure that you get rid of any pips, stalks and pits that may be inedible or that you don’t want creeping around in your crumble. Make sure to cut the fruit to a similar shape and size as this will allow for more even cooking, so you are not left with raw bits in the finished piece. Immerse all the fruit in the orange juice as soon as it has been cut to ensure that it does not go brown, then add two tablespoons of your chosen brown sugar to the dish, along with a hearty sprinkle of cinnamon and mix well with the fruit and juice. Press the cardamom pods to open them up and reveal the seeds, then plop them into the dish at this stage, mix well, but gently, again;
* While the fruit rests in the dish, preheat your oven to 160 degrees celsius (gas mark 4) and prepare your crumble topping. I have always made it the old-fashioned way, so-to-speak, so this is how I will advise you. Pour the flour, oatmeal and remaining sugar into a bowl, mix well to incorporate all three and, then, tip in your cubed, cold butter. It is absolutely paramount that the butter is cold, as the crumb texture will not form otherwise. Roll up your sleeves as you will need your hands for the next part;
* Lightly toss the butter in the dry mixture until it is coated and, then, using the tips and pads of your thumb and fingers, gently begin to massage the butter, sugar and flour together so you are pressing them into one another, raising your hands above the mixture as you do so, almost coaxing it into the air- this motion ensures that the mix does not get overheated as it keeps the butter at a consistent temperature, which is integral to forming the crumb texture. Continue doing this until the butter and dry ingredients are melded together and there is no dusty residue (sounds delicious) left in the bowl; the mixture should resemble breadcrumbs, not too thick and not too fine;
* When you are happy with your mix, sprinkle the crumble topping over the fruit to cover it, levelling with your hands to ensure it is in a nice, even layer, then place the crumble into the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes. Again, this will depend on the size of your crumble, but this is the time I gave to ensure thorough cooking. You will know it is ready when the topping takes on a golden colour and you are able to smell the sweet, almost jam-like notes of the simmering mixed fruit and, the aroma of the buttery top and spices drifts through the room. Turn off the oven, rest for about 10 minutes, then serve, ungrudgingly, with custard or crème frâiche, whatever your heart desires. If you find any cardamom husks floating around amongst the fruit, you can eat them or take them out; they are perfectly harmless, although the texture may not be to everyone’s liking. You can keep the crumble covered in the dish or in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days, warming either in the oven or a microwave when the yearning for this delicate treat arises. Cook, enjoy and let me know what you think :)