What dessert, for you, is the ultimate comfort dessert? You know, the kind of dessert that’s not necessarily elegant and may not be art on a plate, but is homey and just makes you feel happy when you eat it. For me it’s either a fruit pie or fruit crumble, which if you think about it really aren’t that different from each other. One has a crust, one has a crispy crumbly topping (and actually sometimes I combine the best of both and make pies with crumble toppings) – both have lots of delicious fruit.
To this day, the smell of a pie or crumble baking reminds me of my grandma’s kitchen. When I was growing up my grandma’s kitchen was one of the best places in the world. She always seemed to either be baking, or had just baked, and she made a lot of pies. Blackberries grew at the back of my grandparents’ garden and I have memories of her picking blackberries into an old MJB coffee tin, which held just enough berries for a pie. And then there was the apple tree in behind the blackberry patch, a tree that had grown from a single seed over years and years of discarded apple peelings. A lot of great pies came from that tree too.
My mom & grandma have both passed on their love of baking to me and you may have noticed that I do bake a fair amount. But there is just something special about a berry pie or crumble in the summer, and an apple one in the autumn when the cooking apples are in season and at their best. Blackberries in particular do it for me, or any sort of blackberry based combination. They’re so purple, and tart & sweet. And they’re free! Ok, the picking takes a bit of work and generally results in more than a few scratches, but I swear that the work that needs to be put in makes them taste better. Actually, I count myself lucky because at our allotment the man has trained some blackberry shoots along the fence, so we have our own blackberry patch that that is not at all unruly and actually results in very few scratches. And I will admit that he does most of the picking…
We had our first lot of blackberries last week and it was a bit of a no-brainer that I would make a crumble with this season’s first picking. But before I go any further I have to come clean and tell you that this dessert, this ever so humble, delicious, and much loved dessert is going through a bit of an identity crisis. You see, I can’t decide whether to call it a crisp or a crumble. My readers on the European side of the Atlantic may be scratching their heads at this point wondering what I’m going on about. A crisp? But a crisp is a fried potato snack… Well yes, it certainly is in the UK and Ireland. But on the opposite side of the Atlantic a dessert that has fruit on the bottom and a crispy crumbly topping is called a crisp. Apple crisp, rhubarb crisp, bumbleberry crisp… you get the picture. However, when I moved to the UK I started referring to my fruit crisps as fruit crumbles because over here a crisp was the aforementioned potato snack, not a lovely dessert to be served with vanilla ice cream. Also, there was a British dessert called a crumble, which I assumed was the same thing. Until recently…
A few weeks ago I read Cooksister’s blog about a cobbler she’d made, and she’d also taken the trouble to talk about the differences between crisps, crumbles, cobblers, pies, tarts, etc. And this is what has caused my poor dessert’s identity crisis. You see, I’d always thought that a crumble was just the British term for what I grew up calling a crisp, in other words, just a different name for the same dessert. But it would appear that they are indeed different desserts with different origins. Cooksister’s definitions were as follows:
- A crisp is a type of dessert, usually consisting of a type of fruit, baked with a crispy topping, hence the name. The topping usually consists of butter, flour, oats, brown sugar and usually spices such as cinnamon and/or nutmeg.
- A crumble is a dish of British origin containing stewed fruit topped with a crumbly mixture of fat (usually butter), flour, and sugar.
They may be similar, but definitely not the same. Of the same family, but more like distant cousins than identical twins. What I make is definitely a crisp and NOT a crumble because the topping has oats & nuts in it. And brown sugar & cinnamon. Which makes it quite different from the British type crumble dessert. However, if I all of a sudden start calling it a crisp will it confuse people? Will they think I’m making a dessert with crushed fried potatoes on the top? Can you see my dilemna?
However, before you think that I may be losing too much sleep over this (or indeed dwelling on it just a wee bit too much), I think I have a solution. Last year for a work function I made an apple-cranberry crisp/crumble. It went over very well; however, when I told the guests (who were all British) that it was an apple-cranberry crumble I got some strange looks because it just didn’t look the typical crumble that you find on this side of the pond. And it had cranberries in it. So I started telling the guests that it was a “Canadian style” crumble and all of a sudden the world made a bit more sense again. So that may be the answer. Even though I know that what I make is a crisp and nothing but a crisp, I will call it a Canadian style crumble.
Now that this identity crisis has been put to bed, I can tell you that last week’s crumble was good. I used the blackberries, some old mealy apples (let’s face it, it’s just not apple season quite yet), and some blueberries. It wasn’t elegant, but served warm with some vanilla ice cream it was absolutely perfect. The tartness and softness of the berries and/or apples was offset nicely by the crunchy, sweet topping - a perfect contrast in flavours and textures. As for the mandatory scoop of ice cream on top, I would never go for anything other than vanilla – it’s a simple, homely type dessert that is best paired with a simple flavour of ice cream. But they work together oh so nicely.
My recipe is below. Try it now while the blackberries are at their best.
Canadian Style Appleberry Crumble
I will say up front that I never ever use a recipe for this. I’ve made it so so so many times I can just eyeball it. The basic concept is to have a thick layer of fruit and then a good sized layer of crumbly topping on top of it. But when I made it the other day I measured everything and wrote down a recipe for you to try.
- 550 grams berries (you can use all blackberries, or a combination of berries – on this occasion I used 425g blackberries and 125g blueberries because that’s what I happened to have)
- 6 medium apples – peeled, cored & chopped
- 120g wholemeal flour
- 300g brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 200g quick cooking oats
- Optional: 100g nuts (pecans or almonds work well)
- 180g cold butter, cubed
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius/375 degrees farenheit.
Put berries and chopped apples into the bottom of a baking pan – about 20cm x 28cm or so.
In a food processor blitz together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts until the nuts are chopped up fairly finely. If you don’t have a food processor I wouldn’t bother using the nuts – just combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter and oats and blitz again until the mixture holds together when you squeeze a small amount of it in your hand. If mixing by hand, add the butter and oats and work it until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Put the topping over the fruit and distribute evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes. Check for doneness with a sharp knife or skewer – the fruit should be soft, and it will be all bubbly at the edges of the pan.
Serves 8 generously. Serve with vanilla ice-cream. If you have any left over try it the next day for breakfast with some Greek yogurt. Hey, it’s got fruit in it so could be considered healthy, right?