One of my favourite desserts from childhood is the classic crumble with either an apple and blackberry or rhubarb base. Where I grew up there was an apple tree and large rhubarb patch at the bottom of our garden as well as several local areas to pick blackberries. Back then, all these fruits seemed abundant and were basically ‘free for the picking’. These days I seem to have fewer opportunities to forage and am always amazed to discover how supermarkets wield a relatively hefty price tag for these same items today!
For me, the most delicious aspect of the crumble has always been the portion where the crumble topping meets the fruit. This is where the juices of the fruit soak through just enough to turn bits of the topping into a sweet and gooey mixture. Although the original topping is a simple mixture of about 1¼ cups of flour, ½ cup butter and ½ cup sugar, these few simple ingredients seem to blend well together to create this tasty and textured topping!
Origins of the English “crumble”
Although some of the traditional English desserts have been around for centuries, the crumble is a relatively modern addition. It originated in England during the 2nd World War at a time when there was strict rationing. As flour, sugar and fat were not available in the quantities needed for pastry, people had to be creative and the crumble topping was born. Largely due to its simplicity, this dish continued to remain popular long after rationing ceased.
The “crumble” and the “crisp”
The closest dish to a crumble in North American is the crisp and this version usually includes oats and nuts. Canadian Living describes a crisp as “a baked fruit dessert topped with a crisp and crunchy layer of ingredients” which generally includes sugar, butter, flour, nuts and oats. The main difference between the crumble and the crisp is that a crumble is more like a streusel topping and does not usually include the nuts and oats.
Recipe for Apple and Blackberry Crumble
Since moving to plant-based eating, I have been trying to find a crumble topping that is similar to the consistency of the original crumble. I have tried a number of variations and this one seems to most closely resemble the texture.
- 3 cups (150g) chopped apple
- 1.5 cups (200g) blackberries
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- 1/2 cup (50g) almond meal*
- 1/2 cup (75 g) all purpose flour**
- 1/2 cup (50g) rolled oats
- 2 tbsp coconut sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup coconut oil
To make fruit layer:
- Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Melt coconut oil in saucepan and heat the apples on a medium-low heat (add 1-2 tbsp of water if needed to avoid sticking) and stir frequently.
- When apples are starting to soften (about 20-25 mins), add blackberries and cook for about an additional 5 more minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup and cinnamon. Set aside.
To make crumble topping:
- Mix the almond meal, flour, oats, coconut sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon until all ingredients are combined.
- Rub the coconut oil (at room temperature) into the mixture with hands until it resembles a breadcrumb-like texture.
- Spoon the fruit into a large oven-proof baking dish, and sprinkle the crumble mixture on top, completely covering the filling.
- Bake for about 20 minutes in the oven, until the top is lightly browned.
- Serve with dairy-free ice cream, yoghurt or coconut whip. Enjoy!
- *Almond meal can be created by grinding whole almonds in a food processor.
- **For gluten free, one option is Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Flour.
For me, the crisp with nuts and oats has never held quite the same appeal as the classic crumble. This might be to do with the fact that a crumble topping is generally more “clumpy” than a crisp and this lends itself to the delicious taste and texture of the fruit and topping union that I enjoy so much.
As my cooking now involves quite a different array of ingredients than it did at one time, it is always a bonus when one of my old favourites can be successfully adapted. Of course, it is different but, as the crumble was originally born of the necessity of adapting recipes for the ingredients at hand, who knows what delightful desserts are out there waiting to be discovered through this process of adapting!