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Monday, November 10, 2008

Which way do you crumble? (Quince, apple and armagnac prune crumble)

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You do do crumbles yes?  It's the easiest baked dessert in the world - manageable even by those who doth protest too much about not being a baker (hi Rachael!) and there's not a mix or a store-bought dough in sight.  You make everything yourself so you know exactly where each ingredient comes from, no funky stuff you can't pronounce or spell. 

All you have to learn is a simple crumble topping - super simple, if you can stir you can make it.  You can use that crumble topping to top pretty much any combination of fruit.  In the summer you can use plums or peaches, and in the fall you can try quince, pears, apples, or other fall fruits.  I also like to add some dried fruits into my fall crumble, apricots, prunes, or even ordinary raisins.  And these get even better if you soak them a bit in armagnac, rum, or brandy of your choice.

So, which way do you want to crumble?  This time I'm using poached quince I made a little bit ago from Gene's quince, and mixing them with some apples and Armagnac prunes I always have in the cupboard. 

Quince, apple, and armagnac prune crumble

First you make the crumble topping

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170g salted butter (6oz or 1 1/2 sticks)
225g brown sugar (8oz, or about lightly packed 1 cup)
225g all purpose flour (8oz, 2 cups)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
a pinch of clove
1/4 tsp salt (add this if using unsalted butter)

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Melt the butter in a small pot.  Mix all the dried ingredients together in a glass bowl.  When the butter is melted, pour it over the dried ingredients and toss with a fork or a wooden spoon.  You will see balls of crumb developing, that's what you want, don't toss until everything is so well mixed it turns to sand.  Just toss gently to keep the large crumbs.  Cover the bowl with plastic and keep in the fridge until ready.  You can do this a day ahead of time.

Then you mix your fruits
There are not many rules here.  The basic idea is to toss some seasonal fruits - peeled and sliced if needed - with some sugar, a bit of flour and a few squeezes of lemon juice.  I always add a pinch of salt - not to make it salty, but just enough to brightens other flavors and help activate some pectin in the fruit to thicken it.  If you're using dried fruits as well, it would be a good idea to soften them a bit before adding to the mix.  You can just soak them in a bit of warm water, or better yet, a scrumptious liquor of your choice.  Here I use my armagnac prunes.  For about 9" pie or tart plate, I would use about 6 cups of mixed fruits (cut into large wedges.)

For my quince, apple, and armagnac prune crumble, I use..

about 4 large quinces
     poaching liquid: 3 cups-500g-sugar and 1.5 cups-about 250g-water
4 regular size apples (granny smith, idared, or other good cooking apples)
about 10 prunes soaked in armagnac (pitted and cut into large pieces)
juice from 1 lemon
about 1/2 cup of brown sugar (more of less, up to you.)
1 tablespoon flour
a pinch of salt

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I usually have already poached quinces in the fridge, but if you don't, you can start by poaching them.  Peel the quinces and cut each one into 8 wedges.  Cut out the core and seeds.  Poach the quince slices in a mixture of 3 cups sugar to 1.5 cups water for about 20 minutes or until translucent and cooked through.  Stab a piece with a sharp knife, if it goes through effortlessly, it's done.  Remove the quince slices from the poaching liquid and put in a large bowl.  Keep the poaching liquid for other use, like making caramels or just mixing with sparkling water to make your own quince soda.

Peel the apples, cut into eight wedges, and core and seed them.  Squeeze the lemon over the apples and mix them with the quince slices, armagnac prunes, sugar, flour, and salt.  Toss well to mix.

Pour the fruit mixture into a pie or tart plate.  At this point you can cover up the plate with plastic and keep in the fridge for a few hours until you're ready to bake.

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When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F (175C).  Crumble the crumb topping evenly over the fruit.  Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crumbs are golden brown.  Some of the juice from the fruits will bubble over and might caramelize a bit - there's nothing wrong with that at all.

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Serve by itself or with a good helping of vanilla icecream or whipped cream.  Sneak a shot or two of armagnac into the cream before you whip, it'll be even better!

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