Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fruit and Custard Crumble

Crumbles and baked fruit desserts have a long history. In the Middle Ages, baked desserts called puddings combined grains and dried fruits to form a custard-like meal finisher. Honey and fresh fruits were used for sweeteners, as sugar was not widely available. The crumble is a variation of this sort of fruit pudding dessert. Its easy sweetness lent it an appeal to those with an inability to access heavy amounts of sugar. The addition of oats in the crumbly topping is what gives the dish it's British name 'crumble'. Without oats, this dish is a 'crisp'.

Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to increase the sweetness appeal of such a simple dessert. The important thing to remember is to allow the heady fruit flavors to shine through, like they did in the original puddings.

Sweet crumble desserts have always been my one of favorites. Is there anything better than the rich cinnamon and sugar smell of stewing fruit wafting through the house, or breaking into a crusty flour and oatmeal covering and finding a warm and chunky fruit center? I don't think so.

With my mother and grandmother promising a quick weekend visit, I began to think of desserts I could pull together and bake while we ate dinner. I needed something I could prepare and shove in the refrigerator until they arrived. Luckily, some spring-inspired sales on strawberries and blackberries immediately turned my mind to a rich crumble. On my way home with my treasures, my mind began to turn to variations on this classic.

I would add apples, of course. But what about pears for some added sweetness? Stewing the fruit before hand would give me the ability to really soften it, and infuse it with flavors of Marsala wine and cardamom. This would also allow me to cook the fruit long before baking and stick it in the fridge. Perfect!

Yet, as I opened my refrigerator, I discovered another ingredient. Yogurt! What if, like in the old days, I made my crumble into a custard? Now that sounded good. Stewed fruit topped with a rich vanilla custard and smothered in crumbles! I was drooling at the thought. Quickly, I pulled out the yogurt and settled in to devise a custard filling.

When I assembled my dessert, I had enough fruit, custard and crumble left over to make a second, smaller crumble. Even after this, I had a lot of fruit left over. I recommend using this leftover fruit as a topping for ice cream or French toast. You can also just eat it with a spoon!

Fruit and Custard Crumble
serves 6-8

What You'll Need:
1 large souffle dish, or 6- 8 ramekins (see above for instructions on refrigeration)
1 medium saucepan
2 medium mixing bowls
1 wire whisk, or electric mixer


For Crumble-
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and sliced
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 tsp cinnamon

For Custard-
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups plain non-fat yogurt
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp vanilla extract

For Stewed Fruit-
2 braeburn* apples, peeled and diced
2 Anjou pears, peeled and diced
1 handful fresh strawberries, quartered
1 handful fresh blackberries, halved
1/2 cup Marsala
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom (optional)
zest of one orange (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
* Braeburn have a great balance of sweet and tart for this dessert, but you may use any good baking apple

What You'll Do:

For Crumble-
Combine flour and butter in a mixing bowl. Using either a knife and fork or your hands, mix until the ingredients begin to come together in the consistency of bread crumbs (chunky). If needed, add water by the tablespoon to create bigger crumbles. Do not over mix. Stir in the brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and oats. Set aside.

For Custard-
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until lighter in color and smooth. Add in yogurt and vanilla. Continue whisking until almost fluffy. Add in flour and beat until smooth. Set aside in refrigerator.

For Stewed Fruit-
Combine apples, sugar, vanilla, spices, zest and Marsala in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add enough water to cover apples (about 1-2 cups). When liquid begins to simmer, lower heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until apples begin to tenderize. Add in diced pears and other fruit. Mix well to cover new fruit with syrup mixture. Add more Marsala and water, if necessary. Cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes on medium-low. Remove from heat.

To make crumble-
Preheat oven to 350°. Using a large spoon, dish fruit mixture into bottom of souffle dish or individual ramekins. Make sure to include plenty of juices from the pan. Fill dish approximately 1/3 of way. Reserve some of the fruit mixture to top finished dessert.
Over top of fruit, fill dish or ramekins with custard mixture. Leave approximately 1/4 of dish unfilled.
Finally, top the custard and fruit with your crumble mixture. Go ahead and fill your dish or ramekins all the way up to the top.
Place dishes into oven and bake. For the souffle dish, bake approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours. For the ramekins 30-40 minutes will do the trick. You are looking for the custard to lightly set and the crumble to brown slightly.

To serve, top with leftover fruit mixture and fresh sliced berries.

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