I’ve tried to find out where crumble originated, with only a little success. The consensus of opinion is that it has been around in Britain for at least a couple of centuries but wasn’t considered important or even glamorous enough to be included in recipe books before the 20th century. It definitely came into its own during World War II as a result of rationing. Since fats (such as butter and margarine) and sugar were rationed, people weren’t able to make traditional pastry pies, which required greater amounts of butter and sugar (usually because they required a bottom layer of pastry as well as a top layer). However, crumble, while still requiring sugar and butter, requires a lot less of either. Hence, it’s popularity, although this may also be due to the fact that it is a doddle to make; you don’t need good “pastry” hands!
And just to set the streusel cat amongst the crumble pigeons . . . streusel, which originates in central Europe, comes from the German word 'streuen' which means 'to sprinkle' or 'to scatter'. It was made as a crumbly topping, with flour, butter, sugar, spices and chopped nuts, for cakes, pastries and pies. Sound familiar?
Skill level: Easy
Preparation time: about 1 hour
2-3 Bramley apples (about 900g), peeled, cored and chopped
caster sugar, to taste (I use homemade vanilla sugar)
4 x cloves
100g fresh (or frozen) blackberries
175g plain flour
125g ground almonds
50-75g caster sugar or light muscovado or demerera sugar (but not dark sugar)
35-50g flaked almonds (optional)
- Preheat oven to Gas mark 6 / 200F.
- Make the filling by first peeling, coring and chopping up the apples. Simmer the apples in a little water with the cloves and sugar, to taste (about 3-4 tablespoons), for 10-15 minutes, until soft. If the apples have given off a lot of liquid you may need cook for a few minutes further to remove some of the liquid. Stir frequently so the apple doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. The Bramleys will cook right down to a purée.
- Strain any remaining liquid. Remove the cloves, taste for sweetness and then transfer to an ovenproof dish (a 23cm one is about the right size. You could of course serve this in individual ramekins as well). Set aside to cool slightly while you make the crumble.
Make the crumble by rubbing the butter into the flour, then stir in the almonds and sugar until the crumble forms loose crumbs.
Stir the blackberries gently into the apple mixture. You may need to add a little extra sugar or some of the sugar syrup left over from cooking the apples to add sweetness and a little moisture (but not so much that the liquid bubbles up through the crumble mixture).
Sprinkle crumble mixture over top until fruit is covered, (I like mine to be about 1½-2cm deep. I love crumble! However, what you don’t want is a thick compacted layer as it will just be stodgy. You may end up with too much crumble, so save that for tomorrow!) Sprinkle with flaked almonds.
- Don’t pat down the crumble topping or even try to level it. Otherwise, the fruit will bubble up over the crumble.
- Place in oven for 15-20 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to Gas mark 4/180F and continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes or until golden brown (but not burned). Serve warm (you may need to let it cool for 5-10 minutes as it will be bubbling hot and could burn your mouth) with double cream or custard.
- Frances Bissell in Country Kitchen suggests using a crème anglaise made with saffron or a vanilla ice-cream made with mead (rather than sugar, although you may need to add extra honey for sweetness) . . . could be a case of gilding the lily, but what the hell . . .
- You can use more or less any fruit, but if using eating apples or any other firm fruit; you will need to precook to soften. The chances are that if it is crunchy when you put it in the oven, it will still be when it comes out!