Fruit Crumbles: The Lazy Man's Pie


Photo by Maria Robledo

To try two variations on the plum-raspberry crumble, click here for the recipes.

Fruit crumbles are the lazy man's pie: Nothing more than fruit baked with a crunchy, buttery topping of sugar, flour, butter, and ground almonds, they offer many of pie's satisfactions with much less work. They work just about any time of year, with any fruit that happens to be great.

In late summer and September, I make them using the last peaches, plums, figs, and raspberries of the season, often mixing in a pinch of fragrant lavender flowers that blossomed a few weeks before. In the chill of winter, I turn to local apples, pears, or cranberries (with plenty of sugar to balance their tartness). In deep spring into early summer, strawberry-rhubarb crumbles connect me to the season. High summer brings endless combinations of berries--blackberries, blueberries, raspberries--with apricots, nectarines, and peaches.

Once you know the gist, you can start to improvise your own unique combinations of fruit, nuts, and flavorings.

The basic method for making a crumble is simple: toss 5 or 6 cups of sliced fruit (peeled if desired) with sugar and lemon juice according to its sweetness, and bake under the nut topping. For juicy fruits such as peaches and berries, add 2 tablespoons flour. Once you know the gist, you can start to improvise your own unique combinations of fruit, nuts, and flavorings.

Flavor the fruit filling with vanilla extract, rum, cognac, rosewater, or orange flower water; pinches of herbs for unusual contrast; and, of course, spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and orange or lemon zest. Or replace the almonds in the topping with sliced hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts. (You can prepare the topping several days ahead and keep it in a jar in the fridge to use at a moments notice.)

Serve warm in a bowl, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of creme fraiche or whipped cream, and a big spoon.

Plum-Raspberry Crumble

A pinch of lavender lends a lovely, delicate flavor to the warm plum and raspberry filling.

Serves 6

• 1/2 cup sliced almonds
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
    • 1 1/2 pounds ripe plums, cut into 1/2-inch slices
    • 2 cups raspberries
    • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • Scant 1/4 teaspoon lavender flowers (optional)
    • Whipped Cream, vanilla ice cream, or frozen yogurt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the topping, spread the almonds on a baking sheet. Roast until they are just golden and fragrant, 6 to 7 minutes (do not allow the nuts to brown past golden). Set aside to cool.

In a food processor, grind the nuts, flour, sugar, and salt to a medium-fine meal. Transfer to a medium bowl. With your fingers, work in the butter by pinching and rubbing the mixture until it is very crumbly. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

In a 10-inch gratin dish, combine the plums with the raspberries. Toss with the flour and the granulated sugar. Sprinkle the lemon juice, vanilla, and lavender over the fruit and toss again. Spread the fruit in the dish and spread the topping evenly over it.

Bake until the fruit is bubbling and the top is browned, about 40 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover lightly with foil. Serve warm or room temperature.