This week has been a week for hibernating. The moment the clocks going back feels almost Cinderella-esque to me: at the stroke of midnight, darkness descends like a blanket, and I want to run away and hide. My mornings are so early that I don’t feel the benefit of the brighter starts, but feel keenly the gloom of my journeys home, my dark grocery shops, and my tentative steps out of the house any time after about 4pm.
Puddings weren’t a big part of my childhood, and when they were present, they tended to be shop-bought. I grew up with microwavable steamed puds, pre-made pies, and the finest cheesecakes that Marks and Spencer could provide. So I never really fell in love with crumble until my mid-twenties, and when I did, I didn’t have a clue how to make it.
The problem with learning to cook in the age of google is that it can feel like jumping into the deep end, blindfolded. How do you distinguish a good recipe from a bad? How many recipes is it possible to have the word ‘perfect’ or ‘ultimate’ attached to them? Why do so few recipes deliver on what they promise? It was only when I first stayed with my boyfriend’s family, the presence of crumble after sunday lunch was assumed, that I finally got an insight into how to go about this pudding.
This crumble was made with a calmness and lack of ceremony, an integral and unquestioned part of the Sunday lunch. The fat was rubbed into the flour, the fruits were laid, and the whole dish was scattered with all sorts of interesting nubbly bits and bobs.
This then I suppose is my homage to that crumble, filled with nuts and seeds. I like my crumble with a seam of salt through it, to work against the sweetness given up by the fruit when it stews, sinks down, and then bubbles back up. I love this simple fruit combination: mellow and fragrant pears, which retain slightly more bite than the tarter cooking apples lie nestled amongst salted caramel. When we were photographing this crumble, Sam rolled his eyes when I reached for the jar of salted caramel. ‘You used that just the other week!’ he said, accusingly. He’s right, I did but I employed it for the same purpose: to give a depth and contrast to what would otherwise be a super sweet dish, with just the right amount of bitter.
A lot of people feel very strongly about crumble. In Marcus Wareing’s ‘Perfect’ cookbook, his crumble recipe is literally only for the crumble itself, eschewing the stewed fruit entirely and just serving the buttery crumbs with custard. I haven’t yet gone quite that far, although there is probably more crumble on this one than on my not-in-law’s. I like it to be an almost 1:1 ratio of fruit to crumble, giving enough depth to protect the nubbly bits, and sufficient crumble to stand up to the juices given out by the fruit.
Squirrel crumbles takes its silly name not only from my craving it as the clocks change and I long to hibernate, but also from learning the hard way what happens if you fail to secrete the nuts beneath the surface of the crumble topping: burnt nuts are unsalvageable and when they burn, they burn quick thanks to their high fat content. So be squirrel-like and bury your nuts before they cook.
It goes like this:
Makes: 4 generous portions
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 30-40 minutes
For the filling
3 cooking apples
1 large pear
5 tablespoons salted caramel
For the crumble topping
150g plain flour
110g cold butter
1 teaspoon salt
50g ground almonds
25g soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Peel the apples and pear and chop into 1 inch chunks. Spread evenly in your crumble dish: you want a good thick layer or two of fruit, but remember you’re going to need to add a substantial layer of crumble, so distribute accordingly.
2. Spoon the salted caramel over the fruit.
3. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs, then add the salt, ground almonds and brown sugar and rub together until the mixture is even.
4. Add the oats, cinnamon, chopped pecans and pumpkin seeds. Pour over the fruit, distributing evenly across the dish. Make sure that none of the pecans are poking through. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar and bake for 30-40 minutes until the fruit is starting to quietly bubble up at the edges.
5. Ta dah!
Icing on the Cake
We ate this first with custard, as is only appropriate for a big fat crumble, but later with big perfect spheres of nutmeg ice cream.