Ok, so I was a bit over-excited about the news of my new niece from New Zealand last night and not being very focused when I was making a celebratory apple crumble for dessert. I was also in a rush to make the topping while The Scientist was dishing up the soup he'd made for the main course. So I blitzed the topping ingredients for too long in the food processor (serves me right for cutting corners instead of rubbing the fat in by hand as I usually do) and we ended up with cake batter for our topping. The Scientist and a friend we had visiting both insisted it would be fine, so I daubed it over the apples and stuck it in the oven. They were right. It wasn't crumble, but the topping got quite nice and crunchy (a little too crunchy to be completely aesthetically pleasing if truth be told) but it made for a nice contrast with the apples which is one of the nice things about crumble anyway. I'd wanted to make a crumble because it's so heartily and quintessentially English, but the English do lots of other variants on fruit and toppings, and I decided that this one could be an Eve's Pudding. I don't know what an Eve's Pudding is except that there is one, and I like the name :) I don't wish to know if it's some weird bread or suet-based thing; leave me in my blissful ignorance.
Crumble is one of those puddings which seems to have close cousins in other cultures but not be quite the same. I am always confused about what American slumps, cobblers and grunts are, for example - are they our crumbles by another name, a New World evolution, or a completely different dessert altogether? A crumble is just flour, sugar and butter, rubbed in together to form a crumbly consistency and scattered over the top of some fruit. As Nigel Slater, whose topping recipe I used this time says, this combination of ingredients 'magically produces comfort food of the first order.' I never had it as a child, I don't think, but The Scientist would most heartily concur, and I have come to relish it as well. Most soft fruit can go in as it is, but apples are generally cooked briefly to soften with some butter and sugar. And then of course you can go wild with additions - cinnamon, vanilla, ginger with either fruit or topping, oats or ground almonds in the crumble, topping packed down for extra crunch or left loose, served with cream, custard or ice cream. In our house The Scientist rules that crumble should be unadulterated by oats or almonds, although spices in with the fruits are acceptable. He will address himself seriously to any combination of fruits, but apples are a particular favourite. And his accompaniment of choice is always - always - cream. I think. Occasionally he foxes me by choosing something else in a pub or restaurant, but that seems to be the rule at home. Nigel's recipe came from Real Fast Puddings, although the quantities are pretty standard. I didn't actually weigh out the fruit: I used this quantity of topping with three very large Bramley apples, peeled, cored and sliced, and softened in a pan with a bit of butter and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon for five or ten minutes. It made four healthy portions. Nigel recommends tasting the apples before sugaring, as even cooking apples can be quite sweet nowadays. He also stipulates demerara sugar when using apples but I didn't have any to hand, so I used regular caster which probably means he wouldn't want to be associated with this recipe any more. Apologies Mr Slater. And if you blitz the topping up for too long it becomes Eve's Pudding instead (that's my name for it, and I'm sticking to it). It was still nursery-supper and jolly-hockey-sticks tasty anyway, and a pudding that can forgive distractions of new nieces is a good pudding in my book.
Here's my baking buddy, Noodle, in a disgraceful state after helping us dispatch the bottle of new niece champagne. I like to keep corks from memorable occasions and write on them what we were celebrating. See how there are two dates on this one? It's because she was born on the 18th here, but the 19th in NZ. I think that's two parties and two cakes for the foreseeable future...
Apple crumble (based on Nigel Slater's Real Fast Puddings)
I include the ounce measurements as well as grams as they are so much easier to remember!
150g/6oz plain flour (Nigel actually suggests 40z flour and 20z rolled oats, but see above for The Rule in our house)
100g/40z demerara sugar [I used caster]
Whizz the flour and butter in the food processor for a few seconds till the mixture looks like crumbs. Stir in the oats, if using, and the brown sugar. Or, mix the flour and sugar by hand and then rub in the butter. Or, don't read the directions properly, put everything in the processor at once and then whizz for too long so it becomes batter.
Sprinkle [or dollop] over prepared fruit in an oven-proof dish and bake at 200C/400F/Gas 6 for 30 mins, or until crisp on top. Serve with single cream, double cream, ice cream or custard. Or Greek yogurt, Or plain. But not clotted Devon cream which The Scientist got in a pub once and found strangely repellent.