One of my first ever recipes on this blog was for a rhubarb crumble, spiced with star anise and vanilla and served with homemade custard. While rhubarb crumble is a celebration of spring, this recipe is the ultimate, turbo-charged celebration of autumn. I mentioned the combination in that first post about crumble: a mixture of apples, pears, plums and brambles. These fruits are the absolute joys of autumn produce and come in a wide variety throughout the season, so you can make this recipe slightly differently each time. Use blackberries instead of wild brambles (though picking wild brambles is another joy of autumn in itself), use eating apples instead of cooking apples, use whatever types of ripe plums you can find at the shops.
One ingredient I highly recommend making the effort to get hold of is a bag of damsons, which are tiny darkest-blue plums that have an incredible jammy texture when cooked. They’re also quite sour after cooking, which balances out all the sweetness in the rest of the crumble. They are difficult to find in supermarkets, but you should have better luck getting them at a greengrocer.
I wished I’d had ground almonds in the cupboard when I made the crumble topping, as I think almonds go so well with fruits like pears and plums. Add a few tablespoons to the mixture with the oats if you have some. This makes a very generous quantity of crumble topping, which freezes very well, so if you don’t end up using it all just pop the remainder in a labelled plastic bag and store in the freezer for another time.
One year ago:
– Stewed apples and plums
Ingredients (makes one very large crumble to feed a crowd) 150g cold unsalted butter 250g plain flour 75g soft light brown sugar 50g oats 1.5kg autumn fruit (approximately – I used 3 cooking apples, 3 pears, 8 greengages and 3-4 handfuls each of damsons and brambles)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Cut the butter into small cubes.
Crumble has to be one of the ultimate comfort-food puddings. It’s simple, sweet and stodgy, plus anything that can be served with custard is already winning. The choice of the crumble base can be whatever fruit you fancy – apple crumble is a classic, gooseberry is my personal favourite and in the autumn it’s amazing with a seasonal combination of apples, pears, plums and brambles. Rhubarb is in season, roughly, between late December and June. Forced rhubarb, which has been grown in the dark, has beautiful bright pink stalks and pale yellowish leaves and is available in the earlier months of the year. This was what I saw on the shelves on Sunday and it had to be mine. The smell of fresh rhubarb reminds me of being little and dipping raw stalks into mounds of sugar – sometimes the simple things in life are the best.
This was my first attempt at home made custard, and I have to say it was easy-peasy. This is not a boast – I guarantee you that, provided you can whisk and stir, you can make homemade custard too.
I think that one of the nice things about crumble is that you can tailor the topping to your own tastes and whatever you have in the cupboards. If you like a plain topping then just go by my mum’s basic recipe of 250g flour, to 125g butter and 60g sugar. Otherwise get creative – oats, ground almonds, flaked almonds, pine nuts, desiccated coconut, sesame seeds, even granola, are all delicious.
Ingredients (serves 6 to 8) 4 sticks of rhubarb, about 400g 40g golden caster sugar Zest of 1 orange 1 star anise
A few grinds of ground vanilla beans or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
150g plain flour 50g ground almonds 125g chilled butter, cut into small cubes 40g oats 30g pine nuts
60g light brown muscovado sugar
500ml milk 4 egg yolks 70g caster sugar
1½ tbsp cornflour
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Chop the rhubarb into pieces approximately 2-3 inches long. Lay snuggly in a baking dish and sprinkle with the golden caster sugar, orange zest, star anise and vanilla.
Roast for 20 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and the sugar has melted into a pink syrup.
2. Add the chopped butter to the flour and ground almonds. Use your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour and almonds. The aim is to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients so that you are left with a “breadcrumb” texture.
3. Mix in the oats, pine nuts and brown sugar.
4. Whisk together the egg yolks, caster sugar and flour. Heat the milk in a saucepan until just at the boiling point, then remove from the heat.
5. Add the hot milk to the egg yolks a little at a time, whisking continuously – no scrambled eggs here please! Put the mixture back on a low heat for 5-10 minutes. Make sure you stir constantly and remove from the heat as soon as the mixture is thick, so as to avoid the horror of lumpy custard.
6. Spoon the crumble topping over the roasted rhubarb and bake for 30 minutes (still at 200C/180C fan/Gas 6) until the topping is golden brown and the rhubarb juice is starting to bubble up the sides.
If you want to make the custard ahead of time then a good tip is to transfer the custard to a jug or bowl and cover with cling film directly touching the custard. This stops the custard forming a skin on top. When you are ready to eat, put the custard back into a pan and reheat slowly. Or serve the custard cold – this might gross some people out, but personally I think cold custard is the food of gods.
We enjoyed this on Sunday night after dinner, sat in front of the last episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones (mum and dad are catching up). So excited for the new season to start!
Would you put crumble near the top of your comfort-food list? What are your favourite crumble flavours?