Also known as a fruit crisp in parts of North America a fruit crumble is one of Britain’s favourite desserts; a comforting bowl of cooked fruit topped with a layer of flour, sugar and fat crumbled together and baked in a hot oven.
It’s popularity grew enormously in the era of rationing during and after World War II, when a thin layer of crumble was an economic alternative to the volume of pastry needed to make a pie. Foraged and home grown fruit made it even more so.
A crumble is also wonderfully easy to make, especially versions where the fruit filling doesn’t need to be cooked ahead of assembly.
The most popular fruit for crumble is apple, often combined with blackberries or rhubarb, though I’ve also enjoyed crumbles made with peaches, plums or gooseberries. Cherry crumbles are less common, perhaps because the fruit is one that remains quite expensive here, even when its in season.
Recently I bought a bag of ‘sweet cherries’ at a local market that were anything but – far too sharp but with a lovely flavour beneath the acidity.
Although I do love the basic flour, sugar and butter crumble mix, I have come to prefer this version with rolled oats added to the mix. The combination of oats and flour makes for a topping that remains crisp and crumbly on top, but still provides that magical layer of gooey stodginess, where the crumble has sucked up some of the moisture from the fruit below.
I’m calling this a ‘crumble crisp’ because I love both the British and North American names for this dish, and combining them makes me smile.
Sweet Cherry Crumble Crisp
For the filling:
- 450 g pitted cherries , halved
- 25 g Demerara sugar (optional)
- 1 tbsp cherry brandy or other cherry liqueur (optional)
For the topping:
- 100 g plain flour
- 75 g unsalted butter
- 100 g Demerara sugar
- 50 g rolled oats
As I don’t have a cherry pitter, I halved each cherry and used the tip of the paring knife to help slip out the pip. Since the cherries sit more snugly together when halved, I recommend halving them even if you have a proper pitter.
Equipment: Our casserole dish has a 7 inch (18 cm) diameter, which results in a decent depth of fruit beneath a generous layer of topping. Using a larger dish will result in thinner layers and may require an adjustment to the cooking times. However, you can double the quantities and use a 10 inch (25 cm) diameter dish to make a larger crumble, if you prefer.
If the cherries are a little sharp, sprinkle with 25 grams of Demerara sugar, cover with cling film and set aside for an hour.
If you plan to bake the crumble as soon as it’s assembled, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Alternatively, you can prepare the crumble a few hours in advance, set aside, and bake in a preheated oven when required.
To create the crumble crisp topping, blend the flour and butter in a food processor for a few seconds until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Using the pulse function helps to distribute the butter evenly and ensure that the entire mixture is crumbled. If you don’t have a food processor or prefer to do this by hand make sure the butter is cold, cut it into small cubes and then rub the flour and butter together with your fingertips until the entire mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
Add the Demerara sugar and rolled oats to the flour and butter mixture and stir with a spoon or spatula. Be gentle enough not to compress the topping, but ensure that the oats and sugar are well mixed in.
If you are adding cherry brandy or liqueur to the cherries, pour the alcohol over the cherries, stir well and then transfer cherries to your baking dish (see above), making sure to include all the juices and liquid in the bowl.
Spread the crumble crisp topping evenly over the cherry filling. Don’t pat it down, the intention is for it to retain an aerated crumbly texture.
Bake in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the topping has taken on a golden colour.
Serve hot with custard, cream or vanilla ice cream.
What’s your favourite recipe for fresh cherries? Have you used them in a crumble or do you prefer a more traditional apple filling? And what do you think of adding oats into the topping? Let me know in the comments; I love hearing from you!
Other ideas for fresh, canned and dried cherries: