Cooking with SF Cooking School: Fresh Fruit Crisp

By Jodi Liano | April 28, 2014
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You know that feeling when you walk into a dinner party and say, “I brought the salad”? Eh—it’s fine. But do you know that feeling when you walk into a dinner party and say, “Here’s dessert”? Right—so much better, isn’t it?

About this time of year I start to yen for spring and summer fruit. First it’s cherries, rhubarb and strawberries, just the smell makes me swoon. Around the corner are bush berries and stone fruit and I simply can’t get enough of them. Problem is, I see them at the market and I admittedly over buy. Pounds of berries, dozens of apricots and stalks of rhubarb, all purchased with good intentions but my family of three couldn’t possibly consume it all.

Invite me to dinner and I will take all this incredible fruit and turn it into a crisp. This is the dessert for non-bakers: little work for lots of reward. There is no fine technique here, it’s rustic at its finest and I couldn’t love it more.

In its purest form, a crisp is simply cooked fruit topped with a nubby crumble. What draws me to the dessert is the balance of textures: Soft, yielding fruit is coated in a layer of crunchy, sweet crumbs and together they create a perfect marriage.

So why the freezer with all this talk of fresh fruit? Well, the best secret around is that the crumble topping can be made in big batches, sealed in an airtight container and stored in the freezer. Friends call and invite you to dinner tonight? No problem—throw your fruit in a baking dish and scoop the frozen crumble mixture over the top. Bake it off and dessert is done.
Home solo and need to use those last few nectarines that are just a shy over-ripe? Chop them into a ramekin, top them with your crumble and dessert for one comes together in no time. I keep a huge zip-top bag of the stuff in my freezer all spring and summer long.

A traditional crumble topping is flour, butter and sugar. I like even more texture so I add both oats and nuts but you can play with these variations to create your own favorite. No mixer needed either. Mixing the crumble is best done with your hands so you keep some pieces of butter intact and the bits are about the size of an almond. Remember, this isn’t piecrust; it’s crumbs, so keep it that way. Once combined you can use it right away, or store it tightly covered in the freezer for up to 3 months. The recipe below makes enough for one batch but can easily be multiplied to make a lot more.

Fruit is absolutely a matter of taste. Pears and apples work just fine; cut them in pieces about 1 inch to ensure they cook enough but aren’t so small they turn to mush. Soft stone fruits should be bigger; I like mine in pieces about 2–3 inches; and berries can be whole or, with strawberries, halved. It helps to toss your fruit with a bit of flour or cornstarch. This will thicken any of the natural juices that come out when it cooks. Sugar can be added too; just taste your fruit and use as much as you think it needs, anywhere from a tablespoon to 1⁄2 cup.

The crisp bakes until the fruit juices bubble around the edges and the topping is golden brown. Let it cool for 5–10 minutes before you serve it and drizzle the top with softly whipped cream, crème fraîche, yogurt, or just let it shine on its own. Oh, and don’t forget that the leftovers are sublime for breakfast the next day. You are now officially the star of that next dinner party (let someone else bring the salad).

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