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Cooking

Just peachy

Variations on the classic fruit crumble.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

Amid rampant disagreement and confusion about what to call fruit baked under a sugar-flour topping, most dessert aficionados agree on one point: What is a fruit crisp to Americans is a fruit crumble to the British. Though I don’t want to be unpatriotic, I lean toward the British nomenclature because, quite honestly, the topping may be delicious, but it’s not truly crisp. It is, in fact, more crumbly.

For both flavor and texture, I skip the oatmeal called for in many recipes and go very heavy on the nuts instead. I also like to add a little baking powder, to lighten the topping. Either peaches or nectarines work well in these crumbles.

Continue reading below

TIP For the best texture, refrigerate the topping mixture to firm it up before spreading it over the fruit and baking. Don’t skip this step!

PEACH CRUMBLE WITH BRANDY, BROWN SUGAR, AND PECANS

Serves 6-8

This recipe replaces the exuded peach juices with brandy, but you shouldn’t discard them. Instead, use them to sweeten fruit salad, a cocktail, or even a glass of iced tea or seltzer. Serve the crumble with ice cream.

1/3 cup flour

½ cup light brown sugar

Salt

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces, cold

1 cup chopped pecans

3 pounds medium-large ripe-but-firm peaches (peeled if desired), pitted and cut into 1½-inch wedges (about 8 cups)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cognac or other brandy

1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon cornstarch

In a food processor, process the flour, 6 tablespoons of brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon each salt and cloves, the cinnamon, and baking powder to combine well. Add the butter and pulse to combine, just until the mixture begins to resemble wet sand, about 10 2-second pulses. Add the pecans and pulse to chop the nuts and combine, about 10 more 2-second pulses. Refrigerate the mixture until ready to use (at least 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a large strainer set over a large bowl, toss the peaches with the granulated sugar and a pinch of salt, and set aside to drain for about 1 hour, tossing once or twice.

With the rack in the center position, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Reserve the accumulated peach juice for another use. In that bowl, whisk the cognac, lemon juice, vanilla extract, cornstarch, and remaining ¼ teaspoon of cloves and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to dissolve. Add the peaches and toss to coat. Scrape the peach mixture into an 8-inch-square baking pan and spread into an even layer. Set the dish on a large rimmed baking sheet. Distribute the chilled topping mixture over the peaches, breaking it into pea- to marble-size chunks, and gently pat down the topping into a compact, even layer. Bake until the topping is deeply browned and the filling is bubbly around the edges, 22 to 28 minutes, rotating the crumble halfway through the baking time. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Variations

PEACH CRUMBLE WITH GINGER, LEMON GRASS, AND MACADAMIAS

Macadamias are lighter in color than pecans and they brown faster in the oven, so watch the topping closely after about the 20-minute mark.

Follow the recipe for Peach Crumble With Brandy, Brown Sugar, and Pecans, making the following changes:

1) Omit the ground cloves (in both the topping and filling mixtures).

2) In the topping mixture, substitute ¾ teaspoon ground ginger for the cinnamon and 1 cup chopped, roasted salted macadamias for the pecans.

3) Using a heavy skillet or saucepan, smash 2 fat stalks of lemon grass. Remove and discard the tough outer layers and very finely chop the white inner layers (you should have 3 tablespoons).

4) For the filling mixture, macerate and drain the peaches as directed. Omit the cognac and decrease the vanilla to ½ teaspoon and cornstarch to 2 teaspoons. In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice, vanilla, and cornstarch to make a paste. Mix the cornstarch paste, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger, and the chopped lemon grass with the macerated, drained peaches. Assemble and bake the crumble as directed.

PEACHES AND CREAM CRUMBLE WITH HONEY AND ALMONDS

Like the macadamias, almonds are lighter than pecans and they brown faster in the oven, so watch the topping closely after about the 20-minute mark. Since the filling is creamy, you may want to skip the ice cream accompaniment.

Follow the recipe for Peach Crumble With Brandy, Brown Sugar, and Pecans, making the following changes:

1) Omit the ground cloves (in both the topping and filling mixtures).

2) In the topping mixture, increase the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon and substitute 4 tablespoons granulated sugar for 4 tablespoons of the light brown sugar and 1 cup slivered or chopped blanched almonds for the pecans.

3) In a small skillet over medium-high heat, bring ¾ cup heavy cream to a strong simmer. Simmer, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet with a flexible spatula (to prevent the cream from foaming up and boiling over or sticking to the pan once reduced) until very thick (almost jamlike), hay-colored, and reduced to about ¼ cup, about 8 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of honey and whisk to melt the honey and combine.

4) For the filling mixture, macerate and drain the peaches as directed. Omit the cognac, increase the vanilla to 1½ teaspoons, and decrease the cornstarch to 2 teaspoons. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and cornstarch to the cream mixture, and whisk to combine. Add the cream mixture to the macerated, drained peaches, and toss to coat. Assemble and bake the crumble as directed.

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