Strawberries – a sweet reminder that summer is in hot pursuit, blazing trails of magical colour, tan lines and garden parties in the sun. Juicy berries so potently saturated in colours that radiate life and vitality.
Strawberries are like nature’s official flagging-off to the season of long sunny days that stretch before us. But not where I live.
Here, where summers are brutal and endless sunny days stretch on endlessly into oblivion, strawberries are an expensive indulgence. You load them up in your cart foreseeing a delectably dessert bound future for them, also knowing that they will be the first casualties at the checkout if you’re already running up a big bill.
That is why I almost never make even the simplest desserts with strawberries. So, there’ve not been any strawberry cakes, bars, cheesecakes, shortcakes… And pies, absolutely not; that’s a whole other area ridden with an endless possibility of glitches that I wouldn’t even dream of subjecting my pint of very juicy, very expensive (I already mention that?) strawberries to. Add to that, I’ve yet to bake a pie to wow a crowd. I literally cannot afford to botch up the attempt. So all this time, hull and munch has been the way to go for strawberries.
Till I discovered the ingenuity of the crumble, which allows you to enjoy the lusciousness of baked fruit in less time that it probably takes you to plow through this preamble to the recipe. Well, stick with me for a few more minutes, will ya?
Anyway for me a fruit crumble is an ideal starting point to explore the almost always volatile territory of baked fruit desserts without having to worry too much about the visual appeal of the final result or the end result, period. The worst that could happen in a crumble is that the mixture could turn into a berry bicsuity mush. Well, been there, done (ate) that – just a few days ago, in fact. Of course I would have loved for it to have been more than a pile of baked berries compacted into a squashy mess, but it was a first attempt so we’re allowed at least a few of those, think.
I did learn a lot though from that failed attempt. Things like timing and temperature, to pile the crumble mixture liberally over the fruit otherwise the juices will rise up and flood your crumble.
Anyway I set out to make this crumble the following day. And I must say the second that warm scent of strawberries, vanilla and coconut hit me, I sensed something turned out right. There was that excited confidence – of having almost nailed it – coupled with an anxious curiosity to find out how things were getting on in the oven. After thirty-five minutes I could stand the suspense no longer. I eased the oven door open for a sneak peek and it was such satisfaction to see those sweet berry juices bubbling thickly up to the rim and spilling over as any decent fruit crisp should. The topping was beautifully browned and crumbled like a slab of thick, nutty shortbread when you scooped out a spoonful. I could see a few areas that needed tweaking but saved the critiquing for later to savour the moment.
That crumble didn’t last long enough for me to get decent pictures. Anyway about that deep purple interior of the crisp that’s probably puzzling your marbles out (`cause I did mention strawberries) I added a few handfuls of blueberries too and their dark blue magic took over the crumble.
Now for the post-op critique: First up this is almost entirely gluten and dairy free. Not that I’m at all diet-conscious come dessert making time, but every once in a while I feel up to the exercise. Especially when working with fruit, I’d like to keep some component of the final outcome healthy. So I will swap nuts for flour or use whole wheat, honey for sugar… you get the gist. The best part is that in a crumble you can do that while still keeping the integrity of the concept more or less intact.
A couple of things I would do differently are cut back on the baking time, because I really like the berries to hold their shape – albeit barely – against their slick, syrupy juices. I would also go a little light handed on the topping; I was afraid of making the same mistake as the last time and really packed it on. This crumble venture could go to round three, but I feel emboldened enough to make a berry pie. Let’s see how that goes.
Nutty Berry Crisp
Before we proceed to the recipe, I must point out that a lot of these measurements for the topping are approximations, which is another advantage in making a crumble. At the end of the day, what you want is a mixture that holds together when pressed in the palm of your hand and breaks away into dampened clumps when crumbled through your fingers. This will give you a topping with a nice short texture and buttery bite. Ok, here we go.
- 3 cups (approx.) of sliced strawberries and blueberries
- 1 tablespoon of corn flour
- 1 tablespoon or so of maple syrup or honey depending on how sweet the berries are
For the crust
- ½ cup plus 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/3 cup of ground almonds
- 2/3 cups of oats
- ¼ c of granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon of softened butter
- 3-4 teaspoons of organic, cold-pressed coconut oil
(I also used one cup of a previously made crumble mix – which was a mixture of ground almonds; whole meal corn flour; a tablespoon of ground flaxseed; vanilla and a bit of coconut oil)
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius
- Toss the berries with the maple syrup; add the corn flour and tip them into a baking dish
- Pulse the ingredients for the crust in a food processor till it all starts to clump together
- Distribute the crumble topping evenly over the berries, pop into the preheated oven and bake till the topping is toasty brown and juices start to bubble – about 30 – 35 minutes.
- Once done remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 45 minutes so all those juices can thicken and settle.