Snow! It’s snowing in London. After spending 3 weeks in Southeast Asia, travelling around Thailand and Cambodia, sweating in 30° tropical temperatures, I return to London only to find the other extreme: freezing cold, icy winds – and now snow.
So, on top of having to deal with jetlag and everyday reality kicking in again, I now also have to work on keeping my toes and fingers warm! Fortunately, my oven’s here to help! When faced with sub-zero temperatures, there is really no better friend around that a good old oven, right?
Now, the question is – what to bake? The ultimate comfort food, the one that always makes me feel better – no matter how much crap is happening or how cold it’s getting – is a good, traditional crumble. A melting fruit base topped with buttery crumble is just the ultimate feel-good food. Snuggle up with a cup of tea, hot crumble, some creamy custard and the Sunday papers – and the world is a better place again…
This crumble combines my favourite fruit: apples and pears. I also decided to throw in some dried dates – just because they were lying around (leftovers from a spinach and date stuffed chicken breast) and I thought they’d fit nicely. Don’t go out of your way to buy some specially for this crumble though. Why not try and just use some dried plums, cranberries or even cherries? Or add a handful of fresh blueberries? Or simply stick with the apples and pears!
You can also put a few bits of marzipan into the fruit mix. My friend Emma is particularly fond of marzipan, so every time I make a crumble for her, it’s stuffed with marzipan.
Another key ingredient is the cinnamon! I just love cinnamon, and it’s the perfect winter warming spice. I also used a few star anise. Again, don’t go out of your way to buy some for this crumble, but if you happen to have some, throw them in (but warn your guests before they dig in – otherwise they might bite on a hard, aniseedy surprise…).
Custard is the ultimate companion to a mean crumble. If you don’t have the time, patience or guts to make your own, buy some nice, luxury custard, or some vanilla ice cream.
Apple and Pear Crumble with Custard
makes enough for 4 hungry eaters
For the crumble filling:
3 bramley apples
10 dried dates
juice of 1 lemon
80g demerara sugar
1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon (add more if you love cinnamon)
3 star anise (optional)
For the crumble pastry:
100g chilled butter
25g demerara sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
50g pecan nuts
For the custard:
250ml single cream
1 vanilla pod
3 egg yolks
5 tbsp sugar
Preheat the oven to 200° celsius.
Start by preparing the crumble filling: peel, core and dice the apples and pears and put them in a bowl. Slice open the dates, take out the stone and chop each date into 8 pieces. Add to the apples and pears.
Pour the lemon juice over the fruit, and mix with the sugar and cinnamon and star anise (if using). Pour the mixture into one big ovenproof glass dish, or divide between 4 little dishes.
Now make the crumble pastry. Cut the chilled butter into little cubes and put into a bowl. Add the flour. Wash your hands and get in there: rub the butter and flour until the mix starts resembling coarse breadcrumbs (or fine one if you prefer your crumble fine).
Add the sugar and cinnamon. Dry-roast the pecans and add to the crumble mix. Mix it all well and spread over the fruit. Bake the crumble for 45 minutes until the topping is golden and the fruit is tender.
While the crumble is baking, make the custard.
Pour the cream into a saucepan. Cut the vanilla pod down its length and add to the cream. Heat the cream so that the cream is nearly boiling. Take off the heat and cover for 20 minutes.
Remove the vanilla pod (scraping out any vanilla seeds that haven’t come out yet) and check whether the cream is still warm. If not, reheat it until it’s warm to the touch (but you don’t burn yourself when sticking a finger in).
In a bowl, mix the egg yolks and the sugar. Pour the warm cream over the eggs – while constantly whisking with an electric whisk. You need to make sure that the eggs don’t split, so keep on whipping. Once all the cream is incorporated, rinse your pot and pour the cream mixture back into it. Put the pot back over a medium heat (or a bain marie in case you’re using gas), and heat the cream under constant whisking until it becomes thick. This takes about 10 minutes.
Once the custard has thickened, take it off the heat and plunge the pot into cold water in the sink and whisk for another minute. Pour custard into a jug and serve immediateley, or cover with cling film until you use it. The custard will firm up if you let it rest, and become thicker – so leave it for 10-15 minutes if you prefer thick custard.
Serve custard with the hot crumble.