As a ‘flavor person,’ I have a hard time understanding how the texture of a food can cause one to dislike said food, assuming they find the flavor pleasing. But people have aversions to all kinds of comestibles for this reason: avocados, eggplant, mushrooms, sushi. I even know one fellow who refuses to touch anything creamy, eschewing even such heavenly substances as ice cream and burrata.
And yet a bite of this plum crumble threatened to turn me into a texture person, in a good way.
I’ve made, and eaten, many fruit crisps in my life; with a scoop of melty ice cream, they come in at the top of my personal dessert hierarchy, both to make and to eat.
The crisp is one dessert where texture particularly counts: the fruit portion should be soft and juicy, but not soupy or overly-liquid. The crisp part should be buttery and delicate, but substantial enough to live up to its name.
This recipe on Molly’s blog from two years ago caught my eye, and despite its unconventional mixing method, I decided to make it because of its creds: Luisa gave it rave reviews, and Molly liked it so well that she put it on the menu at her hubby’s restaurant.
She describes the topping as ‘cookie-like,’ which I had a hard time imagining, but the description makes sense as, unlike most crisps, but like most cookies, it contains both egg and baking powder.
It looked so simple that I decided to make it when my über-talented and angelic friend Stephen offered to come shoot me in my kitchen (photographically, that is). (This was probably the fastest recipe I’ve ever made for this site, as I didn’t have to keep stopping to wash my hands and take pictures. Can I have a personal camera crew for my birthday, please?)
As for the unconventional mixing method: Plums are tossed with small amounts of sugar, flour, and candied ginger, then laid in a baking dish. The flour and sugar for the topping get rubbed with egg until sandy, then sprinkled over the plums. The butter is melted separately and then, get this, drizzled over the topping. It doesn’t seem like it should work.
But then you pull the crisp from the oven, all bubbly and perfect-crisp-looking, and you use a spoon to crack through the topping. And you bite into the crunchiest crumble you’ve ever tasted. The topping is crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy where it dips down into the tender fruit, like a big ginger cookie, only rustic and pebbly. In fact, I’ve a mind to call this a ‘plum crunch’ rather than a crumble. Or maybe ‘plum chrunchle.’ But I’d fear my reputation.
Plums and ginger make a stellar combination, the spice and heat of the ginger somehow heightening and softening, at the same time, the sweet tang of the plums. The flavors are all at once bright and comforting, new and familiar. The word ‘zingy’ leaps to mind.
I’ve baked this twice in the past week, not because I needed to adjust anything in the recipe, but just because I couldn’t stop thinking about it and needed to have more. Also unlike most things that I bake, I didn’t share it with anyone (excepting Jay), and though at first I regretted Stephen leaving before the crisp had finished its stint in the oven, I later rejoiced because it meant more crumble for me.
Also unlike most crisps, this one is just as good cold from the fridge; the ginger flavor comes forward, and the topping retains its crunch. It keeps surprisingly well for several days. I find it perfectly sweetened, and not at all inappropriate for breakfast with a big spoonful of plain yogurt.
I keep thinking of the crunchy texture of the topping, how pleasing it is to eat.
I just pray I don’t turn into a texture person for good. Because I really like tomatoes.
Because I like a high fruit-to-crisp ratio, I added more plums to the recipe, in the form of 4 elephant hearts in addition to the 12 sugar plums. The rest I made to the letter of Molly’s adaptations. Molly says you can triple the recipe and bake the crumble in a 9×13″ pan to feed a crowd (or maybe just yourself…) I like crisps served with something cold and creamy; plain yogurt or crème fraîche for breakfast, or sour cream, vanilla or yogurt-honey ice cream for dessert. For a gluten-free variation, use the topping from this Gluten-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble.
The plum filling:
2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
1 3/4 pounds plums (12 Italian prune plums plus 4 elephant hearts), halved, pitted, elephant hearts halved again
The crunchy topping:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg, beaten well
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Position a rack in the center of your oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flavorings for the plums: brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and candied ginger. Add the plums, and gently stir to coat. Arrange the plums in an ungreased, deep 9″ pie plate or 10″ solid tart pan.
In another medium bowl (or the same one, scraped fairly clean), combine the dry ingredients for the topping: the granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend well. Add the egg. Using your hands, mix thoroughly, squeezing and tossing and pinching handfuls of the mixture, to produce moist little particles. Sprinkle evenly over the plums.
Use a spoon to drizzle the butter evenly all over the topping. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any wayward juices.
Place the crumble in the oven and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and the juices from the plums are bubbling. Cool slightly.
Serve the crumble warm or at room temperature, or even cold, with ice cream, crème fraîche, thick yogurt, or unsweetened whipped cream.
The crumble will keep in the fridge for a few days. Eat it cold, or re-warmed in a 300º oven before serving.