On the eve of August you may be wondering what to do with all the incredible stone fruits and berries arriving fast and furious at your local farmer's market. The following recipe for crisp topping, easy to assemble and substitution friendly, is baking at it's most streamlined, straightforward and "I can't bake"-proof.
I don't normally take requests, but after my Pie II Crust Revisited post on Eggbeater where I went through making pie dough point by point, a reader asked that I write about crisp topping as her own recipe was not quite up to snuff. My delicious crisp topping stems from working with Claudia Fleming at Gramercy Tavern. We served an exceptional apple and cranberry crisp that, although it was created to serve two, was one of our most popular desserts on chilly fall nights.
If you've had a chance to pick up the Spring 2006 issue of Edible San Francisco, you know that the crisp recipe resides in there as well. But for the requester, who lives in Australia, and those of you unable to pick up this new local mag, here's the recipe again.
3 C All Purpose Flour
1/2 C Sugar
1/2 C Dark Brown Sugar
1/2-3/4 C Nuts, lightly toasted and rough chopped
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ground or Crushed Cardamon
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
8 oz. Unsalted Butter, melted
1. Put all ingredients, except butter, in a large bowl.
2. Stir with hands to mix, breaking apart clumps of brown sugar with fingers.
3. Melt butter.
4. Make "well" in center of bowl and pour butter in while it's still hot.
5. Stir in butter with wooden spoon or spatula.
6. Finish incorporating butter into all of the drys with hands.
7. On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, lay out raw crisp topping and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
8. When you are ready to make the crisp, preheat oven to 400F.
9. Assemble filling, sprinkle on as much or as little crisp topping as you like, set baking dish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (your "dish-washer" will thank you later!)
10. Bake until topping has browned and filling is bubbling up. If you are making a large crisp I suggest you check in on it about 15-20 minutes into the baking time. If you're topping is gaining more color than you'd prefer, turn the pan around and turn the heat down to 350F.
Crisp topping can be kept in a tightly covered container for upwards of a month refrigerated. (I have even kept it longer.) This recipe can be doubled, tripled or more.
The filling is completely up to you! I picked up rhubarb, plums, nectarines, blackberries and raspberries at the market Friday and whipped up a fabulous filling. I add the sugar to taste, as it depends on the sweet or puckeriness of the fruits on hand, and sometimes a dash of lemon zest shavings. I tend to like my fruit to taste like itself, not like the sweetener, so I err on the bright side. I rely on the topping to carry in the sweet crispy layer.
I'm a big fan of walnuts in the crisp topping and I pre-toast them so as to add an extra dimension to the crisp topping besides texture. If you have them, hazelnuts would be gorgeous, especially with stone fruits, and I've not tried peanuts or pecans, but I can only imagine what great choices they would make.
Sometimes I brown my butter slightly, toss in a bit of mace for deepened spiciness, or omit the ubiquitous cinnamon altogether in favor of secret ground toasted coriander. Suffice to say light brown sugar could be substituted for the dark and the sugar in the filling could be any sort you desired as well. I don't much use whole wheat flour but it might be a new take, and I always love me some flavorful corn meal!
The signature difference in this recipe is that the butter is melted. What this means is that the crisp topping actually crisps in the oven because the fat source has permeated every grain of flour and sugar. The preparation of cutting cold butter into flour, as is the case in many crisp topping recipes, creates a topping that melts into the fruit juices, therefore producing a gooey, unbaked layer of flour-butter-sugar lumps between hot fruit and still tender topping.
In this recipe you bake the crisp is a fairly hot oven because all you are really baking is the topping. In a crisp or cobbler there's no need for a starch thickener as one eats these desserts in a bowl, hence no pressure for them to stand upright.
Have fun with your seasonal fresh fruit crisp. Make too much topping to always have some on hand. Try it with different spices, intriguing nuts, alternative sweeteners, and please report back and let us all know how it went!