Today’s dessert is a request of one of my closest friends, Z, whom I’ve known for over 10 years now. Among the numerous friendships I’ve had (and still have), this one in particular is special for the marked absence of trivial misunderstandings, over-sensitivity and a consistency of communication so remarkable considering the demands of our respective lives and the different timezones we (now) live in. In other words, it’s the kind of friendship that comes round ever so often, only showing its true self over an extended period of time. It’s a friendship that still leaves a warm fuzzy feeling, ten years on, akin to the comfort of eating an apple crumble straight from the oven.
I was fascinated with this dessert around the same time as my brownie ‘renegade’ phase and felt inspired to go it alone without the helpful voice of an experienced cook to guide me. My naïveté of the period is apparent when I referenced the suspiciously concise and cryptic recipe I diligently wrote out in a special ring-bound notebook, bringing to mind the ambiguous and brief French recipes that M talked about. Of course, there were helpful instructions like, “chop apples into small pieces and place in tray” and “sprinkle brown sugar (approx ¼ to ½ cup)” and “bake at 180C (350F) for 40 minutes”. But for everything else, like proportions for instance, there wasn’t much to go on. I was clearly putting my theoretical notions about the dish down on paper.
Fortunately, websites like Epicurious are on-hand to save the day, protecting us home cooks from the inevitable disasters that accompany attempts to bake from theoretical notions about flavors. I don’t usually add raisins or nuts to my version, but I’ve included them in the recipe below and feel free to throw them in if it suits your fancy. Or, you could also add in a couple of neglected bananas, like the version served at this uber-chic cafe in Singapore, which will certainly up the ‘mmmm’ factor by a couple of notches.
Apple Crumble (adapted from memory and aided by this Bon Appétit recipe)
Makes six 8-ounce ramekin servings
4 red gala apples, weighing approximately 4 pounds, peeled, pitted and chopped into small cubes
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
A handful of raisins and chopped almonds (optional)
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and softened
Pre-heat the oven to 350F/ 180C. Mix the apples, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl until each apple cube is completely coated with a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Add in the raisins and almonds, if using, and mix. Set aside.
In a medium-bowl, add the flour and the cubes of butter. Using the tips of your fingers, coat the butter in the flour and rub them into tiny morsels. Continue until the butter is completely mixed and the flour resembles coarse cornmeal.
Spoon the apple mixture into each ramekin, leaving a ½-inch gap from the top, then spoon the topping over the apples, completely covering the filling. Don’t worry if the crumbs overflow; the apple cubes and topping will shrink during baking.
Place the ramekins on a baking tray and bake them for 45 minutes, or until the tops turn a golden brown. Serve warm, topped with scoops of vanilla ice-cream.
You could also prepare the crumble in a baking dish, in which case I’d recommend using one that measures 9-by-9-by-1-inch. If you have extraordinary powers of self-control and somehow find yourself with leftovers, they can be kept refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen, and re-heated for future servings.