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Would you like some apple with that crumble?

Apple and pear crumble

Apple crumble was probably one of the first desserts I learnt to make; it is very simple, so I assume this is why Dad trusted me to do it. I cannot remember whether he taught me or just told me what went in it, but either way at some point it became my job rather than his when someone in the family (read sister) demanded crumble.

Over the years my version has become known as “crumble apple” because the crumble is really the central feature, the apple a token gesture to the dishes origins*. And why not? Everyone knows the crumble is the best bit! Indeed, the name crumble apple isn’t even especially accurate, because very often I include other fruits as well. I have always been very big on berries, as has my sister, so it was ‘crumble berry apple’ for most of our teenage years, and later when I became more adventurous, ‘crumble apple plum’ ...or rhubarb ...or pear.

Some may think this recipe too simple to warrant a post and it is true that it is fairly intuitive. It is for this reason that when asked in the past for my recipe (most frequently by Miss Ger-al-din-uhhh) I have not been particularly forthcoming. As she remembers it, I used to say that it was a secret family recipe, but the truth is there wasn’t one. I would just use as much fruit as I had, pick a dish depending on that, and then make an absurd amount of crumble to top it.

Part of the reason for the absurd proportions is that I have always made the crumble according to the way it felt between my fingers; most recipes say it should be like breadcrumbs, but this implies a very floury mixture and I prefer a higher proportion of butter in the recipe so that it becomes crispier when baked. Getting it to the right consistency meant adding a bit more of this and a bit more of that until it felt just right. It also meant that I always ended up with rather a lot, but no one was complaining, so I continued to make it that way.

In order to write this recipe, I have made the dish in the usual way, adding a bit of this and that, but taking measurements as I go. I used this pyrex dish (approx 27x18x6cm) for this recipe, which feeds approximately 6 to 8 people. Since dishes come in all shapes and sizes it is worth advising that a good rule of thumb is to fill the dish you will be using twice with the whole fruit or 1.5 times with the peeled, cored and sliced fruit. You can then adjust the crumble recipe accordingly.

* As ever, I felt obliged to check what the dishes origins actually are. As it turns out, apple does not play a particularly significant role, crumble having been developed in World War II as a substitute for pies, either sweet or savoury, so as to use less of the pastry ingredients... but ‘a token gesture to tradition’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.


For the stewed fruit

1.5kg apples and/or other fruit
¼ - ½ cup water, depending on whether you are using soft fruit
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Sugar, to taste (usually between ½  and 1 cup)


For the crumble

100g muscovado or light brown sugar
125g plain white flour
125g rolled oats
75g butter, room temperature
1 tsp cinnamon, or to taste
Handful walnut pieces, toasted (optional)



Preheat the oven to 180C.

Prepare the fruit by peeling, coring, and/or pitting where necessary, and slicing to the desired thickness.

Put a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat and add the fruit, water and cinnamon stick, if using one. Leave to simmer until soft (about 10 to 15 minutes). Check for sweetness, then add the sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, taste again and adjust as necessary. Remove from heat.

While the fruit is cooking, prepare the crumble. Put the sugar, flour and oats in a large mixing bowl and give a quick stir to combine. Add the butter and rub it into the dry ingredients with your fingers until fully integrated; the mixture should be like delicate biscuit dough, when you press it firmly in your palm it should hold together, but then easily disintegrate into smaller chunks when released into the bowl. Add the cinnamon and nuts, if you are using them, and mix again with your hands to combine.

Put the stewed fruit into your chosen dish and sprinkle the crumble over the top. Bake for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crumble is crisp and golden brown on top.

Serve with cream, vanilla ice cream, or custard.

If just using apples, I tend to use one or two cooking apples along with some firm dessert apples to make it more interesting texturally; the cooking apples tend to turn to mush, while the dessert apples hold their shape in soft slices. If you are using soft fruits, such as plums or berries, there is no need, since the soft fruits lose shape when cooked, standing in for the mushy cooking apples.

I have not specified the type of sugar, because any will do. My preference is for light brown sugar, since it has nice rounded flavour, but does not taint the colour of fruit, like muscovado.

If you are making the crumble in advance, don't put the crumble on top until just before it goes in the oven;  the crumble can become soggy if left too long on the fruit.

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Reader Comments (3)

i remember vicky making me a whole dish of crumble (and i mean JUST the crumble) as a thank you and payment in return to feeding her cat while she and her family were away on holidays... the stuff's worth gold and i humbly accepted it as such :)

i am so excited to discover the recipe after yeeeears of mystery "family secret".....!

i hope you all enjoy and remember to thank ME for the years of tireless nagging!!

September 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGéraldine

I made this the other day too! Do you know i think it might have been the first time ive ever made crumble...i think ive always relyed on you to do it for me!! haha
I used apples and then as i simply cant eat anything without somesort of raspberry included and as they are out of season...instead of using sugar i put in raspberry jam (the new zealand good stuff) and it was super tasty!

June 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercharlie Brown

What a great idea for a substitute! But you are right to mention that it was the anathoth cause it might not work with any old jam; that stuff is class! Glad you finally did it! Hope you are not replacing me in other ways ;) Big love. x

June 8, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

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