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Chefs have discovered crumble. There it used to be, sitting on the Sunday lunch table, or a much-loved feature of Friday-night dinner in homes across the land, blissfully ignored by chefs in every restaurant kitchen. But because people liked it so much, chefs had to find a way to take it to their collective bosom. In the process they have done their best to ruin it.
Crumble is best made in a large dish and less good scaled down, into individual portions, as chefs prefer. It’s difficult to fashion into an elegant shape; it is a sort of blodge, sitting in a bowl surrounded by custard or double cream – not the chef’s idea of art. The problem is compounded by texture: lovely crisp topping, gorgeous baked fruit underneath and a sort of soggy middle layer, which is the part that worries the chef. Its very imperfection is why we like it so much.
A few years ago some bright spark worked out how to circumvent this supposed problem. He baked his crumble separately from his fruit. Suddenly a world of deconstructed crumbles was born – piled into ring moulds, served in glasses, or as savouries. It was made to order – and consequently lost its soul.
Like all the best English puddings, a crumble needs a little tart edge. In summer, apricots and peaches, and later on, plums – damsons especially – are good. Then cooking apples, with or without blackberries, are the norm. After that, only one crumble is worthy of mention. Pears on their own are a little too sweet and yielding. Quinces, magnificent for their depth of flavour, are almost too rich for a comfort food. But slipping in an equal quantity of each produces that equanimity necessary for a happy doze in front of the television on an English Sunday afternoon.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Quince and pear almond crumble
Unripe pears will need to be cooked alongside the quince for 15-30 minutes, depending on just how unripe they are. Serves eight.
60g Muscovado sugar
375ml white wine
100g caster sugar
100g Muscovado sugar
75g ground almonds
50g flaked almonds
● Peel the quinces and bathe them in the juice of one of the lemons. Cut them in half and scoop out the cores with a teaspoon or melon baller and rub the cavities with the cut lemon. Place the quince halves in an ovenproof dish, cut side up, and sprinkle with the 60g of Muscovado sugar. Pour the white wine around the quinces and cover the dish securely with foil. Bake in a medium-hot oven (180C) for two hours. The fruit should turn a deep carmine pink colour and be tender when pierced with a knife.
● Cut the quinces into segments and lay back in the ovenproof dish. Peel and halve the pears, cut into segments the same size as the quinces and roll them in the juice of the second lemon. Mix with the quince and moisten with the poaching juice from the quinces without drowning the fruit.
● Mix the flour with the sugars and almonds. Cut the cold butter into very small cubes and add to the mix. Either rub the butter into the mix with the fingertips or blend briefly in a food processor on the “pulse” setting. Sprinkle this mixture over the fruit in the dish, distribute evenly and then bake in the same oven, at 180C, for 30 minutes. Serve, ideally, about 10 minutes after removing from the oven, with custard or cream.
1 vanilla pod or a few drops
of vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
● Split the vanilla pod and scrape its seeds into the milk. Add the pod and bring the milk to a simmer, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together, bring the milk back to the boil and pour on to the yolks in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Return to the heat and stir very carefully with a wooden spoon until you feel the mixture start to thicken. As soon as it does, pour the custard into a jug and keep warm.
Rowley’s drinking choice
I always associate pears and quince with the sweet wines of the Loire. A Quarts de Chaume, Coteaux du Layon or Moelleux Vouvray, their luscious sweetness coupled with acidity, would all be excellent.