This Italian Plum Crumble recipe is a classic end of summer dessert (or breakfast!) tailor made for the best plums you can find.
I’ve never eaten fresh Italian plums before, I’ve only eaten them in their less glamorous incarnation, as prunes. They’re one of the last stragglers to come into season this summer and I bought some just because they were beautiful. I’d be content just to look at them til they rot, like a bunch of flowers.
But my curiosity is getting the better of me. I assembled this crumble freehand, no recipes or measuring. You can do it too. Rustic fruit crisps and crumbles lend themselves to this approach, and with all the fall apples and pears just about to flood the market, now is the time to master the technique. Just imagine the slap of the screen door slamming behind you as you breeze in with an apron-load of just picked fruit. You set to slicing it up over your cavernous farmhouse sink, then scoop a little of this and a little of that, rub in a generous slab of just churned butter, sprinkle it all casually over the fruit and pop your handed-down-through-the-generations pie plate into the oven. You wipe your hands on your apron, and move on.
I’ve set it out in an easy 12 step program for you if you just can’t seem to step away from the recipe file…strap on your apron and lets get going.
Step 1: Just about any fruit that can be baked into a pie can become a crumble. All stone fruits, all berries, rhubarb, apples, pears, etc. can be baked in this style. Even fruits that you don’t normally associate with crumbles might be good…don’t forget about figs, cranberries, and persimmons. What about a coconut macadamia pineapple crumble?
Step 2: The amount of fruit you need is flexible. Just cut enough to fill the bottom of your baking dish if you want a thin layer of fruit, or add more for a deeper layer of fruit. Doesn’t matter.
Step 3: The way you cut the fruit is up to you, too. You can use thin elegant slices, large chunks, or even leave halves intact.
Step 4: If your fruit tends to go brown after it’s cut, squeeze a little lemon juice over it. If it’s especially tart, add a tablespoon of sugar. Taste as you go.
Step 5: You may want to flavor the fruit. You can add vanilla, almond, maple or any other extract, alcohol or liqueur. I used a splash of dark rum.
Step 6: Some people like to add a thickener to the fruit so it’s not runny. I don’t. I like the juices to run. But if you want it thicker like a pie filling, you can sprinkle in a tablespoon of flour or corn starch. Mix it in well. I like to use Wondra flour for this kind of thing, it never clumps.
Step 7: For the crumble topping you’re going to use about a cup of a floury base. (This amount is sufficient for a square or round baking dish, for a 9×13 pan, double the amounts) I used 1/2 cup rolled oats and 1/2 cup all purpose flour. You can use other flours like almond or whole wheat. You can use coconut, wheat germ, granola, whatever. Always throw in a pinch of salt.
Step 8: You will need to sweeten the topping. I used 1/4 cup of brown sugar. You can use more or less. Experiment with honey or molasses if you want.
Step 9: You’ll need butter. I use 6 tablespoons. No need to soften it. Just cut it in pieces and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers till it’s no longer dry, but a crumbly dough.
Step 10: You can flavor the topping if you want. I scraped a little vanilla bean into the flour and grated in some nutmeg. You can use lemon zest, poppy seeds, ginger — any extract or spice you like. Cinnamon and nutmeg are common but the sky’s the limit here. How about using cocoa powder for a chocolate walnut cherry crumble?
Step 11: Nuts add more nice crunch to the topping. Any kind is fine. Or not. I didn’t use any today.
Step 12: When it’s time to bake, sprinkle the topping all over the fruit, and put it in a hot enough oven that it will bubble and brown in about 30-35 minutes. I use 375F.
There you have it.
You see, you really don’t need all those recipes after all.
P.S. I forgot to mention that of all the crumbles I’ve made (and there have been a few) this is my favorite. This could possibly be because I just had a bowl. But I don’t think I’m that shallow. The Italian plums have an intense sweet/tart flavor; if you haven’t tried them, you should.