Sophie Tevlin prescribes a bit of baking to banish the October blues.
As the evenings start drawing in and getting chill, it’s nice to have something baking in the oven every so often, warming the kitchen and wafting pleasant smells through the house. Something nourishing and autumnal that sticks to the ribs, such as this apple and walnut crumble.
A crumble is perhaps the one thing that everyone, no matter how ham-fisted or oven-shy, should have in their arsenal. Gusteau’s famous maxim “Tout le Monde peut Cuisiner” holds true here – anyone can bake a crumble! A crumble requires no fancy equipment or expensive ingredients. The chilly hands of a pastry chef are not necessary here, and crumbles are remarkably forgiving of any little hiccups in the way of measurement or timing. What’s more, they’re infinitely customisable. This is a great way of using up fruit that’s in season, cheap, or getting a bit past it – here I’ve used windfall apples from a friend’s garden, but those blueberries that you kept meaning to turn into smoothie? Those unripe plums or nectarines from the Aldi Super 6? They’ll do nicely.
You will need: an oven dish, a big mixing bowl (a big pot will do fine, I won’t rat you out to Paul Hollywood), and something to measure the flour & sugar. If you don’t have the kitchen space for such fripperies as weighing scales, just use your common sense. If your recipe calls for 110g of sugar and your packet of sugar is 500g, you can’t go wrong chucking about a fifth of the packet in. I carefully measured everything when I first started baking, but now I’ve got a feel for it I just eyeball everything. This stops things from becoming too monotonously predictable. I have pinched the proportions given here from the ever-reliable Delia Smith.
Fruit: whatever fruit you’re using, cored and sliced, enough to thickly cover the bottom of the oven dish, sugar and spices.
For the crumble topping: 75g butter, cold, cut into small cubes. 175g self-raising flour, sifted. 110g Demerara sugar (or whatever ya got). Spices – cinnamon, ground cloves, cardamom, ground ginger, nutmeg – up to you. Chopped nuts – I used walnuts here, but almonds, hazelnuts and pecans are good too, and you can add oats for a bit of texture. Pistachios and cardamom work very well with raspberries and rhubarb. Plums are lovely with ginger. Experiment!
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius/180 for a fan oven. Layer your apples or whatever it is in your baking dish and sprinkle over a bit of sugar and some spice. Put the diced butter and flour into the bowl, and rub them together with your fingertips to combine. What you’re doing here is breaking the butter down into smaller and smaller flour-covered pieces til you have what looks like a pile of fine breadcrumbs. The finger movement is the same as when rolling cigarettes, a soothing, meditative process that can be done while watching Netflix. When that’s finished mix in the chopped nuts, sugar and spice then pack the dry mixture down over the fruit to cover it, and smooth it over a bit. Shove dish in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. That’s it! Easier than a pasta bake. Eat it warm with ice-cream or custard, or cold with a dollop of natural yogurt for breakfast. I admit to enjoying it with that strange British delicacy tinned evaporated milk, but I am a disgusting outlier and should not be counted.