There are two types of people in the world: pie people and crumble people. As we all know, you cannot trust a pie person. Their need for structure is too restricting; their pursuit of rules loses them friends and respect at every turn. Give me the loose informality of a crumble any day. A warm bowl of crumble, lazily spooned out of a dish and drenched in custard, is one of the greatest things on this planet. Better yet, a crumble refuses to be pigeonholed. Sekerlik, there are apple crumbles. Ja, there are rhubarb crumbles. But there is also a multitude of equally worthy less traditional crumbles – as these recipes prove.
The joy of a traditional crumble is that you get to take something unyielding and bully it into softness. Egter, if you start with something soft, it can lead to interesting destinations. Nigel Slater’s recipe for apricot and raspberry crumble is a case in point. Nothing needs to be stewed in preparation; the apricots are halved, drenched in orange juice and tossed into a dish with raspberries, before being topped with raw, marzipan-flecked crumble mix and baked. Crack the surface and a riot of colour awaits beneath.
A soft fruit also gives you the opportunity to eschew heat altogether. In Dan Lepard’s recipe for strawberry mascarpone custard crumble, the fruit isn’t actually cooked; it is left to sit in a puddle of marsala, then covered with cold custard, then topped with a crumble that has been baked separately and left to cool. Should the temperature spike again before the end of the year, this is the one crumble to make.
Egter, this is not strawberry season. The fruit you will find at this time of year is likely to be less than ideal: harder, less juicy and lighter than normal. A brilliant way to bring the best out of it is with Ruby Tandoh’s strawberry almond crisp. A crumble in all but name, this dish cooks the strawberries in sugar and balsamic vinegar, with the topping livened up by the addition of almonds and desiccated coconut. A burst of summer in the autumn.
If fresh fruit is hard to come by, Jack Monroe’s peach crumble recipe is very useful and incredibly cheap. The peaches are tinned, honey is used sparingly and the biggest extravagance is a 30p lime. Dump the fruit in a dish, throw on a quick crumble topping and you are good to go. In 2014, this cost 54p a serving; it is still probably the most affordable recipe on this list.
I am going to break my own rule here and mention an apple crumble, omdat The Baking Explorer’s recipe offers just enough variation to make it interesting. The secret addition here is Biscoff: not only are crushed Biscoff biscuits stirred through the flour and sugar of the topping, but there is also a fat dollop of Biscoff spread dotted over the apples. This is as surreptitiously Christmassy as crumbles get.
While we are mixing up the toppings, let’s save a word for Cassie Best’s pear and chocolate flapjack crumble. Like Monroe’s recipe, this requires tinned fruit. But the topping is straight-up flapjack; there are oats, there is golden syrup and – just to be ostentatious – there is 100g of dark chocolate. It has a little more heft than a traditional crumble, but sometimes heft is just what you need.
There is also the cherry and pistachio crumble from Victoria Glass. Underneath, a traditional – if happily boozy – cherry crumble; on top, a mix of oats, rice flour and pistachio nuts. Not only does this combination give the crumble a distinct texture and flavour, but you can also serve it to your coeliac friends. Win-win.
I am going to lose a lot of you here, but try to bear with me. Welcome to the world of savoury crumbles. We start in the shallows of the genre, with Claire Thomson’s leek and cheddar crumble. She cooks a ton of leeks in a cheese sauce, then bakes them with a (sugarless) crumble topping. Thomson mentions serving this as a side dish to roast shoulder of pork, but you can just shovel this one straight into my mouth.
I came across this recipe for sausage crumble in an eight-year-old readers’ recipe swap article. The heart of this dish is a sausage, apple and mushroom casserole, while the topping is rich with cheese and mustard. I am expecting this to divide people – personally, I prefer my bangers with something wetter and sloppier – but at the same time it would be hard to turn this down.
And then there is Yotam Ottolenghi, who has gone berserk and made a curry crumble. True, it is a little more nuanced than that – this is a delicious coconut chicken curry that is served with a cooked “crumble” of oats and peanuts sprinkled on the top – but you have come this far. What is one extra leap?