The humble crumble is a splendid British staple, taking a bunch of cheap and plentiful ingredients and turning them, with little effort, into a gloriously steamy pot. True to form, however, I had to mess with it, but even when palm sugar, curry leaves and cornflakes take the place of more customary ingredients, you still get that magic moment where crumble topping meets filling.
Here, I have crumble for breakfast, dinner and dessert, which may be a bit of a stretch for the purist, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
Breakfast: plum, apple and cornflake crumble (above)
This gluten-free crumble isn’t very sweet and, topped with cornflakes and served with yoghurt, works as well at breakfast as it does as a light dessert. Make sure the plums are ripe, but not overly so; not only will they be hard to pit otherwise, they’ll also fall apart when baking.
Prep 20 min
Cook 50 min
750g ripe plums (ie, about 8), halved and stoned
3 bramley apples (550g), peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
60g caster sugar
1 lemon zest finely grated, to get 1½ tsp, and juiced, to get 1½ tbsp
1 tbsp picked thyme leaves
400g Greek-style yoghurt, to serve
For the cornflake crumble
120g ground almonds
90g gluten-free cornflakes (or any other you happen to have), roughly crushed by hand
1 tsp flaked sea salt
85g caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra to finish
130g unsalted butter, fridge-cold and cut into 1½cm cubes, plus an extra 20g, melted
Heat the oven to 210C (200C fan)/425F/gas 7. Line a large oven tray with baking paper, put the plums, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar on top, and gently toss everything together to coat. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the apples have softened but are still holding their shape. Transfer the fruit and any liquid released to a baking dish about 34cm x 24cm in size. Add the lemon zest and juice, the thyme and blackberries, and fold in gently to combine. Turn down the oven to 190C (180C fan)/410F/gas 6½.
Meanwhile, make the crumble by combining the polenta, almonds, 50g cornflakes, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter, then use your hands to incorporate it into the dry ingredients until you have a coarse crumble. Spread the crumble mix on top of the fruit and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly coloured.
In a small bowl, toss the remaining 40g cornflakes with the extra tablespoon of sugar and the melted butter. Sprinkle this over the crumble, pushing it down lightly, then bake for 10 minutes more, or until golden and bubbling. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before serving with the yoghurt alongside.
Dinner: coconut curry chicken with oat and peanut crumble
Though not strictly a crumble, in that the crumble bit is cooked separately, the combination of oats and peanuts makes a great, crisp topping; it works on roast veg or spicy seafood, too. Serve with steamed greens.
Prep 30 min
Cook 1 hr
Serves 4, generously
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
40g piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 red chillies, 1 deseeded and roughly chopped, the other thinly sliced, seeds and all
40g bunch fresh coriander, stems and leaves separated and roughly chopped, plus 1 tbsp extra leaves to serve
2 tbsp sunflower oil
½ tsp ground turmeric
3 stems fresh curry leaves (ie, about 30 leaves)
1kg boneless and skinless chicken thighs
Salt and black pepper
4 tsp caster sugar
200ml full-fat coconut milk
2-3 limes, zest finely grated, to get 1½ tsp, and juiced, to get 3 tbsp
For the crumble
75ml sunflower oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
100g instant porridge oats, lightly toasted
80g roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped
Put the onion, ginger, garlic, chopped chilli and coriander stems in a food processor and blitz to a coarse paste.
On a medium-high flame, heat the oil in a large saute pan for which you have a lid, then add the onion mix, turmeric and two-thirds of the curry leaves, and cook, stirring, for three minutes, until fragrant. Add the chicken, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about eight minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside. Add a teaspoon of the sugar, the coconut milk and 100ml water, bring to a boil, then cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and leave to cook for about 35 minutes, until the chicken is the chicken is cooked through and tender.
Use tongs to lift out the chicken, turn up the heat to medium-high and cook the sauce for five minutes, until reduced by a third. While it’s reducing, roughly shred the chicken with two forks into bite-sized pieces. Off the heat, stir the chicken back into the sauce with the lime juice and coriander leaves, and keep warm.
Meanwhile, make the crumble. Put the oil and sliced chilli in a medium saute pan on a medium-high heat. Cook for five minutes, or until the chilli starts to soften, then add the mustard seeds and remaining curry leaves, and fry for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the oats, peanuts, remaining tablespoon of sugar and a third of a teaspoon of salt, and cook for three minutes, stirring often, until lightly coloured and crisp.
To serve, sprinkle the crumble over the chicken, top with the lime zest and extra coriander, and serve straight from the pan.
Pudding: pear and macadamia crumble with chocolate sauce
Palm sugar is stickier than caster sugar and has a caramel-like flavour. Make sure you use the Thai variety here, which is sort of firm and sticky, but easy to crumble, and not the super-hard kind. It makes this crumble similar to cookie dough: gooey in places and crisp in others.
Prep 25 min
Cook 55 min
For the filling
120g Thai palm sugar – I use the Thai Taste brand
½ tsp flaked sea salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
40g unsalted butter
8 ripe williams pears (1.2kg), peeled, cored and cut into quarters (900g net weight)
2 limes – zest finely grated, to get 1 tbsp, and juiced, to get 1 tbsp
For the crumble
90g plain flour
40g desiccated coconut
80g Thai palm sugar, crumbled
1 tsp coffee grounds
4 tsp cacao nibs
90g unsalted butter, fridge-cold and cut into 1½cm cubes
100g salted roasted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
For the sauce
100ml double cream
1½ tsp coffee grounds
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
70g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into 1cm pieces
First make a start on the sauce. Put the cream and coffee in a small saucepan on a medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse while you get on with everything else.
Heat the oven to 190C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Put the sugar, salt, vanilla, butter and pears in a large, ovenproof saute pan on a medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the pears soften but still keep their shape. Off the heat, stir in all the lime juice and two teaspoons of the zest, then set aside while you make the crumble.
Combine the flour, coconut, sugar, coffee grounds and a tablespoon of cacao nibs in a large bowl. Add the butter, then use your hands to press it into the flour, until the mix comes together into a coarse crumble (it will be wetter than most crumbles you’re used to). Stir in the nuts, spread evenly over the fruit, then bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.
Meanwhile, finish the sauce. Put the infused cream back on a medium-high heat, add the vanilla and 60ml water, and bring to a simmer. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, then strain in the warmed cream through a fine-mesh sieve; discard the coffee grounds. Stir until the chocolate has melted completely and the mix is pourable.
Top the crumble with the remaining teaspoon each of lime zest and cacao nibs, and serve warm with the chocolate sauce alongside, for drizzling on top.