Monday, October 3, 2011

My Modern Family (Plum-Berry Crumble)

Hello, ladies & gents!

Enthused by sheer culinary joie de vivre, and the fact that I had a ticking time bomb in the fruit drawer by way of a crate of blackberries, I bring another recipe tonight: plum-berry crumble. I had intended to save this treat for Wednesday. See: right now, every Wednesday night, my modern family gets together to watch Modern Family. I've already come to look forward to the event.

Sarah and her husband, Seth, keep their family farm around the hill and down a dirt road that slowly clambers up the mountain. At the moment there's a full herd of goats for the milking, a flock of laying hens, and three hives of busy, busy bees. They tap maple trees to render the syrup in the Spring and collect elderberries, blackberries, and raspberries in the Summer. We are very lucky.

We're also very unlucky in that Modern Family airs after our nephews' bedtime.

Weaponized cuteness

Josh and his wife, Amanda, also recently moved here from North Carolina to help institute this new tradition. Very fond of spontaneous traditions, they also have demanded a "Griswold Christmas Light Competition," with a minimum number of light strands, to ensue later in the year. They bring a delightful sense of humor to the party, and usually growlers of dark beer, too. They keep hinting at making us come on camping trips, so perhaps we can add some campfire cookery to the blog in the near future.

Alas, however, my berries were starting to get a little peaky around the edges. No hope for it. So we have crumble tonight, instead.


 This recipe comes to me courtesy of another beloved family member: my oldest sister, Kelly. K is extremely responsible, an accomplished lawyer, and an accomplished cook, herself. She has gifted me with many cookbooks, but the most salient, in this case, is Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. Ina's self-described style is "elegant, but earthy," which is a combination of adjectives near and dear to my heart. I like my food to be elevated, but grounded, too, and Ina tends towards a practicality and passion for best-quality ingredients that can't be beat.

Of course, Ina also has a certain joie de vivre of her own, which I think comes through in her Plum Crunch recipe as more sugar than I care for. Pared down with less sugar, the increased earthiness of whole grain flour, and a warm dusting of freshly ground cinnamon, it is the perfect treat to share with family. A generous splash of bourbon lends smoky caramel notes and the slight sharpness of (cooked off) alcohol offsets the dark complexity of plums and blackberries. Elegant, but earthy.

Ripe with opportunity

Plum-berry crumble
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

The key to good blackberries is their firm, juicy flesh; berries that are soft or, worse yet, already soggy, are past their prime and to be discarded. Similarly, a ripe plum should be tender-firm, not mushy. Nearly everyone knows that placing stone fruit in a brown paper bag will help it to ripen, but it's less well known that adding a banana to the mix can speed things up by adding more ethylene gas to the equation.

1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
Scant 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
6 oz. blackberries
4 large red plums, quartered, pitted, and thickly sliced
6 tbs. bourbon (the flavor intensifies, go with Knob Creek, Maker's Mark, or better)
For the topping:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
Scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground cinnamon
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, diced

Preheat your oven to 375° and lightly butter the inside of a tart pan or pie tin.

Whisk the brown sugar, granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour together in a large bowl, then toss the berries and sliced plums in the sugar mixture to coat. Add tablespoons of bourbon, one at a time, sprinkling over the fruit and stirring to combine. Going slowly during this step helps to evenly emulsify the flour, sugar, and bourbon, yielding a smoother, jammier finish. Pour the fruit mixture into your buttered dish and set aside.

Emulsified goodness

 In another large bowl, whisk together the remaining flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, oatmeal and nuts. Sprinkle the cubes of cold butter over your dry ingredients. Now, I need you to trust me: go wash your hands very well and dry them with a clean towel.

Ina takes the easy way out by using an electric mixer but, with proper attention to hygiene, sometimes I find its best to mix things by hand. My copy of The Kundalini Yoga Cookbook (a thoughtful gift from Sarah) suggests food should always be prepared this way. They have a quasi-religious justification based upon infusing the food with life-giving prana, but I prefer a simpler explanation.

Interacting with food, even in its preparation, is an experience for all your senses. The tactile effort of mixing the crumble topping provides an opportunity to step back, relax, and enjoy cooking. If you let your type-A sensibilities slip into the background, it feels a lot like playing in sand as a kid. Also, I'm sure your grandmother will corroborate that it's great for one's hands.

The motion is pretty easy: smash the ingredients together in the palm of your hands, pulling your fingers inward and allowing some to slip between them, then separate your fingers in a crumbling motion. Repeat. Eventually, you'll come to a mixture that looks like pea-sized clusters. Or, you can take the easy way out and mix in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. :)


Scatter your crumble mixture across the top of your fruit mixture and pat down slightly to settle any loose bits. Bake the crumble for 40 minutes, or until the top is a rich golden brown, with deep, dark, garnet red liquid bubbling up at the edges, and your kitchen smells of hot butter and oozing berries. You may want to bake the crumble on a sheet pan lined with non-stick foil or parchment paper, as the bubbling juices tend to drip.

Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes and serve warm.

"10 minutes" is more of a guideline, really...


Jamie.Lee said...

Sounds and looks amazingly delicious. I think i'm going to have to try out this recipe sometime in the near future! :)

Unknown said...

Your tips for less sugar and protecting the baking sheet are spot on!

J said...

Thanks, Jamie! You simply must let us know how it works out for you.

Thank you, too, Unknown! I almost always line my baking sheets, which I'm sure tallies up throughout the year. On the other hand, who wants to cook an extravagant meal only to face greasy pans afterwards? In terms of elbow grease, I think taking this precaution pays for itself.

I must confess that in this case, however, I actually forgot to set my tart pan atop anything at all. I now have some delicious, garnet-red sugar deposits to scrub out of our oven. Please, readers, learn from my mistakes. ;)

S. Way said...

The boys saw the pictures and were practically drooling. They both agreed that, "mmm... we love berries!" Also I am willing to taste test anything you make... Your welcome. (j/k)