Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Portion control crumble

Crumble is one of those things which you just can't stop eating. I simply cannot make a full size serving of crumble, because I will just eat it all. Last fall when I was visiting my sister, she made a huge serving of apple crumble with frozen yoghurt, and we ended up eating it all. It's the perfect autumn pudding. First of all, fruits are at their best. And it's cold enough outside to warrant a warm dessert. And the combination of hot crumble and melting, gooey vanilla ice cream is divine. Funnily enough, a friend of a friend has this thing that you just can't mix hot and cold components in a dessert. I wholeheartedly disagree. I love how the ice cream becomes almost creamlike when it melts onto the hot fruit. You could serve it with warm custard if you prefer. I recently went (on two consecutive weekends) to this amazing restaurant which is a mere five minute walk from my place called The Oak Bistro. Definitely one of my favourite restaurants in Cambridge. So far everything I have eaten there has been absolutely top notch, trying to pick my personal favourite between lobster pasta and pan fried scallops with celeriac purée. I can't make up my mind which was better. But after these two gems, my second favourite was the blackberry and apple crumble. Which was served with warm custard. Very good. But I think after all, my favourite combo is crumble and ice cream. And for once, and I do feel very weird saying this... It has to be vanilla ice cream. Obviously a good brand real vanilla one. Chocolate ice cream has it's place (mostly in my stomach I would argue...) but on this single occasion I will always opt for vanilla ice cream. And the good thing, vanilla ice cream is something I can actually keep in my freezer, as I am very unlikely to eat it all in one sitting. Whereas a tub of Ben and Jerry's has never seen the inside of my freezer, I will eat it from start to finish, as soon as it enters my apartment. And no, I'm not talking about the small single serving tublets. I mean the proper half liter tub. I have absolutely no problem whatsoever to eat it all in one sitting. I do have problems with NOT eating it in one sitting. Well, actually I don't think I have ever even attempted that. If I sink so low that I buy a tub of B&J, I have accepted the ugly truth that it will all be eaten in an instant. Ok, end of confession now. I guess I have quite a few Hail Marys to do after that. Or should I say Hail Ben&Jerrys...

For this crumble, I decided to forgo the usual cinnamon - nutmeg - ginger spice combo, which is absolutely everywhere right now. Yes, obviously a wonderful spice mix which just screams fall and apples. But this time I went for what I think possibly are the two most amazing spices in the whole wide wold: cardamom and vanilla. Vanilla and pear go so well together. Pear is actually such a great fruit, it is so good to eat just as is, it is great in puddings, but it also goes great with savoury dishes, such as this pear, apple and goat's cheese salad. And I wouldn't be surprised if there would be a pear related Friday quickie coming up sometime in the near future (if I happen to have any Fridays off to myself in the near future...). Ok, after yet another absolutely useless ramble about absolutely nothing of substance, finally on to the good part.

Apple and pear crumble (serves 2):
15 g muscovado sugar (I used dark because I love the molasses flavour)
25 g rolled oats
15 g wheat flour (I used whole wheat)
22 g butter (1.5 tbsp)
1 apple
1 pear
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp vanilla paste

Pear, apple, vanilla and cardamom. Mmmm, you
 already know this is going to awesome.
The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Start by making the crumble. Melt butter, and mix with the oats, flour and sugar. Chop apple and pear into small pieces. I couldn't be bothered to peel them as the peel goes nice and soft during the cooking, but you can obviously do that if you prefer. Divide fruits into two single serving ramekins, sprinkle half a teaspoon of cardamom and half a teaspoon of vanilla paste on each of the ramekins and mix. Spoon crumble on top. Bake for about 30 minutes. Serve warm with custard or ice cream.

The verdict:
There is one single secret to a good crumble in my humble opinion. Butter. You need to have enough butter in the crumble mix. There is no point in trying to make it healthy by making it low fat, as the crumble just won't get that nice crumbly texture. And crumble without crumbly crumble on top is obviously quite a disappointment. I rather cut down a bit on sugar and make it more healthy that way. After all, it's not fat that makes us fat, it's sugar that makes us fat. I guess with the sweet apples and pears combined with the wonderful warmth of the vanilla and cardamom, you could probably even make the crumble free from added sugar. But not fat free. And the only fat that will bring not only the right texture but also the right flavour is definitely organic butter. No substitutes. I have started to always buy organic butter. I keep imagining it tastes better and behaves nicer when baking than regular butter. It's probably an illusion, but I use so little butter that the difference in the price is not a dealbreaker for me. In general, I try to buy as much organic as possible. Very unscientific, I know, as there are no scientifically proven benefits of organic produce versus non-organic ones, and the amounts of nutrients in the food are the same in both groups. But somehow it just makes me feel like it's cleaner food. I guess I'm one of those suckers who have fallen for the brainwashing campaigns. Although I have to admit, also the price of food makes quite a difference to me, so it's the difference in price between an organic product and it's non-organic counterpart which in the end determine which one I'm getting.

This pudding was something I whipped up last Sunday night when I was craving something sweet, but didn't have enough calories left in my daily allowance to make it something really unhealthy. It was super-quick to prepare and absolutely delicious. After having quite a bit of puddings with warm fall spices like cinnamon and ginger, I thought the vanilla-cardamom mix made a nice change. And as I already mentioned, they are probably my two favourite spices in the whole wide world. Ideally I would always use vanilla bean seeds when cooking, but for financial reasons that's just not viable. But I have found a great substitute which I like very much, it's a thick syrup type of thing called Vanilla Paste. Of course it's not perfect as it has some ingredients I would prefer to avoid, but I'm rationalising it as the amounts of paste I'm using for any single dish is very small. Also, the paste has some added sugar so it's great for baking and desserts. But I'm very jealous of how people who travel to exotic countries (wherever vanilla beans grow, I have to admit I have no clue) and bring back huge containers full of vanilla pods that they bought for virtually pennies. I wonder if that is just urban legends, or if such places actually exist. And if they do, I hope I will get to travel there some day, as the price of vanilla pods is just ridiculous. Especially for someone who wouldn't mind using it in the quantities that I like. Actually, I don't I have bought any vanilla pods since I discovered the vanilla paste. That's how good it is.

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