Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cherry-Apricot Crumble

"Oh it's just so delicious, it's bursting with fruity yumminess and caramelized brown sugar topping that's just so tasty with the fruity juices mixing with the buttery, crumbly topping. . . mmm." I have asked Michael if he can think of any good crumble stories, and this is what he says. "Honey, that's not really a story," I say, and he says, "Oh. A story. Right. How it's even better than pie?" And they lived happily ever after!

The thing is, crumble is even better than pie. And I say this as a person who really loves pie. But also as a person who sometimes gets called "The Crumble Queen," so there you go. This particular crumble is my very favorite, and this is the exact right time to make it as I'm seeing tons of cherries and apricots everywhere. But when cherry and apricots are gone, you can make it with peaches and blueberries, though you'll want to increase the flour and sugar a bit to compensate for the juiciness and tartness. Oh, but try to make this version if you can: the fruit is so insanely gorgeous--at all turns a mix of bright orange and deep red--and it goes so beautifully with that meltingly crisp, brown-sugary crumb topping. It's based on a recipe from the original Greens cookbook, and I've been making it for, gulp, 15 years now, and it is the very best crumble I ever make, which is saying a lot, given my infatuation with rhubarb. Okay, maybe it is tied with rhubarb.

Of course--and here's the story, but I promise it's short--I cannot make anything with apricots and not fall into fits of nostalgia over Santa Cruz, and the house we lived in with our friend Sam, which has an heirloom apricot tree in the front yard. Come July, apricots started thudding to the ground like hail, these small and comically freckled apricots that looked sort of unripe and homely, only then you'd split them open with your thumbs and they'd be bursting with juice and as flavor, like all the apricots in the world had been distilled into a single piece of deceptively unattractive fruit. If you live somewhere that grows Blenheim apricots? (i.e. California), I recommend gorging on them in great excess until the season ends, even if it requires sneaking into a neighbor's yard. They probably have so many they won't even notice.

And another thing I recommend? Inviting a pregnant woman to live in your home. I simply can't imagine anything more delightful than preparing food for a person who falls into basketball-bellied fits of rapture every time a spoon enters her mouth. I swear Anni stopped eating only to blot at her eyes with a napkin, tears of crumbly happiness leaking onto her face. But then again, Michael himself was literally groaning. "This is the best thing you make," Ben said, and I said, "Really?" and he said, "Probably not, but that's how I'm feeling right now." And I have only one question: Is he my kid or what?

Cherry-Apricot Crumble
Serves 4-8, depending
Active time: 25 minutes; total time: 70 minutes

2 pounds of apricots
1 pound of cherries
1/4 cup (scant) flour
1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold salted butter, cut into small pieces

Heat the oven to 400. Halve the apricots, pit them, then halve them again into quarters (or, if they're not super-ripe, slice them up a bit more). Pit the cherries. Combine the fruit with 1/4 cup flour and 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl, then tip it into a baking dish. (Don't fret if there's some dry flour and sugar kicking around--it will all dissolve as it cooks.)

Make the topping: Combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl, then add the butter and work it in with your fingers: first toss to coat it with the flour mixture, then take off your rings and use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. This is a messy but not unpleasant job: you'll be lifting handfuls of the mixture up out of the bowl, then gently letting it fall through your fingertips as you rub it lightly together. Eventually, you'll have a bowl full of clumpy lumpy crumble topping. (Today when I did this, it was so hot in the kitchen that the butter got really soft, but this didn't seem to cause a problem, except that it all stuck to my fingers.)

Crumble the, er, crumble over the, uh, crumble, then bake it in the oven for 40-45 minutes until it is browned and bubbling. Serve hot, warm, room temperature, or cold with ice cream or whipped cream.

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