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As that familiar chill creeps into the air and the first of the autumn leaves begin to fall, I always crave the warm comfort of simple, satisfying food. It’s around this time of year when I start to long for big steaming mugs of apple cider, and hearty bowls of my favorite soups and stews. And what could be warmer or more comforting than a freshly baked, individual fruit crisp? Beyond their ease of preparation and delicious flavor, the baking crisps themselves envelop the house in their soothing, sweet, spicy aroma like a giant hug, and make it feel just a little bit more like home. These nostalgic smells and flavors bring me right back to my childhood, and when warm crisp meets cold vanilla ice cream, something magical happens.
Crisps can be made with a variety of fruits. The possibilities are really endless; you’re limited only by your imagination. I have been making fruit crisps all of my life, and once you master the simple process of making them, you can mix and match the ingredients that you use and create a multitude of desserts all using the same basic recipe. They are an easy, versatile, universally loved comfort food classic that everyone should have in their kitchen arsenal. This is fruit crisps 101: My inside scoop.
When preparing fruit dishes, I like to visit my favorite local farm stand to see what looks best, and allow that to guide my decision of which fruit combination to prepare on any given day. Here in Oregon, because of the amount of rain that we received early on in the season, the majority of our summer produce was delayed. So I was excited when I went to the farm stand yesterday and discovered masses of fragrant, local peaches and discounted pints of ruby red raspberries. What a perfectly delicious combination. Selecting peaches, like many other fruits, should be based largely on their smell. They should be firm, and, when ripe, smell strongly of what they are. These peaches were perfect, and the air was thick with their intoxicating aroma, making my choice very easy: a gingered peach raspberry crisp it was!
To make the crisps, start by buttering six individual ramekins (or up to eight, depending on their size) and line them up on a parchment lined baking sheet. Next, chop one half of a cup of crystallized ginger, and set it aside.
You will want about four and a half pounds of peaches in total, and peeling them is quite simple. (If you are not offended by the peach skin, feel free to skip this step entirely.) Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, score a large “x” into the bottom of each peach (without piercing the flesh too deeply), and carefully place them into a pot of boiling water. Boil the peaches for about sixty seconds, then remove them and place them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. This process loosens the peels, and once they are cool enough to handle the peel easily slides right off.
Next, slice each peach in half, remove the pit, and then slice each half into six to eight wedges (depending on the size of the peach). Place the sliced peaches into a large mixing bowl; add one pint of fresh raspberries, and the crystallized ginger.
To the peach mixture, add one half of a cup of brown sugar (here I used dark brown but light brown would work equally well), one fourth of a cup of granulated sugar, one fourth of a cup of all purpose flour, the zest of one orange, one half teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and a third of a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg. Mix to combine.
To make the topping, combine one and a half cups of all purpose flour, three fourths of a cup of granulated sugar, three fourths of a cup of dark brown sugar, one cup of old fashioned oats, a fourth of a teaspoon of salt, and two sticks of cold, diced butter. Using a stand mixer, your fingers or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the other ingredients until it is fully incorporated and the mixture is crumbly.
(Tip: Whenever I make a crisp, I always double the topping recipe and freeze half of it for the next time I want to make a quick dessert; it is the same amount of work today but it will be a huge time saver on a busier day in the future.)
Divide the fruit mixture between the ramekins, and top each with a generous amount of the crumble topping (keeping in mind that the crisps tend to shrink slightly while baking). Place the crisps on the middle rack of your preheated 350° oven and bake for one hour, or until the tops are golden brown and the juices are bubbling. (Alternatively, you can also assemble the crisp in one larger baking dish, following the same process and cooking time.)
Remove the baked crisps from the oven and allow them to cool slightly before serving. Serve them up on their own or with a scoop of your favorite vanilla bean ice cream, and you can literally taste the flavors of fall in every spoon full. The sweet peaches, slightly tart raspberries, and spicy crystallized ginger all harmonize together beautifully, echoed gently by the cinnamon and nutmeg. The orange zest simply makes the peaches taste peachier; and the soft fruit filling, crunchy topping and creamy vanilla ice cream offer an exciting mix of temperatures, tastes, and textures. It’s perfection: easy, comforting, earthy, rustic, and chic.
Here are just a few ideas of other variations on this recipe, each made with the same crumble topping:
Apple or Pear- To four pounds of prepared fruit, add the juice and zest of one lemon and one orange along with a half of a cup of granulated sugar, a fourth of a cup of all purpose flour, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and a half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg. (Combine apples and pears for a different variation, and to really drive home the flavors of fall toss in three fourths of a cup of dried cranberries as well.)
Plum- To two pounds of sliced plums, add the juice of one orange, one third of a cup of granulated sugar, one fourth of a cup of all purpose flour, and a fourth of a teaspoon of ground allspice. (Combine with peaches, raspberries or apricots for additional variations.)
Blueberry- To six cups of blueberries, add the zest and juice of one lemon, a half of a cup of granulated sugar, a fourth of a cup of all purpose flour, a teaspoon of ground ginger, and a fourth of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Strawberry Rhubarb- To four cups of prepared rhubarb and two cups of strawberries, add one cup of granulated sugar, one fourth of a cup of all purpose flour, a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, a third of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
Blackberry/Marionberry- To four cups of berries, add the juice of one lemon, a third of a cup of granulated sugar, a fourth of a cup of all purpose flour, and a fourth of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Sour Cherry- To four cups of pitted sour cherries, add the juice of half of a lemon, one cup of granulated sugar, one fourth of a cup of all purpose flour, and an eighth of a teaspoon of both ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.
Sweet Cherry- To six cups of pitted sweet cherries, add the juice of one lemon, one third of a cup of granulated sugar, one fourth of a cup of all purpose flour, and a fourth of a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.
Topping Variations – Add one half of a cup of sliced almonds or other finely chopped nut of your choice to the topping ingredients before cutting in the butter.
(Note: When using frozen fruit, which is perfectly acceptable, I find that the fruit can often become excessively watery. To counteract this effect, I add an additional two tablespoons of corn starch to the fruit mixture before baking. And, if baking from frozen, add an additional fifteen minutes to the baking time.)
Fruit crisps are quintessential comfort food, and simple recipes like these are really what drive me in the kitchen. Imagine that you know ten recipes by heart, and that you can make five variations of each. That’s fifty different dishes at your finger tips on any given day, and for most people, most of the time, that’s plenty. Whether it’s a dinner party, potluck, barbecue cookout, or romantic meal for two, these individual fruit crisps are a winner every time. I know that people often say that they don’t want dessert, but I can’t remember anyone ever turning down one of these crisps at my house. This one recipe is all that you need to make these delicious desserts all year long with whatever fresh, seasonal produce is available.
The first fruit crisp that I ever made was in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was only a small child. It was apple, I think, and my grandmother always used just the right amount of spice. Baked fruit desserts like these are so comforting and so well loved because we all remember these flavors from our childhoods. That’s the great thing about food: it lingers. For me, these crisps are much more than just a sweet treat to serve after dinner; they are a part of who I am. As cooks, we often forget that we are not simply preparing recipes or planning menus in the kitchen. We’re making memories. And what could be more delicious than that?