Our family loves fruit pies – apple, blueberry, peach, strawberry rhubarb, you name it – but we’re not so big on making the crusts. Over the years, we got rid of the top crust in favor of a simple crumble that requires no baking skill and turns out delicious no matter what you do wrong. Then we dispensed with the bottom – who needed the calories?
This kind of pie is hard to mess up – a few weeks ago I decided to broil the top of a strawberry rhubarb crumble that wasn’t as brown as I wanted. I got distracted and in 30 seconds managed to blacken the top. My family convinced me to dig in rather than toss it out – and it was the best pie we’d ever made.
I’ve used too little fruit (same delicious result, flatter presentation) or too much (spills on the bottom of the oven may create a lot of smoke, but doesn’t hurt the dessert). I’ve forgotten to lower the temperature after the initial browning or left the dish in the oven for an extra 30 minutes – still no problem. Undercooking, on the other hand, will leave you with a less flavorful filling and a raw flour taste on top and inside.
You can use the recipes below for a one crust pie or a cobbler – your choice.
5 Tablespoons cold butter cut into ½ cubes
¾ cup flour
½ cup granulated sugar (or mix in a bit of brown sugar for a maple flavor)
You can double the recipe, but go light on the flour
Mix the flour and sugar in a medium-sized bowl and then use a pastry blender, two knives or even your fingers to cut the butter into the dry ingredients to achieve a coarse crumb. The aim is to have tiny bits of butter encased in the flour-sugar mix. You can also use a food processor in short pulses.
Fill a pie plate or casserole dish with your fruit filling. Use a spoon to distribute the crumbs evenly over the top of your fruit filling.
If the butter gets too warm or you over process, you may end up with more of a paste and it will be hard to spread in an even crumble. But don’t panic, it will still taste delicious.
Pop the pie into a hot oven – 425 degrees – for 10 to 15 minutes until the top is nicely browned. Then lower the heat to 350 until the filling is bubbly and the fruit is as soft as you’d like.
Suggested Filling for Single Pie – Doubling is Encouraged!
Blueberries Now: With fresh blueberries in season and on sale, you can buy them by the flat or two-pound container. Although a pint is supposed to be “a pound the world around,” I weighed a full pint, it weighed only ¾ of a pound and it was more like 1.5 cups – so it’s always good to get more than you think you need.
Frozen blueberries are fine when fresh aren’t available or are too expensive. Don’t thaw before mixing with the other ingredients.
A basic recipe starts with:
4-5 cups of berries: wash the berries and pick out stems – drain, but leave them wet so the dry ingredients stick.
4 Tablespoons tapioca – or a mix of tapioca and flour
1 cup (or ¾ if you prefer a less sweet pie) sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Mix the dry ingredients, toss with the berries and lemon juice until all ingredients are well distributed and the berries are coated.
Fill your pie plate or similarly sized rectangular casserole dish. If the dish doesn’t look full, keep adding berries – the volume will reduce in the oven. The extra berries don’t need to be mixed with the sugar.
Cooking time varies with firmness of berries and how full you heap the dish – 10 minutes of browning the top at 425 degrees plus an additional 15-20 minutes at 350 may be sufficient – but keep a watch on the last five minutes to be sure the filling isn’t spilling over.
Apples Anytime: When all other fruit is out of season, mushy or too expensive, you can always find Granny Smith apples for an old-fashioned dessert.
6 large Granny Smith apples: peel, core and slice
1 cup (or ¾ cup if the apples are sweet or you prefer a less sweet pie)
1 ½ Tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. As you slice the apples, toss them in with the dry ingredients to coat. Apples should begin to release juice. Pile slices in a dish – you can get the slices to fit in a smaller volume if you arrange them by hand, but mounding is OK, too.
Cooking time will vary – a lot – depending on the size of your apple slices, the freshness of the apples and whether you prefer a chunky or soft filling. After browning the top in a 450 oven for approximately 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350 for 30-40 minutes more. Use a fork or knife to test how soft the apples are – keep baking until you’re satisfied.