There are a lot of things I like about summer in Nagano. One of them is the solid fact that it is a lot cooler and pleasant compared to what I long suffered in Tokyo. Another is the abundance of summer fruits that are available for us throughout the season.
So I should say it is only natural for me to gorge myself on these nature's gifts throughout the season. This summer, however, I dedicated my body and soul and all my free time (and much of the freezer room) to popsicle making, as a result of which I didn't bake with fruits as much as I may have done in another summer. Then again, I may have eaten fresh fruits as is that much more.
Summer fruits, especially white peaches, are not a big part of our common baking practice in Japan as it may be elsewhere. And it can often be too hot to turn the oven on in the first place. All in all, our instinct is that summer fruits are something you eat fresh, and that's often what you do here. That said, you do sometimes crave some baked goods, too. And that's where my fresh fruit crumble comes in.
Just to be clear, you DO need to turn your oven on to make these crumbles, but this does not require a lot of cooking time. And most importantly, you have your fresh fruits fresh.
It looks like I first made this fresh fruit crumble, or fruit salad crumble as I like to call them, three summers ago. It began as my cravings for crumbles hit me, but I wanted to eat my fruits uncooked; what should I do? What about baking a crumble topping on its own, and crumble it over a bowl of fresh fruits?
As with regular fruit crumbles, you can use whatever fruits of the season that are around to make this recipe. I like to mix and match several different kinds. Some fruits you may not usually want to cook, such as white cherries, white nectarines, and white peaches; this crumble is a perfect thing to make using such delicacies. You can leave your fruits as they are, but I find a bit of juice of lemon and honey perk things up really nicely.
To be fair, the idea of serving a crumble topping together with uncooked fruits and/or cream is NOT my invention; I'd come across such things before. But when I tried this fresh fruit crumble for the first time, I was like, AM I GENIUS OR WHAT? Well, precisely what I was, we don't need to discuss here, but the crumble certainly was rather a genius thing. You can serve it as is, or with yogurt or cream alongside.
You can use any of your favorite crumble topping recipe for this, but my go-to recipe is a one that uses olive oil and fresh mint leaves.
As I already said, I like making and eating crumbles in general. I've tried all sorts of recipes, from a deadly simple one that consists of only three ingredients, to something more involved, packed with nuts and spices. This recipe is on a simpler side, very ordinary, even - apart from the part that you use olive oil rather than butter, and fresh mint leaves. And these two ingredients are what makes the topping very light and vibrant, something that works really well with fresh fruits, to be enjoyed on a hot day. This is the recipe I go back to every time I make my fruit salad crumble.
I usually like to add some spices such as ground cinnamon and ginger to my crumble toppings (and fillings, for that matter). But with this recipe, I like to keep it simple and let the fresh mint shine. I imagine you can replace the fresh mint leaves with some other herbs, perhaps rosemary or thyme, but so far I'm happy with mint for my fresh fruit crumble.
...But now, if this picture above has had you wonder, you might be right; they are done in a normal way, i.e. everything is baked together, the topping and fruits and all.
While we are on this topic, here's another all-baked variation:
I had some of the crumble topping left, so I found a good use for it.
I like to eat crumbles in general (did I tell you that?), and that extends to crumble cakes and muffins. Then, do I like to make them myself? Sadly, no - I'm too lazy a baker to bother that extra effort, especially what I want to make is something so simple as muffins. But unbaked crumble toppings can freeze well, and these muffins were a reminder for me to make some extra and freeze for a later use next time I fix a crumble topping.
...Errr. we (that is to say, I) may have wandered off quite a bit from the original point, which is: eat crumbles with fresh fruits.
And (yet) another thing crumbles are good with?
Now as the summer draws to a close, you start to see more autumnal fruits popping up next to the last of the summer bounties. Here's something you can make now.
The compote was from a recipe in How I Cook (Skye Gyngell, Quadrille Publishing, 2010). It uses greengages, which I can't find here and had to replace with regular plums. It turned the whole compote into deep red, but tasted fine. Strawberries may be a quintessential summer fruit in many parts of the world, but here in Japan they come really early (I mean, like November) early and end early, too; they typically disappear in May or June. Here in Nagano you find them in as late as early July, but I didn't at all expect to see them in late August - so when I did a few days ago, I was beyond excited. It's not often I get to have strawberries, figs, and plums together.
So, I hope I've made my point regarding the endless usefulness of this lovely little olive oil crumble with fresh mint in enjoying fresh fruits throughout the summer and beyond. This is a really simple recipe, and I've long wanted to be able to share it with you - and now I can, thanks to the author Ms. Isogai who kindly granted me permission to publish the recipe here in an English translation. Hooray!
30 g (approx. 1/3 cup) ground almonds
30 g (2 heaping tbs) brown sugar, sifted if too lumpy
30 g (scant 1/3 cup) pastry flour
1 tbs fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
2 tbs olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and rub them together using your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle onto a baking sheet, and bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes.
* Amounts of the dry ingredients are provided in metrics in the original recipe; please note that the conversions in US standard volume measures given above are for reference purposes only. Makes about 3-4 servings.
Recipe translated and adapted with permission from オリーブオイルでフランス菓子―おいしくて、体にもいい、新しい味のお菓子作り (French Baking with Olive Oil) by Yoshie Isogai. Bunka Publishing Bureau, 2010. (c)Yoshie Isogai
You can make variations of the recipe by swapping some (or all) of the dry ingredients; whole wheat, buckwheat, or spelt flour in place of the pastry flour, maple or coconut sugar in place of the brown sugar, and ground hazelnuts or pistachios in place of the almonds, and so on. You may also add some rolled oats (30-50 g / 1/3 - 1/2 cup) to the recipe. Some chopped nuts work well too.
You bake the crumble topping on a baking sheet, preferably lined with parchment, rather than on top of a fruit filling. You want to have a mixture with pieces of uneven sizes.
When the topping is done, remove from the oven and let it cool completely before use. If you have any of the batch left unused, you can store it in an airtight container for a few days. An unbaked topping may be kept in the freezer.
Now, to have the baked crumble topping with fresh fruits:
Assortment of ripe, fresh fruits of season, slightly chilled, cut and peeled if necessary
(Choose fruits that are suitable for eating raw, such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, figs, etc.)
Honey to taste
Juice of lemon to taste
Olive Oil Crumble with Fresh Mint (recipe above), to taste
Combine the fruits, honey and juice of lemon in a bowl and toss gently.
Place in a dish and top with the crumble topping.
Serve immediately, with more topping on the side, and yogurt or cream if you wish.
The crumble topping recipe above should make 3-4 servings, but it really depends on how much you want in your dish; for all the images above, I went easy on the crumble so the fruits can show in the picture. When I actually eat them, I'd go for a lot more of the topping.
So, what do you think? It's probably already cool enough to get your baking on where you are - it certainly is up here. But I'm guessing I will make another batch of two of this crumble topping before the summer fruits are all over, and will definitely come back to it when the next summer comes around.