August 31, 2014

freshy, fruity, and crumbly

Summer may be slipping away, but I am still holding firm on summer fruits - or what I can have of them, at least.

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.
Starting with locally-grown strawberries that begin appearing in around May and June, local green markets offer you fresh rhubarb (not technically a fruit, but anyway), cherries, apricots, raspberries (if you are really lucky), nectarines, plums, peaches, and blueberries; all of which you could of course get in Tokyo but they come far fresher and cheaper over here.  There are such quintessential summer fruits as melons and watermelons too.  And towards the end of August, you start seeing prune plums, grapes, Asian pears, and early-harvest varieties of apples.

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.
Crumbles are my absolute favorite food group (it IS a food group, right?).  You can make them with all sorts of fruits throughout the year, and they get put together with a lot less fuss compared to, say, tarts and pies.  Of the many types of baked goods using fruits, crumbles are definitely one of my favorites to eat, and probably THE favorite to make.

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.

August 2011

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?
July 2012

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.
August 2012

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.
It comes from a Japanese baking book called French Baking with Olive Oil by Japanese cooking instructor and author Yoshie Isogai.  The original recipe is for cherry crumbles, which is done in a regular way (i.e. bake the crumble topping and the fruit filling together).  I've made it before and enjoyed it too, but it's the olive oil and fresh mint crumble topping that I find immensely useful, especially for my fresh fruit crumbles.  So now I often bake the topping alone.

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.
Other than olive oil and mint, you need only three ingredients: pastry flour, brown sugar, and ground almonds (almond flour).  You can make it as it is, or swap one or more of the ingredients for another kind.  You can also add some rolled oats or chopped nuts.  It's endlessly versatile.

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.
Here are examples of variations I've made: spelt flour, maple sugar, and ground almonds for the topping, over yellow peaches and raspberries; and buckwheat flour, coconut sugar, and ground hazelnuts, together with blueberries and plums.  Both turned out well!

...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.
Wasn't 'fresh fruits eaten fresh' kind of the point of this crumble recipe of yours?  You may very well ask.  I know, I understand.  I have nothing to say, except to point out that this topping does work perfectly well in regular crumble baking, too.

While we are on this topic, here's another all-baked variation:
Chocolate and mint crumbles with blackberries.  When I was doing some research on other olive oil crumble recipes, I came across this and I just had to give it a try.  I took the recipe I've always used, and threw in some rolled oats and chocolate chips in it.  I also used some blackcurrants in addition to blackberries.  They were delightful served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I had some of the crumble topping left, so I found a good use for it.
I prepared a blueberry muffin batter (using the recipe from the same olive oil baking book), and topped each muffin with the crumble topping before they went into the oven.  Hence blueberry olive oil crumble muffins.  Super!

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.
Whatever you do, I think you'd want a fruity cake/muffin recipe for a crumble topping.  Crumbles are meant for fruits.

...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.
OK, back to fresh fruit crumble: this fruit and yogurt parfait with crumble is basically the same as the fruit salad crumble I've already talked about, but just comes in a glass.  A mixture of summer fruits (strawberries, blueberries, and white peach here) and greek-style yogurt are placed in a glass in layers, with the olive oil-mint crumble topping and a drizzle of honey to finish.  I often make breakfast parfaits of this sort using granola (that much better with a homemade kind), but a crumble topping works well too.

And (yet) another thing crumbles are good with?
Ice cream!  Alright, ice cream goes well with almost everything that's sweet (and not so sweet), but still.  Here I had a scoop of good vanilla ice cream (store-bought) with fresh strawberries tossed in a bit of balsamic vinegar and honey, and a little drizzle of olive oil and a handful of the olive oil-mint crumble topping, and voila!  Vanilla ice cream with balsamic strawberries and olive oil crumble.  Really simple, and really good.  You can also mix crumble into your homemde ice cream, like I did in making rhubarb crumble ice cream back in 2006(!!).

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.
Strawberry, fig, and plum compote with crumble.  It is called compote, but it's only plums that get properly stewed (with some honey here); strawberries and figs are added to the plums after you take them off heat, so the delicate fruits are cooked gently in the residual heat, which makes them retain their fresh flavors (and shape).

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. 
Again, this doesn't really fit in the category of eating fresh fruits fresh, but is distinctly different from making a regular crumble with the same combination of fruits, as the berries and the figs are not cooked into a mushy existence.  This I had with greek-style yogurt, too.

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!
Olive Oil Crumble with Fresh Mint 

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
The original recipe is for cherry crumbles, where you toss fresh cherries together with some sugar, Kirsch, and olive oil, and bake with the topping on them.  A very simple affair, but the use of olive oil and fresh mint leaves really brightens things to up, making it a perfect match to fresh summer fruits.

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.
As I mentioned, the original recipe is for a regular crumble; it uses 300 g (approx. 11 oz) of fresh cherries, baked in four 13-cm (approx. 5-inch) dishes for 20 minutes.  I find 10-15 minutes do the trick for the topping alone.  Check after 10 minutes.

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.
If you do wish to bake the topping together with a fruit filling, you will need to adjust the baking time.  It depends on the amount of fruits and the size of the dish(es) you use, but I would say 15-20 minutes for smallish dishes, and 30-40 minutes for large ones - or possible even longer.  Make sure the topping is golden brown, with some of juice of the fruits bubbling up around the edges of the dish.

Now, to have the baked crumble topping with fresh fruits:
Fruit Salad Crumble

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.
If you have the topping ready, the dish comes together in no time.  You want to fix it right before you want to serve it, since it is often best to serve fresh fruits as soon as they are sliced, and the topping gets soggy when left sitting around on top of the juicy fruits.  Make it quick, and eat it quick too.

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.  

Hope you've had a good summer and enjoyed the season's fruits too! -cx


Tiffany C. said...

Hi Chika. Was wondering if the crumble recipe is missing the ground almonds? The first line states 30g of something but the ingredient is not identified. I'm also wondering if the olive oil baking recipe book has an English translated edition? I'm searching for a recipe book like that!

chika said...

hi tiffany, thanks for the pointer! oops. accidentally deleted the part i guess... corrected now. as for the book, it's not translated into english i'm afraid.. too bad because it's really a useful thing. thanks again!

Amanda @ Gourmanda said...

I think I would like the fresh fruit crumble the most - when you have wonderful sweet fresh summer fruits, why would you want to alter it? said...

Eating crumbles with fresh fruits is a really good idea. Especially when the heat of the sun is burning the ground. I think serve the fruits cool right from the fridge must be really nice. But for dessert after meals, maybe I like the original version which bake the fruits together, I might like to try with banana and strawberry, should be good. :)

Alison said...

Hello Chika,

I was wondering if you chill the olive oil and turn it into solids before you make the crumble?



Alison said...

Hello Chika,

I was wondering if you chill the olive oil to turn it solid before making the crumble?

Thank you!


chika said...

hi alison, no, i don't.