And that’s how the apricot crumbles – Last week we were walking down the street when we passed by a fruit-seller selling apricots. It had been quite some time since either of us had had apricots (in fact, I can’t really remember the last time), so we bought a bag of about a dozen. The first thing I thought of when I saw the apricots was apricot crumble, and as we were walking home I said I wanted to make it for dessert. Hyunjin wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea and replied, “Can’t we just eat them fresh?” We had enough to eat fresh and make crumble as well, and I said as much, but she still didn’t look convinced. Still, I persisted, because I knew that she had never had apricot crumble before.
That evening, after dinner, I chopped up three of the apricots and made two single-serving ramekins of apricot crumble. Less than an hour later they were out of the oven, and I topped them with some ice cream and served them. Sure enough, Hyunjin loved it, so much so that she asked me to make it again. So, on Friday evening, I worked my magic once more—but this time I documented the process with photographs so I could share it with you, dear reader.
We begin with the humble apricot, a drupe or “stone fruit.”
These apricots are relatively small (although, to be honest, I don’t remember how big apricots are in the States) at around 60-70 grams without the stones, so I used three for the two ramekins. Without the stones they came out to 188 grams.
Depending on the size of the dish, you may not have to chop up the apricots quite this much—if you’re making a large crumble in a casserole dish, for example, simply halving the apricots (and then placing them skin down) would probably be enough. But since our ramekins are so small (200 ml to the brim), I chopped up the apricots so they would fill the dishes.
These are the dry ingredients for the apricots. The largest mound is two level tablespoons of palm sugar (sugar made from the juice of the sugar palm, or Borasses flabellifer). A lot of crumble recipes will call for brown sugar, but not all brown sugar is created equal. What most people think of as brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses added back in. Natural brown sugar, though, is simply unrefined sugar crystallized from the juice of the sugar can; muscovado and turbinado are two varieties you might recognize. These natural brown sugars are going to be more expensive than “regular” brown sugar, but that’s what I would use if I didn’t have palm sugar. I use palm sugar not necessarily because it has vitamins (specifically thiamin) and minerals (such as calcium and iron) in it, although that is certainly a benefit, but simply because I think it tastes better—it has a rich, caramel-like flavor in addition to the sweetness.
There is a pinch or two of salt on top of the palm sugar, then, going clockwise, we have one teaspoon of cornstarch (to thicken the liquid that will invariably be drawn out of the apricots), a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon, and an eighth teaspoon of minced ginger. The ginger we had on hand was preserved in Andong soju (a distilled rice alcohol with an ABV similar to vodka), although if I had had fresh ginger I would have peeled and grated that. Ginger might not be the first thing you would think of when it comes to apricots, but it goes well with cinnamon (ginger and cinnamon are, in fact, the basic spices in the tasty Korean cold punch known as sujeonggwa) and adds a subtle kick to the apricots. The proportions can vary, but you want to use more cinnamon than ginger in any case.
I dumped the dry ingredients into the apricots and then stirred them until everything was dissolved. As you can see, the sugar will bring out the juice from the apricots, and after maybe a minute of stirring you’ll end up with a syrupy mixture like this. With this we’re finished with the apricots; it’s time to make the crumble. This step doesn’t take long, so it was at this point that I decided to preheat my oven. I turned my trusty mini-oven to 180 degrees Celsius (or approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit) with the rack in the center.
These are the dry ingredients for the crumble: 30 grams of all-purpose flour (roughly three level tablespoons, unsifted), 10 grams of rolled oats (this is a small handful for me), one level tablespoon of palm sugar, a pinch of salt, and a dash or so of cinnamon. To bring all this together we need fat. You can use butter, but I used margarine, specifically 15 grams or about a tablespoon. The fat is then worked into the dry ingredients with the fingertips until it is completely incorporated. Note that this is not a pie crust—we don’t have to worry about the butter or margarine melting. In fact, it needs to melt to be worked completely into the dry ingredients. The mixture tends to stick to the fingertips at first, but once the ingredients are fully incorporated your fingertips will be relatively clean.
This is roughly what you’ll end up with. There will be some big crumbles and some small crumbles; don’t worry too much about the size of the crumbles. You may want to break up any really big chunks, but it’s really up to you.
With the crumble done, I divided the apricot mixture between the ramekins. Note the thick, dark syrup; I used a bowl scraper to make sure that I got every last drop of that sweet apricot goodness.
This may look like a lot of crumble, but as you’ll see it bakes down into a nice, crispy crust. If you don’t like as much crumble you can of course use less—but then again if you don’t like crumble you may just want to make a compote, which is even easier (basically you stew fruit in a spiced sugar syrup) and can also be served with ice cream. Some people like to sprinkle some more sugar over the crumble for a sweet, glistening finish, but since we were going to be having ice cream on this I left the sugar off.
After twenty-five minutes in the oven, the crumble had browned nicely and the apricot filling was thick and bubbling.
And here is the finished product with a chunk of ice cream on top. If that looks like a strange shape for a scoop of ice cream, that’s because it’s not a scoop. It’s an individually-wrapped portion of ice cream that goes by the brand name of “Excellent” here in Korea. True to its name, it’s actually pretty good, and it is ideal for desserts like this—just unwrap the block of ice cream, drop it on top, and you’re ready to go.
Actually, my first instinct when it comes to crumbles or crisps is a thin custard (crème anglaise), especially for a fruit as tart as apricot. I probably could have whipped up a real quick custard while the crumble was baking, but it would have been a bit rushed. Had I been making this dessert in the winter (in which case I probably wouldn’t have been using apricots, but anyway) I probably would have taken the extra time to make a custard in advance, but since it is summer and very hot in Korea these days, the ice cream seemed like a perfect accompaniment. And I specifically used the “French vanilla” flavor, which is custard-based as opposed to simply cream-based, so I was staying true to the concept.
With the ramekins out of the oven and the ice cream on top, it was time to eat. For your sake, dear reader, I stopped after a few bites to take another picture so you could see what the “guts” of the dessert look like. At this point, of course, the ice cream has begun to melt, obscuring most of the innards. It’s quite obscene—be warned that the following photo may not be safe for work.
Pictures are all well and good, but the appearance of the dish is only a small part of the enjoyment. Far more important are taste and aroma, which unfortunately I cannot share with you here. But I can tell you that it tasted and smelled wonderful: with the ice cream on top, the dish is a contrast of tastes, textures, and temperatures. The cold sweetness of the ice cream perfectly complements the warm tartness of the apricots, and the crumble adds a nutty crunchiness to the party. I doubt that someone who did not know the ginger was there would be able to pick it out (unless they are an epicure), but I think it contributed to the flavor.
For your convenience, here is the recipe, culled from the above description, good for two 200 ml ramekins:
- 3 apricots, pitted and coarsely chopped (~190 g)
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 2 Tbs palm sugar (or natural brown sugar)
- A pinch of salt
- 1/8 tsp ginger, grated/minced
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon, ground
- 30 g of all-purpose flour (roughly 3 Tbs)
- 10 g of rolled oats (a small handful)
- 1 Tbs palm sugar (or natural brown sugar)
- A pinch of salt
- A dash of cinnamon
- 15 g of margarine (roughly 1 Tbs)
And now I have a confession: I didn’t follow this recipe when I made the crumble for the first time; I only measured and wrote down what I was doing on Friday because I knew I would be writing this entry. Truth be told, there is a lot of wiggle room in this recipe, and you could probably throw something together without a recipe at all and still be successful. I suppose the most important thing is to make something that tastes good to you. We like tart foods, so I used a relatively small amount of sugar and balanced that out with the ice cream. But maybe you like sweeter fare—feel free to add more sugar to the fruit.
And, speaking of fruit, you can make this dessert with a wide variety of fruits. Other stone fruits make good crumble fodder: peaches, plums, nectarines, and cherries, for example. Many berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, work as well. Finally, apples are a perennial favorite. In fact, most warm pie fruits will probably work. You may also want to play around with the seasonings; ginger and cinnamon are not the only possible spice combinations. Nutmeg and cloves spring to mind, but there is plenty of room for creativity.
When it comes to the crumble, you may want to increase the proportion of oats or again throw in different spices. Although I’m a stickler for precise measurements when it comes to baking (breads, cakes, etc.), this is a different ballgame. A 2:1 ratio by weight of flour/oats to margarine works for me, but you can also just eyeball it and see what happens. After about a minute of working the ingredients, if things aren’t coming together like you had hoped, add more fat. On the other hand, if everything is still too sticky, add more flour. It’s more of an art than an exact science.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a very care-free dessert that is easy to prepare and tastes awesome. Take advantage of whatever fresh fruit you have access to and experiment until you find something that works for you. And if you do make a crumble of your own that turns out great, let me know! I’d love to hear about it.