Blackberries are a wonderful late-summer treat. What makes them exciting (and cheap!) in comparison to other fruit, is their wide availability outside of supermarkets. That is to say, growing wild on brambles in woods. Going out on a sunny day with a wariness for the stinging nettles that seem to spring up near every good patch of juicy blackberries and a small basket for collecting puts a sense of rural enthusiasm back into cooking. Finding them yourself puts you right into the framework of this dish, seeing the fruit go from branch to crumble. They are in season right now, bursting with flavour and waiting to be picked from their resident woodland paths! Keep an eye out and pick some if you can, because this recipe showcases them brilliantly, eschewing apples and focussing solely on their amazing flavour and texture.
But no matter what delicious filling you choose, the crumble topping itself can sometimes prove difficult to make – the perfect crumble mix relies on a lot of ‘volatile’ factors, and as a result the process can easily go wrong. The temperature of the ingredients, the butter especially, is crucial – when the fat is warm, its softer consistency means that it instantly melts into the flour and sugar, creating pastry rather than a breadcrumb-resembling topping. This can be made worse by having hands that are hot, as they not only warm the butter, but help mould the dry ingredients into a pastry ball. Once this happens, it is impossible to rework the ingredients into fine, soft crumble, as rubbing the mixture at this point pushes it further into the territory of pastry. Appreciating these difficulties, when the original recipe suggested mixing the crumble ingredients in a food processor, I was intrigued to see if this would go some way to solving the problem. Although I was unable to fit all the ingredients into the food processor at one time, this turned out to be to my advantage – the half placed in the food processor promptly became thick and stodgy, and was ruined as crumble.
Looking into making crumble toppings, a simple solution widely suggested is to cube the butter; the butter does not have a chance to melt into the flour as one entity in this form. This, combined with running your hands under a cold tap before beginning the preparation process, widely prevents the crumble going awry. Finally, to create the correct pressure for rubbing the ingredients together, try not to get the mixture above your fingertips. And hopefully with this advice, your crumble will be perfect!
- 120g plain flour
- 120g unsalted butter, cubed and refrigerated to ensure its cool temperature
- 75g brown sugar (muscovado or demerara)
- 400g blackberries
- 50g caster sugar
- The zest and the juice of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Place the blackberries in an oven-proof casserole dish, and finely zest the lemon over the berries.
- Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze in the juice of each half. Shake the dish gently to move the lemon flavours around. Sprinkle over the 50g of caster sugar to sweeten the berries, and then set aside for later.
- In a cold, clean bowl, place the cubed butter. Sieve over the plain flour, and with cold hands, gently rub the two ingredients together until fine breadcrumbs are formed.
- Sprinkle in the brown sugar, and gently shake the bowl to combine. Do not be tempted to use your hands or a spoon to bring the mixture together, as this could risk turning the crumble into pastry!
- Scatter the crumble mix over the blackberry filling, and place in the oven. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crumble is brown and the blackberries are seeping out the sides and through the topping.
- Allow to cool slightly before serving with a helping of ice cream or cream.