Make a custom crisp using what’s on hand

Fruit dessert offers a lot of wiggle room


Baking is more like a science, cooks will tell you, and the recipes are closer to formulas.

Although the idea is easily applied to cakes and cookies, fruit crumbles offer much more wiggle room.

A crumble requires simply picking a fruit (or a combination), sweetening and spicing the filling as desired, then making the topping.

What you have in the cupboard or what your family likes might dictate your version.

Keep in mind some general guidelines:

• Gather about 4 pounds of fruit. Peel, core, and slice choices such as pears and apples; use whole berries, or halve grapes, if desired.

• Add spices to the fruit mixture or the topping (or both). Those such as nutmeg and cinnamon are warming; ginger is a little sharper.

• Make the topping in a mixer, in a food processor or even by hand. It just needs to be crumbly, not like a solid mass as with cookie dough.

• For stellar results, follow these tried-and-true methods:

1. Pick the fruit. Choose sturdy fruits such as pears, plums, apples, or peaches (or a combination) for the best results, or add softer fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, or even grapes. Consider dried fruits such as raisins or cranberries, too. Needed: a total of about 4 pounds.

2. Make the filling. Sweeten the fruit as needed (depending on its natural sweetness) with up to a half-cup of sugar or brown sugar. With part honey or maple syrup, take care not to burn the filling. Add spices such as nutmeg, ginger or cinnamon, as desired; then a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch or flour to thicken the juices.

3. Make the topping. Combine oats, flour, brown sugar or granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt. Add nuts — almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios — and spices. Rub butter into the mix.

4. Assemble and bake the result. Divide the fruit among buttered ramekins or place it in a larger baking dish. Sprinkle the fruit with the topping. Bake the crumble until the topping is golden brown, the juices are bubbling thickly and the fruit is tender.