A fragrant fruit crisp, its lightly condensed and juicy fruit sheltered beneath a snappy, nut-enriched topping, is one of the sweetest prototypes of summer baking. The treatment is simple, and the result is fresh, warm and inviting.
Stone fruit -- fruit with a single pit -- ripe and barely yielding to the touch makes excellent crisp material, as do berries. Peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums should be halved, pitted and thickly sliced or quartered; of those four, only the peaches need to be peeled. If stone fruit is sliced too thinly, the oven's heat will cause the fruit to break down into indiscriminate splotches and turn jamlike rather than retain its chunkiness.
In general, the fruit for a crisp should be sweetened beforehand, using a little more than one-third cup sugar for five cups of fruit; consider this amount of sugar approximate, as fruit with a more concentrated flavor will need less sugar. For an all-berry crisp or a crisp made with any type or mixture of very juicy fruit, it is helpful to lightly thicken and bind the fruit mixture by mixing a small amount of cornstarch into the sugar before combining the ingredients.
The crumbly topping is a matter of combining flour and two types of sugar with a pinch of salt before working in some butter, almonds or walnuts and a flavoring extract to heighten the taste of the fruit. The combination is then kneaded together until moist, sandy-textured lumps are formed.
As fruit crisp bakes, its perfume drifts around and about the kitchen, making the wait for dessert very hard indeed.
Summer Fruit Crisp
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or just a splash of good and thick heavy cream.
For the crisp topping:
11/4 cups flour
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
7 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
2/3 cup slivered almonds or chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon each of vanilla extract and almond extract)
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting the baked crisp (optional)
For the fruit:
5 cups fruit (peeled, pitted and thickly sliced stone fruit; berries; or a combination of sliced fruit and berries; see Variations, below)
2 tablespoons peach or apricot preserves
6 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste (if the crisp is made entirely of blueberries or blackberries, or with very juicy fruit, blend 2 teaspoons cornstarch into the sugar)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a deep 12-inch ovenproof baking dish.
For the topping: In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, sugars and salt. Scatter over the pieces of butter and, using a pastry blender (or two round-bladed knives), cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles small flakes. Add the almonds or walnuts and the vanilla. Using your fingertips, work the mixture to form big and small cohesive lumps of topping. The pieces will be moist, buttery and irregularly shaped. Set aside.
For the fruit: In a medium bowl, gently combine the fruit or berries, preserves and sugar.
Turn the fruit mixture into the baking dish. Strew the crisp topping over it to form an even layer, but keep the crisp light rather than packing it down.
Bake at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the topping is set and golden and the fruit is bubbly. Sprinkle the top with confectioners' sugar, if desired. Serve warm.
NOTE: The crisp may be made into individual servings. Divide the fruit mixture among eight 1-cup ovenproof baking dishes and sprinkle on the crisp topping mixture. Place the dishes on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, until the fruit is bubbly and the topping is golden. Just before serving, dust the tops with confectioners' sugar, if desired.
VARIATIONS: A combination of sliced fruit and succulent berries creates a flavorful base:
Peach (or Nectarine) and Blueberry: Use 3 cups thickly sliced peaches (or nectarines) and 2 cups blueberries.
Peach (or Nectarine), Plum and Blueberry: Use 2 cups thickly sliced peaches (or nectarines), 2 cups thickly sliced red plums and 1 cup blueberries.
Apricot and Cherry: Use 3 cups (halved, pitted and quartered) apricots and 2 cups (stemmed and pitted) sweet cherries.
Apricot and Peach: Use 3 cups (halved, pitted and quartered) apricots and 2 cups thickly sliced (peeled) peaches.
Apricot and Blueberry: Use 3 cups (halved, pitted and quartered) apricots and 2 cups blueberries.
Nectarine and Cherry: Use 3 cups thickly sliced nectarines and 2 cups (stemmed and pitted) sweet cherries.
Plum and Cherry: Use 4 cups thickly sliced plums and 1 cup (stemmed and pitted) sweet cherries.
Fig and Cherry: Use 2 cups (stemmed and quartered) figs and 3 cups (stemmed and pitted) sweet cherries.
Per serving: 456 calories, 5 g protein, 66 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 41 mg cholesterol, 10 g saturated fat, 46 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber
Recipe tested by Damien Brouillard; e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Yockelson is the author of "Baking by Flavor" and the forthcoming "ChocolateChocolate" (both by John Wiley & Sons). She last wrote for Food about rocky road baking.
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