Humble crumble: easy finish to a perfect dinner

Blueberry and Pineapple Crumble DSC01633 When it comes to desserts the world seems to fall into two camps: chocolate lovers and fruit lovers. No one will ever accuse me of short-serving my many chocolate-loving guests, but this one’s for the other half. This simple blueberry and pineapple crumble will delight all fruit lovers at the dinner table, and maybe even win over a choclatier groupie, at least for a night.

Why is a crumble like this always such a universal success?

It’s simply delicious. And multi-seasonal. Of course warm, gooey, and sweet fruits work reliably well on cold winter days, but this dessert is a great stage for the first delightful offerings of the summer harvest. All kinds of berry-fruit combinations will work. I love strawberries with rhubarb for spring; blueberries and peaches in summer. Another summer winner: gooseberries—so good and such a special treat that they are well-worth growing yourself, just for this recipe (as I do!). Back to winter again (though we’re in no rush for that here…), try pineapple, plums, pears… you get the idea.

I recently stumbled upon this combo of blueberry and pineapple, a product of necessity as I was faced one evening with an impromptu dinner party (worse things can happen…) and in need of a dessert. On the hunt, we found two bags of frozen fruit behind the ice maker and underneath some frozen wedding cake.

The outcome was a surprise winner. Until I tasted it, I hadn’t been able to imagine this pastry’s combo flavor in my head. Now the taste is firmly lodged in my personal taste history, happily and with 4 stars. (I always forget; is that memory located in your brain or in your heart?) Let me know if you stumble upon an unlikely winning fruit combination—it’s a fun experiment!

This dessert can be prepared well in advance of dinner. Assemble the portions in 4 oz ramekins and store in the refrigerator. As soon as the main course is on the table, place the crumbles in a 360 degree oven. Fifteen to 20 minutes later goodness will emerge: an elegant steaming bubbling sweet fruity mess. The crumble adds a just-right crunch and the hearty-oats illusion of heart healthiness.

Guten Appetit!

Ingredients for crumble DSC01548

 

Humble crumble: blueberry and pineapple
 
A versatile dessert that is easy to prepare in advance and nicely showcases fruits from all seasons
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • 3 cups of blueberries (I used frozen ones)
  • 3 cups of pineapple chunks (again, I used the frozen variety)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ⅓ cup sugar

  • For the crumble:
  • 1 stick of butter, cubed
  • 1 cup of flour
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon zest of orange
  • 1 cup of rolled oats
Instructions
  1. Mix the fruit with the sugar and cornstarch until evenly coated.
  2. Distribute into 6-8 4-oz ramekin dishes.
  3. For the crumble, pulse in a food processor the butter, flour, sugar and salt until coarse, pea-sized pieces are formed.
  4. Add the egg and the orange zest. Continue pulsing until the dough comes together.
  5. Finally add the oats, pulse a few times, taking care not to pulverize the oats.
  6. Distribute the crumble into the ramekins.
  7. Eat the leftover dough when nobody's looking.
  8. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan into a 360-degree preheated oven, middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. Frozen fruit will take a little longer. The crumble is done when you like the color of your crust--don't remove them too early. You want a nice golden brown crust.
  9. Serve with powdered sugar and/or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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Strawberries and Yoghurt Foam

Dessert with Strawberries and Yohurt Fresh Strawberries Ingredients for Strawberries and Yoghurt Foam

Here in New York we are experiencing what we hope are the last days of winter. After this long, cold season with all its rich and comforting foods, I am starting to long for dishes on the lighter side: a fresh salad, maybe some crunchy early-season vegetables. But my strongest urge at the moment is for fresh berries. Our local berries won’t ripen until June, but I can always find some strawberries in the fruit aisle of my trusty food purveyor.

This Strawberries and Yoghurt Foam dessert strikes a nice balance: fresh berries as early ambassadors of spring, yoghurt foam corresponding perfectly with the berries. The light acidity of the yoghurt is enriched by an itsy bitsy tiny amount of heavy cream. And this innovative preparation can be made utilizing your whipped cream maker—but don’t worry if you don’t own one of these; I’ll provide an alternate preparation method.

Strawberries and Yogurt Foam
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A fresh and elegant strawberry dessert that's easy to make. The foam gives this a distinct modern feel that will impress your guests.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 4 to 6
Ingredients
  • 1 lb strawberries
  • 8 oz plain yoghurt
  • 2 oz heavy cream
  • 2 tbls sugar
Instructions
  1. Clean and quarter the strawberries
  2. Mix the yoghurt, cream, and sugar in a bowl
  3. Fill the mixture into the whipped cream maker and load with 2 nitrous cartridges
  4. Cool in refrigerator for about 2 hours
  5. Shake well and dopple generously upon the fruit

In case you don’t own one of these fancy, gleaming, stainless steel, German-engineered iSi whipped cream makers, don’t despair… much. Instead, roll up your sleeves, get out the balloon whisk, and whip away. It won’t be as fluffy, and it won’t be as much fun as my yoghurt foam extravaganza, but the delightful taste will be the same.

The famous Spanish chef Adrian Faran was the inspiration for this wonderful recipe.

Guten Appetit!
Assembling the Strawberry and Yogurt Foam

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Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle

Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle

Fruit-based desserts rank high for me as a delicious ending to an elegant dinner with friends. They satisfy my sweet tooth while not being too filling. And as a figment of my imagination I believe they are good for you. This recipe for Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle is easy to prepare in advance, looks elegant on the plate, and is actually quite low in fat, since I prepare my Creme Anglaise with fat-free milk. Let’s get started:

Poached Pears

You need:

Half a pear per person, peeled and core removed (if you serve only a 1-to-2 courses before dessert and/or have hungry eaters, you can of course do a full pear per person).
A stick of cinnamon
3 pieces of star anise
4 or 5 cloves
3/4 cup of sugar
1 bottle of red wine

It’s easier than you think to poach pears. Dump all ingredients in a pot. Ensure that the pears are covered by liquid, but just barely—add a little more wine if you need to. Simmer at a low bubble for about 30 minutes. You want the pears soft but not so soft that they fall apart. I poke a knife in them at the end of the cooking time to check—you might need a little bit more cooking if you feel resistance from your poke, etc. The key to success here is, a) to choose the right pears and, b) to choose an appropriate red wine. Pear-wise I go with the firmer type, like a Bartlett, but have had success with others as well. So maybe just go with what looks best (but firm) at the store. Wine-wise you will want to use one that would enjoy drinking, so don’t go too low-rent. Then again, a $100 burgundy would be a little extravagant. I picked a Cote du Rhone for about $15. Yes, it seems pricey (well, maybe not in NYC!),  but I will try to reuse the cooking liquid as a base for a fruit soup within a few days.

Poached Pears in red wine

Once the pears are cooked I turn off the heat and let the fruit cool, leaving it in the cooking liquid. Your kitchen now should smell of wonderful wintery spices: cinnamon, star anise and clove… Leave the pears in the liquid until you are ready to serve them.

Almond Brittle

Glorious Almond Brittle You need:

1 1/2 cups of slivered almonds
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of heavy cream

In order to create the brittle you need to first cook the caramel. For this I first put a little water in a heavy-bottomed pot, just enough to coat the bottom. This somehow helps to create a smooth caramel without crystallization. In goes the sugar. Melt the sugar on medium heat until you achieve the right golden brown color. If the caramel is too light you will miss out on flavor; if it is overdone you will taste charcoal. Neither is desirable! As soon as you detect the right color, take the pot off the heat and add the heavy cream, in one big swoop. You will cause a slightly frightening bubbling in the pan. The heavy cream is necessary; without it the caramel would harden to a glass-like consistency that would not be pleasant to eat. Experiment over time with the amount of cream: too much and you create a more toffee-like consistency, too little will create a hard caramel. Regardless of amount, make sure you stir well to achieve a smooth texture.

Pour the caramel onto a half-sheet pan. I use a silicone mat (like a Silpat) in the pan, which prevents the caramel from sticking. If you don’t have a Silpat (you really should have one…), spray the pan with a non-stick spray to achieve the same effect. While your caramel is still a hot liquid, sprinkle the almonds in. Done is the brittle—it is that easy! I put the sheet pan in the freezer to ensure the brittle is crisp and easy to break when I plate the dessert.

Creme Anglaise

You need:

1 vanilla pod
1/2 cup of sugar
2 cups of skim milk (ideally a super creamy type, like Skim Plus from Parmelat)
1 or 2 egg yolks

Creme Anglaise is a classic dessert sauce. You can find recipes for it everywhere. I try to save some calories here (for summer is coming…), while not sacrificing the wholesome, creamy sauce texture. Cut the vanilla pod lengthwise and scape out the seeds. Pod and seeds go into a pot with the milk and the sugar. Bring to a simmer (avoid rapid cooking of the milk) and let the vanilla steep for 10 mins in the milk. In a heat-proof bowl mix the egg yolks with a little of the hot milk mixture. This is called tempering the eggs and it avoids shocking the egg yolks, which you’d do if you were to just drop them into the hot milk. The egg yolk/milk mixture goes into the pot. Now starts the part where you need to pay attention to the cooking. You want to slowly heat the mixture and constantly stir. At some point you will see that the milk is thickening. When it has the desired texture, take it off the heat and pour into a heat-proof bowl. I like to strain the sauce while pouring. This way you get the vanilla pod out and any tiny pieces of hardened egg that formed in the cooking process. (If you really overheat, the mixture will curdle and create… a very sweet scrambled egg. If this happens, you either have to start over or grab a store-bought equivalent. I recommend the former—besides the superior taste, practice makes perfect!)

Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle

How will we serve this multi-component dessert? Generally speaking, I think that perfecting the art of the dinner party necessitates that you develop a routine, effective plating method. You want to create beautiful plates but you need to perform this relatively quickly, so that neither the food gets cold nor are your guests kept waiting for too long. At this point in the dinner, however, they may well be reasonably alcoholized (I should probably just say ‘hydrated’), which means you’ll have a little more time to be precise with your plating. As you can see, I put all my plates in a row and do mass production, one component at a time. First I slice the pears, leaving each half together at the top of the pear. This way they get that fan-look. The sauce goes on next. Last is the piece of brittle.

My most recent attempt at Poached Pears with Creme Anglaise and Almond Brittle was a full and memorable success. Even the die-hard chocolate-only dessert fans loved them. You gotta try this recipe.

Guten Apetit!

Baked Apples with Yoghurt Foam

A winter desert that is simple and yummy at the same time: old fashioned baked apples with yoghurt foam. We loved it on a cold Sunday night.