But before we get into my new favorite topping, let me give you a rough outline of the makings of any baked fruit crisp. Fruit of your choice is washed, prepped and coarsely chopped and tossed in its baking dish (usually, a deep dish pie pan, but it can be scaled up easily to a 9×13) with somewhere between two tablespoons (for a not very leaky fruit) to half a cup of flour (berries, I’m looking at you), some sugar (more for rhubarb, way less for peaches), a pinch of salt and some flavoring, be it lemon juice, cinnamon or a scrape of vanilla. Go wild. The topping always begins with melted butter, because it’s the easiest and it has never failed me, a few tablespoons of brown, white or crunchy sugar, and a mixture of flour/oats/finely chopped nuts or just flour. This mix is spread over the fruit mixture and popped in the oven for 40 to 60 minutes, while a resolution-weakening aroma wafts through your apartment. There is simply nothing not to love.
But here’s where things were never quite ideal: You see, I’m a topping junkie, and one stick of butter’s worth never made quite enough. Oh, sure, it covered well, but what I really wanted was a big bite topping with every bite of fruit. Yet, uninterested in turning a healthful baked fruit dessert into something with the caloric heft of cheesecake, I refuse to double the topping to a two-stick of butter count.
Enter the darling Nigella Lawson. In a pear-apple crumble recipe published in the New York Times a few years ago–which I’ve made, and is both understated and fantastic–she adds a teaspoon of baking powder to a somewhat standard crisp topping and turns it into a crumble, with large rubble-like pieces of awesome, without upping the butter in any way. All this time, I thought I could love nothing more than a baked fruit crisp, and it took a single bite of a rhubarb-strawberry crumble at a Sunday afternoon barbeque to turn my back on the crisp, perhaps for good.
With a little leavening, the proportion of topping to fruit is closer to the gloried 1:2 ratio that makes you feel like you’re being “good,” just not earnestly so. Personally, I can’t imagine wanting anything more from dessert.
Yields 6 to 8 servings.
For the topping:
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar (or turbinado sugar aka Sugar in the Raw)
Zest of one lemon
1/4 pound (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 quart strawberries plus a few extras, hulled, quartered
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch (some commenters found the flour option a little too, well, floury so this has been updated)
Pinch of salt
1. Heat oven to 375°F. Prepare topping: In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugars and lemon zest and add the melted butter. Mix until small and large clumps form. Refrigerate until needed.
2. Prepare filling: Toss rhubarb, strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and a pinch of salt in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. (I used an oval dish this time, because they fit better in the bottom of a shopping bag.)
3. Remove topping from refrigerator and cover fruit thickly and evenly with topping. Place pie plate on a (foil-lined, if you really want to think ahead) baking sheet, and bake until crumble topping is golden brown in places and fruit is bubbling beneath, about 40 to 50 minutes.