When it comes to seasonal fruit desserts, it seems like pie gets all of the attention. It’s certainly popular for a reason: when it comes to delivery systems for warm fruit, flaky pastry is pretty unbeatable. But pie is also a bit of a hassle, with the rolling and the fluting and the slight chance that it could all go wrong. Which is why, lately, I’ve been making crumbles instead–and, each time, remembering why they might be my favorite fruit dessert of all time.
A good fruit crumble (or crisp–the names seem interchangeable, or at least arbitrary) skips right past most of the hassle of pie-making, replacing the pastry shell with a topping of oaty, buttery crumbs. It delivers the same molten, bubbling, thick-and-juicy payoff as a pie, without the need for structural integrity. It relies almost entirely on kitchen and pantry staples–oats, flour, butter, sugar, maybe some chopped nuts–and comes together in the fraction of the time it takes to make, bake, and cool a pie. It’s dead easy to convert to gluten-free, just by swapping in rice flour for all-purpose. And instead of cutting precise slices, you can just slop portions into a bowl, top them with something cool and creamy, and call it a day.
This particular crumble, made with fresh sweet cherries and frozen cranberries, was a real eye-opener. It started as a way to use up a pound of fresh cherries–not enough for a crumble by itself, but too much for almost anything else. I found a partly-full bag of cranberries in the freezer and added them in, intending just to bulk out the crumble. In all honesty, I wasn’t even going to blog about this crumble, because it felt so strange to mix in-season and out-of-season fruit. But then I took a taste, and my mind did a backflip. This was just so, so good.
In Northern California, fresh sour cherries are practically unheard of; the only fresh cherries we can get are sweet. But as it turns out, combining sweet cherries and tart cranberries has a sour cherry-like effect, at once puckery and sugary. It also creates a remarkable texture: the cherries dissolve into the sauce, while the cranberries keep their shape, creating a soft, soupy filling with slippery, tangy pockets of fruit. Cherries and cranberries have very different seasons, so this recipe will always require a mix of fresh and frozen fruit–but it is 100 percent worth it. Add a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream, and you’ve got a dessert that’ll make cherry pie jealous.