It's only taken me two years, but on Friday night I finally, finally, got around to trying Marian Burros's plum crumble. Longtime readers of this site will remember back when I made her fabled plum torte with somewhat unspectacular results. I felt like such a Grinch that day, just as I did when I made Marion Cunningham's yeasted waffles and didn't like them. There's something intimidating about famous recipes, isn't there? Something that makes you feel pressured into liking them, even if, secretly, you don't. (I actually plan on trying the torte again soon, with less sugar and a smaller pan. But more on that another time.)
Luckily, Marian's crumble isn't world-renowned the way its cakey cousin is. But that doesn't mean it's not deserving of fame and fortune. Glittering with translucent dots of spicy, candied ginger, its craggy, crunchy top a perfect bed for rivulets of melting ice cream or thick, poured cream, this crumble is a stunner. The topping comes together a little like streusel - hand-formed clumps of dough strewn over the halved and sugared plums. But then you pour a flood of melted butter over the topping, which, after baking, fuses the clumps together into a sweet and spicy cookie of sorts. Wielding your spoon and a judicious scoop of ice cream for its softening powers, you break through the topping to find purply-soft plums beneath, cooked to a jammy, sweet-sour pulp.
I always thought crumbles were softer affairs, more fruit than topping, with a fluffier crumb. But I'm happy to make this crumble the standard-bearer, the crumble to beat all other crumbles. Actually, wait. I should point out one or two things first. When I make this again, I'll be doing a few things differently.
First, I'll be doubling the amount of fruit. Cooked plums are such a gift that it seems silly to skimp on them, especially when I'd be happy eating them by the bowlful most of the time. Which leads me to my next point, a larger dish. If you double the amount of fruit, you could keep using the 9-inch pie plate, or you could throw the fruit and topping into a casserole dish, spreading your fortunes out a bit. This would turn the topping into more of a pebbly punctuation among the juicy plums than a solid mass capping it all. And lastly, go easy on the salt, people. There's a fine line to toe and it's just a little too easy to stray over that line sometimes.
Just to make things even more perfect, this crumble, with a dollop of plain yogurt, after impressing dinner guests to no end on Friday, doubles as a lovely Sunday breakfast. Cold from the fridge, the plums jelled to a squidgy consistency, the spices tamed by the cooling yogurt - well, all I can say is that you should try it, you really should.
I'm so glad I can love this crumble unequivocally. And maybe even start a little following that could snowball into a world-wide movement. But if you decide you don't like it, don't be afraid to admit it. That's not the way we roll around here. It wouldn't be quite fair, would it? A chacun son gout and that's that.
Serves 6 to 8
12 purple Italian or prune plums, cut in half and pitted
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 heaping tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (easy, easy here - maybe even just 1/8 teaspoon)
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Vanilla ice cream, optional
1. Place plums in medium bowl. Heat oven to 375 degrees, with rack in center.
2. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix brown sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ground ginger and the candied ginger. Add to plums and mix well. Arrange plums skin side up in ungreased, deep 9-inch pie plate.
3. In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar, baking powder, remaining flour and cinnamon and the salt. Mix well. Stir in egg. Using hands, mix thoroughly to produce little particles. Sprinkle over plums.
4. Drizzle butter evenly over crumb mixture and bake 30 to 35 minutes. Crumble is done when top is browned and plums yield easily when pricked with cake tester. Remove from oven and cool.
5. Serve crumble warm or refrigerate for up to two days or freeze, well covered. If reheating, bring to room temperature, then warm at 300 degrees. If desired, serve with ice cream.
Note: If you decide, like me, to double the amount of plums to 24, just remember to change the amounts of the sugar and spices that you toss the plums in, too. I'd do 3-4 tablespoons of brown sugar to taste, 3 tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger and 3 to 4 tablespoons of finely chopped candied ginger.