Jim Hillibish: Berries mean it's crunch time
Deep in the heart of American cookery, there resides a small but vocal anti-pie movement. These are folks like us, who cringe at the thought of crafting a perfect piecrust.
It’s not our fault. The competition is simply too obliterating. You know, church potlucks, Mrs. Baker’s signature pies. Nobody can duplicate these. It’s all in the hands, and if you don’t have her hands, you’re toast.
The pie pinnacle is the flaky crust, that fleeting wonder that escapes most of us. They cannot duplicate this with the technology-produced crusts at the grocery. It’s light, it’s airy, it melts in the mouth … it’s impossible.
The crust conundrum causes gardens full of uneaten berries. If we could make a decent pie, that would be no problem.
Plan B: It’s crunch time.
Crunch? As in the candy bar, the Cleveland soccer team, the cereal captain? As in the abdominal exercise, the TV cartoon, the ‘90s rock group or the Great Credit Crunch of 2008?
Belay that. We’re talking mouth feel here, crunchy style.
At its best, a crunch dessert will make you forget everything you remember about classic pies. It’s rich, sweet, so-simple topping baked over the fresh fruits of your choice, crunchy, of course.
Preparation time: 15 minutes. Satisfaction rating: 5 stars. Difficulty: zero.
The pie lovers fight back: “A pie with no crust is like waiting for a bus that never comes.”
Well, forget the pie comparisons. An American crunch holds its own in the beauty contest. As for the taste, no pie can duplicate that rush of crunchy goodness and gush of fresh berries underneath. Ever.
Honey-Crunch Fruit Topping
- 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1⁄2 cup honey
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter, diced cold
- 1⁄4 cup flour
- 1⁄2 cup salted peanuts, lightly chopped
Combine ingredients and drop over sweetened berries in ovenproof dish. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until fruit is bubbling. Serve over ice cream, pie, brownies or nearly any other dessert.
Power up your next casserole with this:
- 1⁄2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1⁄4 cup tablespoon soft bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
- Dash of paprika
Melt butter with garlic. Off heat and toss with remaining ingredients. Cover top of a casserole with mixture, bake for 30 minutes or until a crunchy, golden brown.
All-American Berry Crunch
- 2 pints ripe berries
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1⁄2 cup rolled oats
- 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons butter, cold
- 1⁄2 cup chopped nuts, optional
Grease a 9-by-9-inch baking pan, glass preferred. Rinse berries in a colander. If using strawberries, cut off tops and slice into quarters. Pour berries into baking pan.
Dribble lemon juice onto berries, and mix. Add the sugar and all-purpose flour, and stir.
For the topping, combine whole-wheat flour, oats, brown sugar, nuts (optional) and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the butter cut into small pieces. Topping should resemble crumbs. Mix and sprinkle over berries in baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until berries are bubbling.
Serves 4 to 6.
Notes: Whipped cream and vanilla ice cream are favorite toppings. Some of the most successful crunches are with mixed fruit, such as strawberries and rhubarb, blueberries and pineapple, apples and raisins or currants, peaches and any of the above.
All-American Dessert Parade
Cobbler: Any crustless dessert baked with a sweet-dough topping. Also known as slump, grunt and pandowdy, depending on U.S. region.
Crunch: A crustless fruit dessert with cookie-like crumbles of topping.
Crumble: Similar to a crunch, usually served with custard or ice cream. In England, it means crustless meat pies.
Crackle: Brownie or cookie topping that is soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside.
Crisp: Usually baked apples with crumbs of topping including nuts, oats, brown sugar, sugar and nutmeg. Apple-rhubarb is most famous option.
Brown Betty: Layers of apples or pears, breadcrumbs and brown sugar.