Nothing is more quintessentially summer to me then a morning of fruit picking followed by an afternoon of pie-making. Despite an overall wacky 2020 so far, I’m thankful that we’ve still been able to make it out to the orchards. Candy-like strawberries, plump cherries, deeply hued blueberries, and blushing peaches — I love them all.
When we inevitably pick a little too much to eat out of hand (which is becoming increasingly rare — my kids are fruit fiends!), pie is the answer. I usually make one regular pie, then let my kids play with the pie dough scraps to form mini pies. When there aren’t enough scraps for a full top crust, I toss on a bit of crumb topping. Once, while enjoying one of these “scrap” pies, my husband asked me, with a twinge of guiltiness, “Is it wrong if I like crumb topped pies more than double crust ones?”
I had to laugh because I’ve suspected for awhile (and my very scientific IG polls confirm) that crumb-topped pies are the secret fan favorite. While we might ooh and ahh over intricate double-crust beauties, the crumb pies are always the first to disappear.
Now I personally love a double crust, especially a la mode. But I totally understand the appeal of a crumb topping. It’s an extra layer of texture and sweetness, and another opportunity to sneak in more flavors — spices, nuts, oats, and so on. Plus, I think crumb-topped pies keep better than double crust. I love a slice cold from the fridge after the topping has crisped up. All that to say — it’s high time for this streusel topped pie recipe!
A few notes:
Fruit preparation and amounts: It can be tricky estimating how much fruit you’ll need for a pie. I don’t think approximate numbers of fruits are very helpful because it all depends on the size of your fruit! My sweet spot for summer fruit pies (using a typical 9-inch pie plate) is roughly 1 kg (or between 2 and 2 1/2 pounds) of prepared fruit — i.e. the fruit is skinned (if needed), pitted, and sliced/chopped. So if you’re baking with something like blueberries which can be used as-is, you can just weigh the fruit directly. If you’re using something like peaches which need skinning and de-pitting, you’ll want to start with a bit more, maybe 3 1/2 pounds. When filling the dish, I’m looking for the fruit to come up to the crimps with enough to slightly mound in the center. Fruit shrinks in the oven, so this ensures a nicely filled pie after baking. For large fruits like peaches and nectarines, I slice into 1/4″ slices; large berries I halve or quarter; small berries I leave whole.
Pie thickeners: My personal favorite thickener for juicy fruits is arrowroot starch — it’s clear when cooked and has the least “gloopy” taste compared to cornstarch and tapioca starch. There’s a mix of art and science when it comes to thickeners, as well as personal taste. I like my pie slices to hold their shape once the pie has fully cooled, but not to be overly jelly-like. King Arthur Baking has a helpful pie thickener chart and their suggested amounts are usually pretty on for my tastes (if anything, I use just a touch less). The amount of starch below worked perfectly for both an all-peach pie and a pie with a mix of nectarines and blueberries.
Streusel tips: My favorite way to make streusel is with cold butter. I like the resulting texture, and the crumbs hold their shape better than streusel made with melted or room temperature butter. Keep your streusel in the fridge and don’t put it on the pie until just before you’re ready to bake — if the butter warms up, the streusel will flatten and spread. I like streusels that are roughly 1 to 1.5 : 1 : 1 ratio of flour + add-ins : sugar : butter, which results in a shortbread-like texture with mild sweetness. You can keep it as simple as all purpose flour, white sugar, and butter (and please, just a pinch of salt!); but I love having a bit of fun with my streusels. Here I’ve added oats, almond flour, and a touch of warm spices.
Bake your pie fully! If you’ve ever struggled with soggy bottoms and pies that don’t set up, you’re probably not baking your pie long enough. In general, with the amount of fruit I use, my full-size fruit pies rarely take under an hour to fully cook — usually closer to 70-80 minutes. You’re looking for the filling to bubble in the very center of the pie (where it takes the longest to cook). Thickeners don’t activate properly unless the liquid reaches a boil, so if the center of your pie isn’t bubbling your pie probably won’t set up. Be patient and tent your pie with some foil if the top is browning too fast.
Cool your pie fully! Likewise, if you’re wanting clean slices, you’ll have to let the pie cool down fully — about 4 hours. Now between you and me, if the pie is just for family, I’m not waiting quite that long — I don’t mind a messy slice, and fresh warm pie + a scoop of melting ice cream is one of life’s great pleasures. But even at home, I try to wait at least 2 hours so that the juices don’t completely run all over the place and I don’t burn my tongue.
Enough pie dough for a single 9″ crust, homemade or store bought (see notes above)
For the spiced streusel topping:
100g (3/4 c) flour, all-purpose or whole grain
20g almond flour
30g (1/3 c) rolled oats
100g sugar (1/2 c) — I like half granulated, half brown
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
98g (7 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
For the stone fruit filling:
About 1 kg (2.2 lbs / 7-8 cups) prepared summer fruit (see notes above)
50 to 100g (1/4 to 1/2 c) sugar, or to taste
50g (6 Tbsp) arrowroot or cornstarch (see notes above)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
30g (2 Tbsp) bourbon (or 1 Tbsp lemon juice)
1 Tbsp almond flour or cookie crumbs, or 1 tsp each all purpose flour and sugar
Prepare the pie crust: On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 13- to 14-inch round between ¼- to ⅛-inch thick. Roll from the center out, giving the dough a quarter turn after every roll to avoid sticking and ensure an even thickness. Dust off any excess flour. Carefully roll the dough onto the rolling pin and unfurl into a standard 9-inch pie plate. Gently lift the edges and press the dough into the bottom and sides of the plate, being careful not to stretch the dough to fit. Trim the overhang to 1 inch all around, then fold the excess dough under itself to form a border. The edge should be flush with the pie plate. Crimp the edges as desired. Cover and chill until the pastry is firm, at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven: While the crust is chilling, preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the lower third. If you have a baking steel or stone, preheat that as well. If not, preheat a large foil-lined baking sheet.
Prepare the streusel topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, sugar, spices, and salt. Scatter the cold butter pieces over the top. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a clumpy cookie dough with no dry bits of flour remaining. Refrigerate until needed.
Prepare the fruit filling: Place the prepared fruit in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, arrowroot starch, and salt (this helps prevent the starch from clumping). Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the fruit and stir until combined. Add the bourbon and stir to combine.
Assemble and bake the pie: Remove the prepared crust from the fridge and place on a foil-lined baking sheet (unless the sheet is pre-heating in the oven — see notes above). Sprinkle the almond flour over the bottom — this helps absorb extra juices and keep the crust from getting soggy. Scrape the fruit filling (and all the juices) into the crust. Sprinkle the streusel mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 30 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 350F and continue baking until the filling is bubbling in the very center and the streusel is deeply golden, about 35-55 more minutes. Cool to room temperature before slicing, about 4 hours. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days.
Crumb bars, crumble bars, streusel bars — whatever you call them, I’m a fan. Mostly because they belong to my favorite food category, rustic fruit bressert (that’s breakfast and/or dessert).
COVID lockdown has made it extra challenging this year to keep track of the date, but thankfully the seasons still change. We are in the middle of berry season here in Ontario. And while I wasn’t sure if our annual traditions of strawberry and cherry picking would be possible this year, happily we managed to do both.
My family loves fresh fruit like candy, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to actually make anything with the berries. But I squirreled away just enough to make these delightful berry crumb bars. I had some for breakfast and some for dessert and can confirm they go down equally well for either.
A few notes:
As with most fruit desserts, I love adding some wholegrain flour for extra flavor. If you don’t have buckwheat on hand, try rye, einkorn, or spelt! Or just substitute with more all-purpose if you don’t have any whole grains stocked.
For the filling, I used a mix of (very ripe) strawberries, cherries, and some miscellaneous frozen berries that I had lurking in the freezer. I fully defrosted the frozen berries and drained off the extra liquid to avoid a soggy crust.
Because my fruit was mostly quite ripe and juicy, I didn’t need to add much sweetener. If your fruit isn’t so ripe, adjust the sugar to taste or try mixing with a little jam.
Berry buckwheat crumb bars
Makes one 8×8 pan
For the crumb mixture:
190g (1 1/2 c) all purpose flour
60g (1/2 c) buckwheat flour
1 tsp kosher salt
50g (1/4 c) granulated sugar
50g (1/4 c) light brown sugar
200g (14 T) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
30g (1/3 c) rolled oats
30g (1/4 c) sliced almonds (or other chopped nuts)
30g (2 Tbsp) turbinado sugar
For the fruit filling:
400g (~2 1/2 c) mixed berries, finely diced (if frozen, thaw and drain before using — see notes above)
13g (1 Tbsp) sugar (or to taste)
12g (1 1/2 Tbsp) cornstarch
Pinch of salt
Squeeze of lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle. Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with two long criss-crossed pieces of parchment, leaving a couple of inches of overhang on all sides. (This will make it easy to remove the bars later.) Lightly grease the parchment.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flours, salt, and sugars. Pulse to combine. Scatter the cold, cubed butter over the top. Pulse until the mixture forms clumps but is not completely smooth (this took me about 20-25 short pulses).
Transfer about a third (~180g) of the mixture to a separate bowl. Add the oats, almonds, and turbinado sugar and use your fingertips to quickly pinch in, forming a clumpy streusel. Refrigerate until needed.
Transfer the remaining two-thirds (~360g) of the mixture to the prepared pan. Use your fingers or the bottom of a small glass or measuring cup to press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the pan. Prick all over with a fork. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until just set. Transfer to a wire rack while you prepare the fruit filling (no need to let it cool completely).
To make the filling, stir together the fruit, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and lemon juice. Spoon the fruit mixture evenly over the par-baked crust, then sprinkle evenly with the reserved streusel mixture.
Bake until the crumb topping is golden and the fruit juices are bubbling in the center, about 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing (for cleanest results, chill for an hour in the refrigerator). Refrigerate leftover bars in an airtight container for up to 5 days; serve cold or at room temperature.
Before we round the corner into September (!!), I have one last ice cream recipe for you. Churning frozen treats has definitely been my summer 2019 obsession — I’ve been making frozen yogurt, sorbet, sherbet, eggless ice creams, and custard ice creams as fast as we can consume or share each batch. It’s just so addicting (and delicious)!
I’ve especially enjoyed trying to incorporate various seasonal fruits into ice cream. While either sorbet or an eggless (“Philadelphia”) ice cream base has been my modus operandi when incorporating fruit — I find the lack of eggs helps the fruit flavor shine through better — this time I was going for a peaches and cream vibe and wanted a bit of extra richness. I used the same buttermilk custard base from the toast and jam ice cream, but added in a honey-sweetened roasted peach puree. Swirls of peach jam amp up the “peachiness” while sprinkles of crisp oat streusel add texture and nuttiness. It’s like eating a peach crisp a la mode!
A few notes:
This makes a fairly large batch of ice cream — probably the largest amount my home ice cream maker can handle. If you have a smaller machine you will want to churn in two batches (or reduce the recipe by 25-30%).
The oat streusel recipe is adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home and makes way more than you need for this batch of ice cream. But! It freezes beautifully and I have absolutely loved having a big batch on hand to layer in other ice creams / sprinkle on sundaes / snack on. So I definitely recommend just making the full batch and patting yourself on the back later.
My favorite containers for storing ice cream are these Cambro 1-quart Poly Rounds. They don’t take up a lot of room in the freezer and they’re the perfect size for a typical home batch. But you can use a loaf pan, empty yogurt container, or similarly-sized freezer-safe vessel. Whatever container you choose, I recommend sticking it in the freezer while you are churning your ice cream to help minimize melting!
Make the buttermilk custard base: Combine the cream and buttermilk in a large measuring cup.
Combine 100g (1/2 c) of sugar, dry milk powder, and xanthan gum in a small bowl and whisk well. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks and remaining 25g (2 T) sugar and whisk until the yolks are lighter in color, about 1 minute.
In a medium pot, combine the corn syrup and half (1 1/2 c) of the buttermilk/cream mixture. Add the sugar mixture and immediately whisk vigorously until smooth. Set the pot over medium heat and cook stirring often and adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent a simmer, until the sugar has fully dissolved (about 3 minutes). Remove the pot from the heat. Start whisking the yolk mixture and continue to whisk constantly while slowly drizzling the hot liquid into the yolks.
Scrape the entire mixture back into the pot and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (it should register ~170F on a digital thermometer). Strain into a heatproof and airtight container and whisk in the remaining buttermilk/cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 6 hours and up to 1 week.
Make the peach puree: Preheat oven to 350F. Spread the chopped peaches in a single layer on a quarter-sheet baking pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with honey.
Bake peaches for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the released juices have thickened. (The peaches shouldn’t be browned at all.) Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. When cool, scrape the peaches and all the syrupy juices into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until cold.
Make the crisp oat streusel: Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
In a large bowl, whisk together the all dry ingredients except the oats. Add the cubed, chilled butter and rub it into the dry mixture with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add the oats and stir to combine well. Spread the mixture in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet, aiming for clumps about 1/4″-1/2″ in size.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until toasted and browned. Cool completely on a wire rack, then freeze in a ziplock bag or airtight container until ready to use.
Churn the ice cream: Whisk 1/4 tsp kosher salt and chilled peach puree into the chilled buttermilk base. Churn according to the instructions for your machine, until the mixture has the texture of soft serve. Transfer to a freezer-friendly container, alternating with dollops of peach jam and generous sprinklings of oat streusel. Cover with parchment paper, pressing it to the surface of the ice cream so it adheres, then cover with a lid. Freeze until firm, at least 6 hours. Ice cream will keep for up to 3 months.