On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We’ll be visiting Sam’s family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom’s lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam’s younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs — of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we’re at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts — in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
When I’m traveling, generally the last thing I want to be bothered with are recipes. Vacation should feel a bit more effortless and haphazard and not as structured or delineated. And fruit crisp is one of the things I feel confident just kind of throwing together: I can eyeball the amount of fruit, add a few tablespoons sugar and a bit of cornstarch or flour. Maybe lemon juice if we’ve got it. And then I work some butter into a blend of flour, oats and brown sugar until it starts coming together in clumps and bake it until the fruit starts bubbling up through the crisp layer in vibrant, jammy hues. This year though, I thought it would be useful to actually get my recipe down in writing — so I’d always have it at the ready to glance at should I forget or should you want to make a pan in your own kitchen or while traveling and cozying up in someone else’s.
The version you see here is one that will be repeated in a week or so in a small, funky kitchen in upstate New York. It’s a whole grain fruit crisp with a bit less sugar than other recipes you’ll see floating around the internet — and I add a generous handful of chopped toasted nuts for added crunch. If you’re a fruit crisp purist, perhaps you won’t be into that but I’d encourage you to try it before knocking it. This recipe can be made with any fruit you’d like: summer berries are obviously great but apples, pears or stone fruit work beautifully, too. This version is a Raspberry Rhubarb crisp, and was a bit on the tart side (which I loved) with plenty of that buttery, toasty crisp topping that I swear I could eat all on its own.
I ended up bringing this one to our book club a few weeks ago. Not only had I not read the book this time around, but I actually didn’t even know what book we were to read. I told myself next month I’ll do better and even had a delusional moment thinking how much reading I could get done on the plane (I know, I know). But the nice thing is that when you show up somewhere clutching a warm fruit crisp, it doesn’t really matter. I hope the simplicity and adaptability of this recipe encourages you to show up somewhere clutching one, too.
While this recipe will work with any fruit, it’s worth saying something about sugar. The formula below was perfect for my Raspberry Rhubarb crisp, but for my tastes it was a touch on the sweet side when I made this with all strawberries the week before. I would say if you use a naturally very sweet fruit like strawberries or stone fruits, I would probably go down to 2 tablespoons of sugar in the filling. Of course, if you like a slightly sweeter, jammier filling keep it just as is. As for the flour, I’ve tried this recipe with 100% whole wheat flour, barley and oat flour and all-purpose flour and it’s great each time. I think you could use any flour you’re excited about and likely have good results. Like most simple, humble desserts, spend a little time to make it your own. Then you’ll want to keep it in heavy rotation this season; I know we will.
For the Filling:
For the Topping:
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a medium bowl, toss together the fruit, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch. Set aside.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, nuts, brown sugar and salt. Working with your fingertips, blend in the small cubes of butter until no dry spots remain; some of the butter will be fully incorporated while some will be in pea-size clumps.
Butter a 2-quart baking dish, scrape in fruit filling, and scatter topping on top. Avoid the temptation to press the topping into the fruit crisp — it should be sitting there loosely as that’ll help it clump when it bakes. Bake for 35-50 min, depending on the fruit you’re using. You want the top to brown evenly and, just as importantly, you want to see the juices from the fruit bubbling up through the crisp topping in places.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.