I have a lot of feelings about apple crumble.
It probably sounds funny, but as a child raised in the US – land of the apple pie à la mode – I thought apple crumble with custard was exotic. We had it only once every year or two, when we visited my grandparents in England. As a cook, my grandma’s repertoire didn’t extend much beyond roast chicken and boiled peas, but as a baker, she had an innate genius. I remember the rosy strata of a summer trifle, sticky wedges of treacle tart; a tartly puckering gooseberry fool, platters of coffee kisses.
I coveted them all, but nothing compared to her apple crumble: served warm, fragrant with cinnamon, and bathed in a vivid yellow bath of even warmer Bird’s custard, it was a paragon of craving and comfort. So when I recently found myself with an excess of apples and a few spare plums in my produce drawer, I knew just what to do with them.
Plums add another dimension (and a magenta hue) and to make it feel especially wintry, I mixed my fruit with a chai spice blend. The topping features two kinds of sugar, flour and oats for extra crunch, and an unapologetic amount of butter. And naturally, there has to be custard – I like to make mine from scratch.
Ideally, there also should be a good beer on the side. I love how Great Beyond’s The Raspberry Incident goes with this dessert: Its vivid aroma is like a memory of summer that’s been bottled to release in the depths of winter darkness. It is tart, but not harsh – it feels not far removed from a handful of raspberries that have been lightly crushed. With this crumble, it reminds me of the winning combo of rhubarb and custard: sweet and creamy, bright and fruity.
My gran would likely be baffled by the idea of beer alongside apple crumble. But sometimes it’s worth liberating those memories from the amber they’ve been encased in, and updating them for the present day.
Chai-Spiced Apple and Plum Crumble
Loosely adapted from BBC Good Food
For the filling:
6 apples (I used a mix of Granny Smith and Pink Lady), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3-4 plums, pitted and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons golden caster sugar
Pinch flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons cornflour
For the topping:
150g golden caster sugar
150g cold salted butter
50g rolled oats
50g dark demerara sugar
For the custard:
600ml whole milk
300ml double cream
6 egg yolks
80g golden caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Begin by preparing the filling: In a large bowl, add the fruit, sugar, salt, spices and cornflour. Mix together with your hands or with a wooden spoon until well-combined. Transfer to a large Pyrex baking dish, ensuring the filling is somewhat compacted so the crumble topping doesn’t fall through it.
2. Next, make the topping. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar. Finely dice the butter and add to the bowl; using the tips of your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until there are no large clumps remaining and it has a sandy consistency.
3. Pour the crumble topping over the fruit, spreading evenly and compacting slightly with a fork, which will help it form a crisp crust. Sprinkle over the oats and the demerara sugar.
4. Transfer to the oven and bake the crumble for roughly 40 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the top is deeply golden (cover with foil while baking if it’s getting too dark on top). Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.
5. While the crumble bakes, make your custard. Add the milk and double cream to a medium saucepan and heat until steaming but not yet boiling. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornflour and vanilla. To temper the eggs, slowly drizzle in the warm milk mixture while whisking constantly to prevent curdling.
6. When the milk mixture is fully incorporated into the eggs, return to the saucepan and place over low heat. Simmer, stirring very frequently, for 10-20 minutes, or until the custard has thickened enough to coat the back of your spoon. Be very attentive to the temperature and don’t allow the custard to boil, as this will cause it to curdle.
7. Once the custard has thickened, strain into a serving jug. To serve the crumble, divide between bowls while still warm and pour over the hot custard.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus beer reviews and expert tasting notes with up to 12 world-class beers like this one every month.