It’s only recently that I’ve realized that the crumble topping of a fruit crumble doesn’t have to be made with butter to be crisp and delicious.
Did you know? Am I the last person to find out?
The epiphany came from my intensive granola-making activities: after all, isn’t granola a second cousin to the crumble topping? And if I make granola with oil, not butter, why not try that in a crumble?
And so, for the past few months — since the beginning of this year’s apple season, really — I have gone butterless with all of my apple crumbles. (And I’ve made quite a few.)
There are several benefits. First, the crumble topping is considerably faster to mix: measure the ingredients, combine in a bowl, stir with a fork, and that’s it, you’re done. No dicing of butter, and no rubbing either. It takes five minutes tops, including the time to put all the ingredients and utensils back where they belong and wipe down the counter if you’ve spilled a little flour, which no recipe prep time in the world accounts for.
I like to half-peel the apples in alternating strips. Not because I’m half-lazy, though maybe I am, but because I like the rustic touch a bit of apple skin provides.
Second, I find that the absence of butter shifts the balance of flavor so that the (good unrefined) sugars that you use, the spices, and of course the apples themselves, sing through with a more subtle complexity.
And third, those who avoid dairy for whatever reason will be grateful for an apple crumble they can eat, especially one that can stand proudly on its own, without the crutch of crème fraîche or ice cream that seems to be automatically tacked on.
One more note about my apple crumbles of late: I like to half-peel the apples in alternating strips. Not because I’m half-lazy, though maybe I am, but because I like the rustic touch of finding a few pieces of apple skin in my crumble, and half-peeled apples deliver just the right amount. I also pick a mix of apple varieties — like I do for my apple tarts — to get as vivacious an apple taste as possible.
I hope you’ll give it a try. But for the die-hard butter lovers out there who simply must have it in their apple desserts, I recommend this rather outstanding brown butter spiced crisp.