That’s the way this crisp crum­bles

Los Angeles Times - - FOOD & DINING - RUSS PAR­SONS russ.par­sons@la­times.com

Fruit crisps can be the best friend a cook ever had. Pulse to­gether but­ter, flour and sugar in a food pro­ces­sor, and scat­ter the crumbs over cut-up fruit. Bake. In­stant dessert.

The only prob­lem with most fruit crisps is that they just aren’t very crisp. That crumbly “crisp” top­ping soaks up cooking juices from the fruit and turns sludgy. Not any­more, thanks to Jim Dodge. As fur­ther ev­i­dence that even the sim­plest dish can be im­proved upon by a smart cook, he’s got a tech­nique for fruit crisps that guar­an­tees they will be, well, crisp.

New­com­ers might not know who Dodge is. He’s now the direc­tor of spe­cial culi­nary pro­grams for Bon Ap­petit Man­age­ment Co., which runs cor­po­rate, mu­seum and uni­ver­sity restau­rants, dining halls and cof­fee shops all over the coun­try. But back in the 1970s and ’80s, he was the pas­try chef at San Fran­cisco’s Stan­ford Court Ho­tel when that was the ad­dress of choice for ev­ery vis­it­ing food lu­mi­nary. James Beard and Ju­lia Child would stay for weeks at a time. His 1987 book, “The Amer­i­can Baker,” is a clas­sic, and he was fea­tured in Child’s tele­vi­sion se­ries “Bak­ing With Ju­lia.”

So what does Dodge do that makes his crisps so dif­fer­ent? Rather than just scat­ter­ing the crumbs, he gath­ers them into a rough dough ball, then breaks off lit­tle chunks to dis­trib­ute over the fruit. This way the dough sits up on top and doesn’t ab­sorb as much of the cooking juices. The top­ping browns bet­ter and, most im­por­tant, stays truly crisp.

For most crisps, you can start with a ra­tio of equal parts sugar and flour and half that amount of but­ter — in other words, 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar and 1⁄ cup of

2 but­ter (as in pie dough, the but­ter should be very cold to keep it from smear­ing). Given that for­mula, there’s room for vari­a­tion. You can use gran­u­lated sugar, which has a sim­pler, more straight­for­ward sweet­ness that would be good with del­i­cately fla­vored fruit, or you can use light brown sugar, which has a touch of mo­lasses bit­ter­ness that can bal­ance more for­ward fla­vors.

In­stead of us­ing just flour, you can add nuts — ei­ther ground or in big­ger pieces — and oat­meal too (rolled oats, of course, not steel cut). Dodge rec­om­mends adding a min­i­mum of 1⁄ cup for ev­ery cup of

3 flour. With nuts that have been chopped or sliced rather than ground, knead them along with the crumbs into the dough ball to help keep their in­tegrity.

You can add other fla­vor­ings too: warm spices, such as ground cloves, gin­ger or cin­na­mon, or cit­rus zest. You can also vary the way the fruit is treated. Es­pe­cially if you’re us­ing light brown sugar in the top­ping, gran­u­lated sugar will let the fruit fla­vor shine through more clearly. But light or even dark brown sugar could be used with some as­sertive fruits, such as pineap­ples. Or re­place part of the sugar with honey for a slightly bit­ter, flo­ral sweet­ness.

The choice of thick­en­ers makes a dif­fer­ence. Flour is com­monly used, but be­cause it is an un­re­fined starch, it makes the fill­ing cloudy. Corn­starch is re­fined, so the fruit juices stay clear and shiny. Start with a ra­tio of about 1 tea­spoon corn­starch per cup of cut fruit. Juicy fruits such as straw­ber­ries will take a lit­tle more; fruits that are high in pectin, such as ap­ples and apri­cots, will take a lit­tle less.

Dodge prefers to thicken with tapi­oca starch, which can be found in Asian mar­kets. He says it pro­vides a clear gel with­out adding fla­vor, which he says corn­starch can. Re­mem­ber that starches dif­fer in their thick­en­ing abil­i­ties, so if you’re sub­sti­tut­ing, you’ll need to ex­per­i­ment to find the ra­tio that works best. And re­mem­ber that you’ll need to add a lit­tle more to make up for any liq­uid you’ve added to the fruit — honey or fruit juices.

One per­fect tech­nique and an al­most end­less se­ries of op­tions. A cook’s best friend just got bet­ter.

Kirk McKoy Los An­ge­les Times

AL­MONDS add to the crunch fac­tor in apri­cot-rasp­berry crisp. Nuts and/or rolled oats will help firm up the dessert top­ping. Proper crum­ble dis­tri­bu­tion is the se­cret to a non-soggy fruit crisp.

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