This is a really easy and satisfying dessert to make in the colder months that can be made ahead if you are having guests over or want to bring something to a holiday party. These inexpensive little oven proof porcelain cups can be found at World Market and have a multitude of uses. I use them often in catering events, a tiny vessel for both sweet and savory dishes.
I have been making crisps and cobblers for a long time now...and it goes to show, now matter how good you think you are at something there is always room for improvement.
A dear friend of mine, Jill Murdoch, introduced me to a delightful new ingredient. Nigella Seeds.
When added to the crumbly topping they add such an exotic twist...pungent and slightly bitter, but in a good way. They come from a beautiful flower with pale blue and white petals. Nigella seeds are often used in many different eastern cultures....mostly indian cooking (on naan) and even in Egyptian cooking. They have many different names. Kalonji (Hindi), Kezah (Hebrew), Habbat-el-barakah (literally seeds of blessing Arabic) or Siyah Daneh (Persian).
You can find them in spokane at the Oriental Market on Trent.
If you have never been there....go! It is a must.
Here you will find not only Asian and Indian ingredients, but also a good selection of Middle Eastern and Mexican ingredients.
The Thai owner, Pon is a library of information when it comes to ingredients and their uses --and she can answer many questions about how to use unusual ingredients.
So anyways, back to the Crumbles....
Start with some really good pears... these are bosc, but you could use bartlett or even apples. Whatever you use make sure they are ripe, but not mushy.
Cut them into small 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick pieces. If you cut them too thinly they will cook too quickly and loose much of their texture, so cut them no smaller than 1/2 in thick.
Then pick a type of berry. Normally I would use a blackberry, cranberry or a blueberry, but the raspberries actually looked the best in the grocery store, so I bought these. I also really like the tartness.
Mix chopped pears and lemon juice ( or you could use red wine) to stop the browning of the fruit.
Add Sugar, berries and flour.
At this point please taste your mixture. It should have a balanced sweet and tart flavor. You can adjust sugar and lemon juice. Once it is just right, you can add some flavorings.....zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamon, white pepper, ginger, ground cloves (go lightly on this) or anything else you can think of. Be creative. Be simple and use only 1 or two things.
Remember that flavors become more concentrated as they cook, because they loose moisture in the baking process, making the the flavor more intense. So use a light hand.
Line up your lightly greased ramekins on a sheet pan and fill.
Salt is really important so do not forget this. And be sure to measure it.
Then comes the fun part. Add seeds to your liking.
I have a mix of my new favorites. Nigella seeds, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. You could also use fennel or anise or anything else that you can think of.
Then add soft butter (or coconut oil works deliciously well... actually I almost prefer it). For you adventurous cooks, you could also trying a little tahini.
Work the mixture with your fingers or a wooden spoon. It is recommended that you freeze the dough for 10-15 minutes before using. I admit, I did not have the time to do this and it turned out just fine. Be careful though because I believe the chilled topping helps prevent it from getting too brown in the oven.
Serve warm with a dollop of whip cream or vanilla ice-cream.
Make these up to a couple days ahead and bake before serving. Or you could also bake ahead and reheat.
Mini Pear and Berry Crumbles Recipe:
preheat oven to 400 F
6 ripe pears diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups berries ( raspberries, blackberries, marion berries, blueberries)
1 T lemon juice
2 T flour
3 T sugar
1/4 t cardamon ( or pick another favorite spice instead)
mix the pears and lemon juice. add the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and taste. Add sugar if necessary. some berries are more tart and require a little more sugar. For a nice twist you could substitute a red wine for the lemon juice. You could also add a little bit of zest (orange or lemon)
1 c flour
2/3 cup oats
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 c soft butter or coconut oil
3 T seeds( for example 1 T nigella, 1 T sesame, 1 T poppy)
mix together sunning a wooden spoon or your fingers.
make 3 balls and and freeze for 10-15 minutes ( or refrigerate up to 5 days)
Fill baking dishes with pear and berry filling leaving room ...about 3/4 inch at top for the topping.
spread a generous layer of the chilled topping about 1/2 inch thick. Lightly pat down sealing the top.
Bake at 400 for about 40-45 mins. Crust should be golden.. and filling bubbly. Let sit for 15 mins before serving. Serve with a dollop of whip cream or ice cream.