Autumn warmth

Yep, Autumn’s truly here. It’s raining outside, red and orange leaves litter the pavements and putting the heating on has become a daily habit. Since the weather has turned, so has my baking. I’ve been marking pages from The Hairy Bikers’ Perfect Pies, and have many an Autumn recipe lined up (apple cake with rum buttercream, cinnamon bun-cake, lemon sponge pudding, carrot soup…). But today I’m going to share an amended version of the classic apple crumble, recipe courtesy of the River Cottage Everyday cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

We are lucky enough to have two apple trees and four damson trees in our garden. So this time of year we’re usually infested with fruit. A few weeks ago, when they were ready to drop, we went outside and gathered in as many damsons as we could reach. We had so many! We gave some away, froze more and the rest got turned into Jim Jam (a simple jam made by Jim). We had so much of this jam that we thought it would go well with our apples inside a warming, crumbly pie. So we followed Hugh’s recipe for apple and walnut crumble, with a couple of alterations. And it was really good. Tart with the apples, tangy sweetness with the damsons, and adding the walnuts to the crumble topping gives it a deep, warm flavour with some added crunch.

Better yet, this simple crumble is ripe for experimentation. We simply added jam, but you could swap the walnuts for different chopped nuts, such as pecans. You can also use whatever fruit you like – Hugh suggests winter rhubarb, summer gooseberries or plums, or autumnal blackberries, pears and quince. Or simply add your favourite frozen fruit. The perfect dessert for a rainy Autumn evening. Which we seem to be having a lot of lately, so you’ve no excuse not to create your own version of this lovely warming crumble. The possibilities are, quite happily, endless.

Apple, damson and walnut crumble
adapted from River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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Serves 8

Ingredients:
1.25kg apples, peeled, cored and finely sliced
5 generous tablespoons damson jam (or other jam of your choice)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
caster sugar (optional, to taste)

For the crumble:
100g walnuts
225g plain flour
200g cold butter, cut into cubes
150g light brown sugar
75g medium oatmeal
75g ground almonds (optional)

- Scatter the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in an oven preheated to 180°C/Gas mark 4 for 5-7 minutes, giving them a shake halfway through, until just beginning to colour and develop aroma. Leave to cool, then chop roughly.

- To prepare the crumble, sift the flour into a bowl (or food processor). Add the butter and rub in with your fingers (or pulse briefly in the processor) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the walnuts, sugar and ground almonds, if using. Squeeze a few handfuls of crumble in your fist to create lumps – it’s sometimes nicer to have a ‘rocky’ crumble than a fine, even textured one.

- Put the sliced apples in a large bowl and add the jam, mixing it in thoroughly. Add sugar to taste depending on the tartness of the jam/apples, and add the cinnamon. Spread into a pie or ovenproof dish, getting the fruit as compact as you can.

- Scatter the crumble over the apple mixture in a fairly even layer and bake for 40-45 minutes, until browned on top and the fruit is bubbling up at the sides of the dish. Serve hot, with cream or, like we did, with homemade custard.

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