My first job ever was behind the counter at Topp’s Pastry Shop in Bronxville. I worked for close to a decade on & off, and though a lot of things came and went during that vast time bracket, it’s safe to say that my fondness for crumb buns was a constant throughout my tenure. As much as I loathed the 5:45 Sunday morning shift, the thought of having first dibs on the crumb bun tray got my sleepy head out of bed and into work mode. Even though the bun itself was good, it was the crumbs that I would really pine for. As the morning grew busier and we’d be pulling crumb bun after crumb bun off the tray to box up for customers, little bunches of crumbs would fall off and gather on the tray. Nothing tickled my fancy more than scooping up those crunchy, powdered-sugar-dusted delights into a “number 3 bag” (the smallest we had), writing my name on it and placing it under the counter for safe keeping. After four or five trays worth, I had a nice stash of crumbs to snack on after my shift.
As I mentioned the other day, I set up shop in Milan this past week and prepared dinner for a friend who has done the same for me on countless occasions. I was racking my brain trying to think of a dessert I could easily accomplish within the confines of this particular kitchen when it hit me: apple crumble! I might mention that the apple pockets at Topp’s were my other favorite baked good…though I wasn’t as fond of the pocket as I was of the apples inside. Therefore, an apple crumble seemed like the perfect marriage of these two sweet memories that recalled my Topp’s glory days. I hadn’t baked in what seems like eons so I figured taking a stab at an apple crumble was the perfect exercise for segueing back into the swing of baking things.
I did a quick Google search, found this super simple recipe, added the ingredients to my shopping list and when I got home, dessert was the first course I decided to tackle.
First step was peeling the apples…the apartment was not equipped with a peeler so I thankfully thought to pick one up while I was out. There was something oddly calming about the rhythm of peeling the skin coupled with faintest slicing sound as the metal ripped through it. The most “difficult” part was probably coring the apple. Now I totally understand why they make those apple slicing/coring contraptions….God bless whomever invented them. I would like to own one.
When the apple stewing time came, I feared I would burn the pot. Since I’m not in my own apartment, the last thing I want to do is leave behind damages. I threw all the slices in and poured I-don’t-know-how-much cinnamon and brown sugar on top (no measuring cups or kitchen scales here!) then let the stewing begin. The recipe didn’t call for water or anything liquid to accompany the apples as they stewed, so I got through the first few terrifying minutes by stirring like there was no tomorrow. Eventually, a little bit of liquid gathered at the bottom of the pot and when I felt comfortable enough, I covered it to let it sit over a low flame. The room was eventually flooded with the aromas of cinnamon, burnt brown sugar and cooked apples and I of course went back to check every few minutes just in case the pot burned, but thank heaven everything was fine….the pot made it through my first apple stewing attempt unscathed. Whew.
Now came the part that I was most excited about….the topping! I followed the recipe and combined the butter, flour and brown sugar. Again, I didn’t have a valid means of measurement, so I guesstimated. I probably should have let the butter sit unrefrigerated for a bit and I didn’t have much patience to wait for it soften, so this required tons of elbow grease until the mixture eventually took on a clay-like texture. It didn’t look as loose and powdery as it did in the recipe photo and at first I was a little alarmed but then I said screw it…as much as I didn’t want to mess this up, I had bigger fish to fry. And a pumpkin to cut and gut. (More on that some other time.) So, I placed the apples in a baking pan followed by the topping, then covered it in cling wrap–which I’m still horrible at handling, by the way. I didn’t look at the crumble again until it was time to put it in the oven a few hours later. By then, the topping looked decent…it seemed to have something along the lines of big, chunky crumbs happening. While baking, the top was still a little soft the first time I pulled it out of the oven. I was a bit ired but not defeated so I put it back in for a little longer. When I removed it the second time, it was still a little soft but I didn’t want to overcook it so I let it sit for a bit.
When the time came to cut into it, the crumbs had hardened up a tad and I was elated! I had my very own crumb-bun-like crumbs. Also, not to toot my horn, but the crumble was delicious. And I swear it’s not just me…my friend couldn’t believe it was the first time I had made it. I know what you’re probably thinking so I’ll be my own devil’s advocate here: I should probably take it down a notch since it’s really simple to prepare and not too difficult to mess up. I know that, okay, but please don’t burst my bubble and let me bask in my proud, I-just-succesfully-made-an-apple-crumble moment. Thank you!
Now, we were just two people so we couldn’t finish it which meant I had breakfast for the next few days. Sure, I like to eat cereal when I can but I’m also keen on the Italian sweets-for-breakfast tradition. Plus it was completely home made and I can’t think of anything more gratifying than that, especially in this day and age of mixes and powders and even opting for the easy way out by picking something up from a bakery. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the latter and that I haven’t been guilty of it myself, and also, if it wasn’t for this option, I wouldn’t have had my high school and college break job. I’m grateful for bakeries. I love bakeries. But there’s something rewarding to be found in taking the time to make the apple crumble da sola.
Of course, almost every experience in life–including apple crumble making–is a lesson learned and what did I learn that I could do better? Use a measuring cup for the topping, let the butter sit out prior to its use and make sure to buy some powdered sugar to sprinkle atop when it’s finished. Until next time! 🙂