Alright, it’s time. Time for a change in seasons. Usually I’d declare myself insane for wishing Autumn, or even better: Winter! would hurry the hell up when August has only just begun, but this year has been hellish. Literally. Compared to people around me, no matter their origins, I’m very heat-resistant. I’m comfy when most people are low-and-slowing in their own juices already, but this…? This year. I wholeheartedly agree with the masses. It’s been too hot for way too long – cozying up to 40°C for weeks on end with no reprieve at night hasn’t just put a stop to any sort of summer spirit, fun, outdoor activities, cooking, gaming and sleep, but the insane temperatures and the sun relentlessly burning out of the cloud- and therefore rain-less skies since May have, in addition, shifted all of the fruit and veg seasons forwards by about a month.
Late berries, greengages, nectarines, cherries, everything usually making August delicious, has either wilted in the fields, skipped the year altogether or came and went by at least a month early. Here’s to teeth-grinding huzzahs for food being able to travel around the world in a couple of hours these days! Not the same, but at least I’m able to pretend it’s just any other August when the need arises. Like today – see, under normal circumstances I know I’m closing in on my limits with any season when I start craving the goodies of another – not the flash of “Uh, Ice Cream!” in mid-February kind of craving, but one that lasts for days or even weeks even after trying to satisfy it with an appropriate meal. Considering the fact that my head feels like it’s slowly turning into a pressure cooker, I’m extremely happy to announce that today, the never-failing Menu of the Chef’s Guild of Tyria instantly put a name to this particular craving before I was able to nail down what exactly it was that I was longing for during the last couple of restless nights.
Oh yes, this is one of the perks of Autumn. A delicious compote or crumble, made from all-but-bursting-with-juices late berries and other goodies right smack in the middle of their season – with a bit of Summer’s dessert-darling Ice Cream to the side. Mmmmh! Honestly, this was worth turning on the stove for~! Here we go, my edible version of a looking-forward-to-Autumn dance for 4-5 servings~ (I always make stuff like this with a kind of “half for now, half for later” mindset, so I’m not actually 100% sure how many people you could make happy in one go with this…)
The Blackberry-Pear Compote
200g Fine Caster Sugar
50g Light Muscovado
1 Pinch of Salt
3 Cardamom Pods
5 Strips of Lemon Peel
1 Strip of Orange Peel
Alt: 2 Kumquats, sliced in halves
2 Cinnamon Sticks
2 Star Anise
500g Perfectly Ripe Pears, peeled, cored and sliced into ½ -1 cm bits – I usually go with Comice Pears, Abate or Conference also work well in a compote’y scenario though. I also intentionally vary the size of the chunks to have a couple “dissolve” and a few juicy bites in the end. If you want a smooth purée’y compote hugging the berries, have them all at around ½ cm or less. If the pears in front of you aren’t perfectly ripe, adjust their cooking time.
1) Place both types of sugar in a large pot and add the water.
2) Turn the heat to medium-high and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved completely.
3) Add the lemon and orange peels, cinnamon sticks, salt, cardamom and star anise, then turn the heat to high and bring the liquid up to a rapid boil.
4) Reduce the heat to low and, once the bubbly action has settled down again, allow the mixture to simmer away for 10 mins.
5) Add the pears to the pot and allow them to soften up for 5 mins or, if they’re of the firmer side to begin with, until they’re tender and compote-appropriately succulent.
6) Once the pears are done, gently fold in the blackberries after fishing out the spices and peels and allow them to simmer until they’re just about to start breaking up.
7) Take the pot off the heat at this point and get ready to plate up if you’re going with todays “Old Love” variant – “Old Love” is what we call the hot fruit & ice cream combo, traditionally Vanilla Ice Cream and Hot Raspberries, over here.
8) Other great combos with this kind of combo are: hot or cold compote and natural yoghurt, used as a “spread” or dip for freshly baked yeasty goodies or pancakes. And now I talked myself into another round of compote cravings… Anyways, there’s one more option:
9) You could cook the lot into a thick, smooth and even compote if you don’t mind a deep purple, almost black color in your dessert bowl or if you intend to use this as a preservation method to take a bot of Summer into Winter with you.
10) If you’re going down preservation-lane, sterilize your jars and a spoon, then transfer the piping hot compote into the jars before sealing them – store them in a cool, dry and preferably dark place.
11) That way this delicious compote will keep for 2-3 months and provide you with a wonderful reminder of late Summer or early Autumn when needed. As with all preserves, keep it in the fridge once you’ve popped the seal.
The Crumble Cookies
Ok so, my first impulse was to somehow scrounge up a pan-version of a crumble using the compote above, but given the temperatures already rising in the kitchen, I didn’t really want to turn on the stove for round two. Good thing I always have a staple secret stashed away in the corner of my freezer! Something so easy and quick to make, I almost always shake it out of my sleeve unnoticed by anyone whenever I get my hands on an oven for other, non-cookie-related purposes. They keep, in theory, for about 6 months, but they never actually make it that far~ Compotes are one of the reasons for their rapid demise in most cases – pop one of them onto a hot compote and tadaaah~! One delicious bowl of insta-crumble~ Here’s my standard-recipe for roundabout 8-10 cookies
120g Plain Flour
40g Finely ground Almonds
100g Fine Baking Sugar
40g Light Muscovado Sugar
100g Cold Butter
Opt: a hint of cinnamon, vanilla or tonka bean
1) Either place everything in a food processor sporting one of those broom-like stirring gizmos… I think they’re supposed to whip cream? Or simply place all of the above in a large mixing bowl.
2) Whirr or rub the lot between your hands until the cold butter breaks down just enough for the ingredients to form rough pebbles of various shapes and sizes. Or evenly-sized pebbles, if you prefer.
3) If you want to go extra-sure the crumbles will turn out perfect, whizz the lot in your food processor – using the normal cutting knives this time – until you’re looking at a rough-sand kind of deal.
4) Gather up the sand on a double-layer of clingfilm, roll, twist and press it into a log and freeze it for 30 mins.
5) Slice the log up into dice of about 2 cm, place the dice on a tray and freeze them for about an hour until they’re rock-solid.
6) Transfer them into your food processor again and pulse them a couple of times to break them into pieces of crumble.
7) Preheat your oven to 190°C. And, as the temperatures are climbing up the scale, spread out the crumbles on a baking tray lined with baking parchment in a snug, ~5mm thick layer. Place the tray in your fridge until the oven’s ready. If the butter gets too warm, it’ll melt before the sugar and flour can help it set into crumbles.
8) Once the oven’s ready, pop in the tray and bake the sheet of crumbles for 7 minutes until it turns deliciously golden brown.
9) Retrieve the tray and, while the “dough” is still warm and pliable, use a cookie cutter, knife/glass combo or dessert ring to cut out 6-10 disc.
10) If you’re quick, you can transfer the cookies to a second tray and slide/push the cut-outs together, forming another sheet. Gently press that one down a bit and put your cutter to work again – or simply let the remains cool off and break them down into simple crumbles later on. By the way, whenever I can plan that far ahead, I use my small dessert glasses of about 9cm DIA as cutters for the cookies – that way I end up with perfectly fitting crumble-lids for a soon-to-come compote I will hopefully remember to serve in those exact bowls…
11) If you’re going with option two, the un-cookied crumbles, leave the cookies where they are, just make sure they’re cleanly separated from their surroundings.
12) Pop the tray back into the oven and bake thesm for another 3 mins before allowing them to cool off entirely.
13) Like I said, they’re a wonderful freezer-staple, so set the ones you’ll want to use/eat/roll around in right away aside and freeze-prep the remaining ones once they’re cooled off. If you’re looking at a pile of single crumbles, spread them out on a tray and freeze them like that for an hour before moving them into one freezer-proof container – that way they wont freeze-stick together which would make using them at a whim that much harder.
Assembling the Dish
Vanilla Ice Cream
The Compote, preferably hot
Opt: A few Roasted Almonds… just because~
Well, all that’s really left to do is to spoon the compote out of the pot into serving dishes, place a cookie on top and crown each fruity serving with a blob of the best vanilla ice cream you can whip up or buy~
Lean back and…