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Cook with Kirk: apple crumble - John C. Kirk

Apr. 14th, 2009

12:21 am - Cook with Kirk: apple crumble

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"A glass of milk, an apple, a pear."
(Montag, Fahrenheit 451)

Continuing my experiments in cookery, on Saturday I tried another Delia recipe: apple and almond crumble. I deviated from her instructions a bit, but I think it turned out ok.

To start with, I reversed the order: since I don't have a food processor, I knew that it would take me a while to mix up the flour and butter into crumbs, so I decided to do that before chopping up the apples. Actually, it didn't take as long as usual; I think that's partly because of the smaller quantities, and partly because I'd left the butter out for a while so it was quite soft.

Delia also said that I should use 110g of whole almonds (skin on), then chop them up finely. I went for flaked almonds instead, mainly because that was all I could find in the supermarket. This also saved me the hassle of chopping them up by hand, so it was quite convenient. The bag I bought was only 75g, but it didn't seem to make much difference. Once I'd mixed all of the crumble ingredients together, they looked like this:

Oh crumbs!

As for the apples, Delia said that I should use 700g of Bramley and 225g of Cox's (i.e. 925g altogether). When I weighed them, it turned out that 3 Bramley = 650g and 3 Cox = 275g, so it's the same total mass, and this was easier than just using half an apple. So, my ingredients looked like this:

Apples and crumbs

I then needed to remove the cores from the apples. Delia says that it's best to chop them into quarters first, but since I have a corer I decided to try that instead:

Apple corer

However, it's a bit tricky to line it up, so although it went in at the right place it missed the core on the far side of the apple. After that, I used Delia's method for the remaining apples, i.e. using a knife to remove the core from the middle of each quarter. The only snag there is that if I cut away from me then it's difficult to aim it properly, but if I cut towards me then I risk stabbing myself. Still, what's life without a little risk?

Peeling the apples after they were chopped into quarters seemed a little bit odd, but it doesn't make much difference to me, so I did it Delia's way, and each apple then looked like this:

Apple quarters

The next step was to cut the apples into "thickish slices" (sic). I'm not quite sure how big each slice is supposed to be, so this is what I came up with:

Apple slices

When I'd chopped up all the Bramley apples, I put the slices into my baking dish:

Bramley apples

I followed these with the slices from the Cox's apples:

Bramley and Cox's

After that, I added the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and ground cloves. The sugar was easy enough, since I could weigh out the appropriate amount on my scales and just tip it in, but I found it quite tricky to measure 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves, since I had to shake out the appropriate amount from a tiny jar. For that matter, the cinnamon was a bit of a guess too.

As a side note, I'm starting to accumulate quite a few of these tiny jars, to the extent that I'm thinking "Hmm, I could do with a spice rack on the wall". This is quite a change from my previous cooking habits!

Anyway, here's the dish after I added the sugar and spice:

Apple slices and spices

I then poured the crumble on top:

Apple crumble before cooking

Following Delia's instructions, I packed this down as tightly as I could, but it didn't quite cover the whole surface (you can see a few bits of apple poking through). This may be because I'm using the wrong type of baking dish: she specified an oval dish (28cm x 19cm x 4.5cm) whereas I used a rectangular dish (30cm x 20cm x 5.5cm), so the same volume of crumbs had to cover a wider area. I combed the crumbs with a fork as instructed, although it didn't seem to make much difference.

I then stuck the dish into the oven. She said 35-40 minutes at 200°C, so that the topping is "golden brown". I adjusted that to 180°C, since I'm using a fan assisted oven; after 35 minutes it didn't quite look done, so I left it in for 40 minutes altogether, although the extra 5 minutes didn't make any visible difference (to my untrained eye). So, it came out of the oven looking like this:

Apple crumble after cooking

I then served it with a mug of milk:

Apple crumble served in bowl with milk

So, the important question: how did it taste? Pretty good, actually; I'd say that it was at least as good as a ready meal from the supermarket (that I'd reheat at home). That may not be the best comparison, since home made food should ideally taste better, but it's good enough for my purposes. There were a few bits of it that tasted a bit odd; I'm guessing that was the Cox's apples, so it might be better if I just stick to Bramley apples in future.

This was supposed to serve 6-8; I split it across two days as my full meal (i.e. main course and dessert). I put it in the fridge in between, then reheated each quarter in the microwave (30 seconds on full power). I'd normally check the box to see whether something is microwavable, but I couldn't do that here; it seemed to work out ok. If I'm just cooking for myself, it would make sense to do a smaller version, and I have another pyrex dish which is about 1/3 the size of my big one; since I used 3 apples of each type, it would pretty easy to reduce the quantities of ingredients accordingly.

Adding up the ingredients, this cost about £5 (for 1200g). If I bought one from Sainsbury's ready made, it would cost £1.50 for 600g (frozen) or £2.99 for 580g ("Taste the difference"). Doubling up (to match the mass), that means that I'd pay £3-6 for theirs, so mine is somewhere in the middle, and it takes longer to prepare. So, is it worthwhile? I don't know. This method has the advantage that I know exactly what's gone into it, but I don't know whether "E numbers" are doing me any harm. Ah well, if nothing else it's giving me some practice at cooking, so that I get a bit more confident in the kitchen.

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From:gaspodog
Date:April 13th, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)
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The problem with supermarket ready meals is not necessarily anything to do with E numbers, but more with the overall fat/sugar/salt content. They often have high levels of these to make them taste nicer. Even the 'healthy option' styled ready meals can have up to half your recommended daily salt intake in a single portion, for example.

It's very easy to get caught up in E numbers - some people seem to assume that each one represents an unpleasant artificial chemical additive. Many of them are naturally occurring and perfectly innocuous chemicals, they just have to have E numbers as part of standard food additive labelling. For example, E260 is better known as acetic (or ethanoic) acid, or vinegar. E330 is better known as citric acid, and occurs naturally in many plants, especially citrus fruits.

A rough guide to E numbers can be found here.
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From:gaspodog
Date:April 13th, 2009 11:42 pm (UTC)
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I should add that quite a few E numbers are rather unpleasant chemicals which don't occur naturally in food items... it's just that not all of them are :-)
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 14th, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
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Ah, that's useful, thanks. I have a copy of "E is for Additives" here, which I bought when I first went veggie (so that I could work out what was safe to eat), but I haven't read through it in detail.
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From:ext_5743
Date:April 14th, 2009 09:59 am (UTC)
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Apple crumble is a vehicle for custard, IMHO. You could easily simplify the Delia recipe by leaving out the almonds and just using Bramley apples, if you wanted. Other fun things to try are putting raisins in with the apples, or using other fruit (rhubarb is a particular favourite, but pear, plum and even peach work well) - just use the same method for the crumble topping and spread it over the chopped fruit.
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From:gaspodog
Date:April 14th, 2009 10:57 am (UTC)
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I haven't met a fruit yet that I couldn't crumble!
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From:shuripentu
Date:April 14th, 2009 11:02 am (UTC)
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Durian.

If you make a durian crumble, I will eat the whole thing.
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 15th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
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I haven't come across durian before, so I did a quick websearch, and found the h2g2 page:

"It has been likened to rotting onions, unwashed socks and even carrion in custard, but the most accurate description by far is that of a sewer full of rotting pineapples. This malodorous fruit is so offensive to many people that the durian is banned on buses, trains, taxis and aeroplanes, and all hotel-doormen will bar entry to anyone trying to smuggle one into their establishment."

The smell wouldn't bother me, but I should probably avoid serving this to guests...
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 15th, 2009 12:13 am (UTC)
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The vehicle comment reminds me of something from Delia's book (p74), where she's talking about bread:

"I once heard modern bread given a sort of job description by a flour miller, who said that it was merely required to be a carrier. Isn't that a sad statement? In other words, it's what goes in or on the bread that's more important."

I'm all in favour of apple crumble on its own merits :) I've never been keen on custard, although having said that I haven't tried it recently, so I think I formed this opinion when I was at boarding school. (Step 1: bounce your spoon off the skin that's formed at the top of the jug...)

Delia did suggest making this seasonal by including other ingredients, which sounds like a good idea: I quite like apple/blackberry as a combination.
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From:shuripentu
Date:April 14th, 2009 11:02 am (UTC)
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Also, living on ready meals is generally (if not always) a lot more expensive. Case in point: a friend of mine needed to work out how much her average weekly food expenditure was, so she went to the Asda website, threw together a week's worth of ready meals for two (which she and her partner apparently live on), plus a few other basics like bread and milk. Total: £60.

gaspodog and I - even with my dietary requirements which require us to buy significantly more expensive ingredients - rarely spend more than £40 a week at Sainsbury's, and that's with being naughty and treating ourselves to nice things.

I'm not sure how your £5 becomes crumble, but I'd expect that if you weren't using more expensive ingredients like almonds, it'd become significantly cheaper. A basic crumble really only needs fruit, sugar, flour, and oats, IIRC. Maybe not even flour. (Don't take my word on this, though. It's not like I've ever actually made a crumble myself; I have people for that sort of thing. ;) *ducks*)
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 15th, 2009 12:34 am (UTC)
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I expected home cooking to be cheaper than ready meals; I normally spend about £40/week on groceries, and I'd like to bring that cost down a bit. That's why I'm comparing the costs of recipes, to see whether it actually makes a difference.

For the crumble, my cost estimate went like this:

ItemCostBased on
3 Bramley apples£1.49£1.99 for 4
3 Cox's apples£1.00£1.99 for 6
175g self-raising flour£0.14£1.19 for 1.5kg
75g butter£0.30£1.00 for 250g
75g almonds£1.74Entire pack


That's £4.67 altogether, and I haven't included the sugar/spice, so £5 sounds about right for the whole lot.

As you say, the almonds were the most expensive part of it. These were "Crazy Jack Organic Flaked Almonds" (£23.20/kg), and the Sainsbury's website lists 300g packs of whole almonds for £2.49 (£8.30/kg), although they didn't have any on the shelves when I was in the shop. If I ditch them altogether, that would certainly bring the price down.

I didn't use oats at all for this, although I've come across crumble recipes that do mention "rolled oats"; as far as I can tell, that's the same thing as porridge oats, so I'll try using them another time.

Of course, delegating the whole task to a minion does have something to recommend it :)
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From:shuripentu
Date:April 15th, 2009 08:59 am (UTC)
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Porridge oats, as far as I can tell, are like rolled oats but more chopped up. There'll be a slight texture difference, but you can use whichever you have to hand. Crumble, I feel, is very much a what-have-we-got-in-the-cupboards dish, since its creation is usually triggered by there being too much fruit threatening to go off. So nobody's going to waggle fingers over porridge and not whole rolled oats, except maybe the likes of Heston.
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From:shuripentu
Date:April 14th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
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Preparation time should reduce significantly with practice, so while it'll almost always take longer for you to cook from scratch than nuke a ready meal, if you stick with the cooking, the difference will cease to be as great.

We put a cheap set of computer speakers in the kitchen - the sort you get for £5 - so gaspodog can listen to music while he cooks, and I can listen to audiobooks while I do the washing up. I find it's a lot more enjoyable, and time goes by a lot more quickly, if I'm listening to something interesting while I'm working. And you can download all sorts of BBC radio shows as podcasts, so there's no shortage of audio entertainment/education.
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From:susannahf
Date:April 14th, 2009 12:38 pm (UTC)
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mmmmm. Edutainment.

In terms of prep time, yes it will improve - you will also hopefully find that it becomes more enjoyable as you learn the unwritten rules of how to adjust recipes to use us whatever is left in the fridge (basically, trial and error is the way to learn this). Also, as you found here, a fridge or freezer and a microwave will allow you to cook for multiple meals at once.

Rules of microwave re-heating:
1) if it has cheese in it, don't re-heat for more than about a minute, otherwise the cheese will turn rubbery and nasty. Ideally, reheat, and then add the cheese, which will melt from the heat of the food.
2) short bursts. If you think it will take 2 minutes, do it for one, test, repeat.
3) don't forget standing time
4) remember to stir so that the food is hot right through. if it's not, stir and give it a bit longer.
5) (general rule of cooking) make sure it's hot all the way through before eating. don't reheat more than once - i.e. if you cooked it, you can reheat it once. but more than that is risking food hygiene

Vegetables can be easily steamed in a microwave by cutting them into approximately equal-sized chunks, adding a good splash of water, and nuking for 1-5 minutes, depending on veg type and chunk size. Do them in 1-minute bursts until you're confident at estimating.
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 15th, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)
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Hmm, that's a thought. I've found that it's not really practical to watch TV, so I've been using wireless headphones with a music channel on in the background, but I've been getting pretty fed up with the same few adverts being repeated. I remember my grandmother listening to The Archers while she cooked, so I can see the benefits of a BBC radio station.
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