Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Summer Fruit Crumble and Homemade Spiced Custard

Autumn commeth. I can feel it in the air; there's a chill breeze (or gale, as it's been in the last few days!), the leaves are starting to turn from lush green to crisp yellows and oranges and every so often you get the faintest whiff of mulching leaves and drying conkers. I must admit that I struggle to keep warm at the best of times so as the weather turns colder, I'm looking forward to warming my cockles with some lovely home cooking.

The days may be getting shorter and darker but, thankfully, Summer's not completely gone (truthfully, I'm not sure if it ever arrived in the UK). The limited amounts of watery British sunshine haven't limited the supply of fruit and vegetables in the garden's, allotments and veggie patches of my family and friends. We've been gifted boxes and bags full of delicious home grown goodies; most recently, my Mother-in-Love filled a box with apples, pears, rainbow chard, mangetout, runner beans and a carton of home-grown home-juiced apple juice. Unfortunately, after a busy weekend, I put the box on top of the car to rearrange the mess on my passenger seat only to forget about it completely. I promptly remembered it after driving a third of a mile and hearing it slide across the roof and land, with a thunk, in the middle of the road. Whoops. Luckily, the produce were a little worse for wear but still edible.

Our bruised and bashed apples and pears were combined with some plums to make a delish crumble. Crumble, for me, is up there with mashed potato and hearty soups as possibly the best comfort foods of all time. It's versatile, quick and easy (prerequisites of pretty much all of my recipes). This time, I decided to challenge myself and try making custard. We often keep a can of the ready made stuff in the larder for emergencies (emergency apple pie, emergency pineapple-upside-down cake...) but I've never tried making it from scratch. Now that I've given it a go, I can say with some confidence that it's amazingly easy. It takes about 10 minutes to make - no more than microwaving a can of the ready made gloop.

Summer Fruit Crumble
Serves 6

For the filling
450g prepared summer fruits of your choice
or 2 cooking apples, cored and chopped
    4 plums, stones removed and chopped
    4 pears, cored and chopped
2 tbsp sugar

For the topping
50g plain flour
50g rolled oats
50g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
50g caster sugar

 - Preheat the oven to 180c.
 - Place the prepared fruit in a baking dish and sprinkle with the sugar.
 - Pulse the topping ingredients in food processor, or rub together with your fingers, until it resembles bread crumbs.
 - Pile on top of the fruit and pop into the oven for 30 - 40 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden.

Spiced Homemade Custard
Serves 2 - 4

330ml milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1 cardamom pod, crushed
1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 egg yolks*
15g caster sugar
1 level tsp cornflour
grated nutmeg to taste

 - Split the vanilla pod length ways and scrape out the seeds. If you're using vanilla extract, hold your horses - you add this later. Add the seeds, pod and other spices to a saucepan and pour in the milk. Cover and gently bring to the simmer. Keep a close eye on it as milk has a mischievous tendency to boil over as soon as you turn your back. When it's warmed through, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. This stage can be done in advance - the longer the better as the spices will infuse the milk.
 - When you're ready to serve, whisk the yolks, sugar and cornflower together in a bowl until nicely blended and creamy.
 - Remove the vanilla pod (if using) and the spices and pour the milk over the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time so that the mixture is lump-free.
 - Return the mixture to the pan (with the vanilla extract if using) and stir gently over a very low heat until it is thickened to your liking.

*Not sure what to do with your leftover egg whites? Make meringues or pop them in a mug in the fridge until tomorrow when I'll be putting up a new recipe that will use them up!

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