When we choose a muffin top but skip the muffin, we make a statement about the bottom of the pastry, that it’s spongy, tasteless, and not worth the calories. But when we make a crumble without apples or blueberries beneath it–the subject of today’s post–we’re not rejecting all fruit. I promise. We’re just sort of nodding to ourselves in recognition that oatmeal-studded, brown sugar-scented crumbles can do more than crown sometimes soggy produce. They can garnish fancy fall trifles, magic a cut-up ripe pear into a real dessert, or make plain yogurt a little bit friendlier.
Deconstructing a dish isn’t just a pastime for trendy chefs. When you separate out the elements of a multi-faceted dinner or dessert, you open up options for re-combinations. Simple components can go into fancier preparations, but not the other way around (you can’t un-curry potatoes, but you can throw plain roasted potatoes into a curried lentil soup). And this gives way to the theory of baking up a crumb without a filling: You can always add a quarter cup of baked crumble to some fruit–chopped or filled with cheesecake or made into compote–but you can also maneuver your plain-jane crumble into opening up a whole world of sweet snacks and after-dinner treats that go beyond a bubbling casserole of berries or stone fruit.
Of course, if you’re the type of sweet tooth who regularly does dessert by pouring chocolate chips into her palm, you know that building blocks make daily mini-indulgences possible. So, to your repository of sugary foodstuffs you can either nibble on right from the container or turn into more ambitious pleasures, I’d like to add this make-ahead crisp topping which smells like fall–of brown sugar and oatmeal and cinnamon and–and tastes like the garnish you want on every scoop of ice cream or ice cream sundae or dish of pudding or bowl of applesauce this season.
I developed this particular version, which uses oats and almond meal and coconut oil, to help a newbie quarter-life cook fashion a gluten-free, dairy-free dessert for her future husband. If you want the buttery, floury version, though, follow the directions for making the crisp part of this recipe, but skip the strawberries and rhubarb and bake the crumb in a pan as directed below.