Willie’s Crisp

Willie's CrispThis is a wonderful recipe for berry and stone fruit season. I got it many years ago from Marion Cunningham’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle. This was back when elevation was the hot new plating fashion in trendy restaurants, with filets stood on end and all. I was fortunate enough to chat with her at a luncheon for industry folks and have her remark that she disliked having to deconstruct the food before she could take the first taste. This crisp requires only that you wait until it cools sufficiently to prevent burns, which can be a bit longer than you thought.

      1. Mix 1 C. flour, 1 C. sugar, 1 t. baking powder, and ½ t. salt in a large work bowl. Set aside.
      2. Cut up 5 to 6 c. stone fruit in bite size pieces (I’ve used peaches, nectarines, and apricots, but any of the others might work, too), or use cherries or berries, or any tasty combination. To help keep the fruit from being cooked into a senseless mush, select slightly under-ripe specimens. The full six cups has sometimes produced overflows during cooking, so I stop at 5 ½ cups of fruit. The best crisp I ever made was with sour cherries, but these have a very short season and are difficult to find…not to mention being ouchy pricey. Furthermore, since they run so damn small, pitting enough with my little hand pitter to get 5-6 cups of them becomes rather tedious. My second favorite is made with half yellow nectarines and half blackberries, and I have used this combination many times. Using all blackberries may tempt you. It certainly did me, but repeated trials have convinced me that, as much as I love blackberries, they should be mixed with a fruit in this recipe as they come on too strong by themselves.
      3. Mix together 2 T. flour and ¼ to ¾ C. sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is. If you’re using sour cherries, you need every last crystal of the full ¾ cup or maybe even more. Likewise, under-ripe fruits and berries are less sweet than dead ripe ones and require more sugar.  Dead ripe sweet cherries or nectarines need the absolute minimum sugar, especially since the topping is so sweet.  Distribute the flour/sugar mixture evenly throughout the fruit. Spoon this evenly into an 8×8 Pyrex baking dish (an 11 3/4 x 7 1/2 also works), making the surface as flat and level as possible.You can make the dish an hour or two ahead of baking time up to this point. However, once you mix the egg into the dry ingredients below, you must proceed without stopping until the dish is in the oven.
      4. Preheat oven to 375º F.
      5. Melt ¼ lb. butter.
      6. Beat one egg well (go with the biggest egg you can find, even a duck egg) and then use a work fork to rapidly mash it evenly into the dry mixture until you get BB size crumbs. This is a lot of work but is an opportunity to display your forearm strength. Spread the topping evenly over the fruit. It must be absolutely flat. I had been making this dish for years before i discovered that if you pat the topping down with your fingers, you can get it flatter. More importantly, this helps the crust to crisp up better.
      7. Drizzle the butter evenly over the crisp mixture. It is not easy to get ¼ pound of melted butter to cover an 8×8 plain of crumbs. You need to work fast before it soaks in and makes further spreading impossible. The best solution is careful drizzling quickly followed by pan tilting. Touching the crust with an instrument of any kind does not work, as the slightest touch causes a large quantity of the crumb topping to lift off the surface, leaving a hole that is a nightmare to patch.
      8. Bake about 40 minutes or until topping is a dark golden brown, which always takes a lot longer for me than the 40 minutes listed in the original recipe but which is necessary to make the crust crisp. I have left it in the over for as much as an hour, but do check it frequently after 40 minutes.
      9. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, quark, or nothing at all.  I have also eaten huge quantities with great enjoyment directly out of the cooking pan while standing in front of the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

      Note: Those who don’t need the exercise, or like me are losing their grip, may wish to use a food processor to mix the beaten egg into the dry ingredients. I have cautiously experimented with my ancient Cuisinart and have found that the best solution is to use the metal blade, put the dry ingredients in, and, with the Cuisinart off, pour the beaten egg down the feed tube. Then pulse it a few times to distribute the egg.  Actually, i haven’t done it by hand in years because using the food processor blends the egg in so much better than i could ever do by hand.

      At any rate, the glory of this crisp is that the topping really is crisp if you go ahead and cook it long enough. None of that soggy crust all too often found on cobblers and pies.

      Oh, and in her recipe in the Chronicle, Cunningham mentioned that it had been passed around so many times before she got it that nobody knew who Willie was.

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  • By Lunch for JoAnn on 2 October 2016 at 04:12

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