The crisp, cobbler, crumble, grunt, slump or buckle. What do these all have in common? They are all fruit desserts baked with a sweet “pastry” topping.
They’re also the epitome of a fresh summer dessert — although I have been known to turn apples and pears into crisps in the fall. Still, a hot summer fruit dessert topped with vanilla ice cream is the essence of summer.
I am partial to a crisp which is fruit topped with a combination of “crisp” oatmeal, flour, butter and sugar and sometimes nuts. The topping ranges from streusel to granola and completely covers the fruit. Since the topping is everyone’s favorite part of the dessert, I add pecans to make the crisp topping even more crunchy and substantial. I think of it as the dessert version of granola. The crisp is sometimes referred to as a crumble or a buckle when a more classic streusel topping is used.
Cobblers are generally topped with batters or biscuits and the topping is spooned on to the fruit leaving space that the fruit can bubble up and show through. Grunts or slumps are like cobblers and the name is purported to come from the sound that the fruit makes as it cooks and emits steam through the spaces between the biscuits.
No matter how it is topped, I love to grill this dessert. Even though the process is similar to baking it in the oven, it is much more dramatic and you will surely impress your friends and family.
In the summer, I make a crisp almost every week. Right now, I am making it with strawberries and rhubarb, but it is good with whatever fruit you find at the market. Make sure that the fruit is ripe, and mix it with a little bit of sugar, citrus and cinnamon. The addition of Grand Marnier is optional but one that I always opt for as it makes a big difference in the depth of flavor, and marrying all the ingredients. If you don’t have Grand Marnier, add a bit of bourbon or your favorite citrus or nut liqueur.
When you toss the fruit with the sugar and cornstarch, be sure to mix well and let the fruit sit for 5 minutes to bring out the natural juices and mix again.
When baking, make sure that you bake long enough for the cornstarch and fruit juices to bubble up and turn opaque or your crisp will taste slightly raw and gritty instead of silky smooth and fruit tart. The tale-tell sign of a crisp that is done cooking is the drips of this juice running down the side of the dish.
The dessert is made for easy entertaining since you can assemble it early in the day and bake it just before you want to eat it and serve it hot-off-the grill, or bake it in advance and serve it at room temperature.
If I am baking it while we eat, I put the crisp on the grill over indirect medium heat when I take the meat off the grill. That way, it is bubbling and hot when everyone is ready for dessert. I love the drama of lifting the lid of the grill in front of my guests and seeing their eyes light up with the thought of a grilled fruit crisp. Either way, it is enhanced by a scoop of best-quality vanilla ice cream!
Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp With Pecan Topping
Start to finish: 110 minutes (20 minutes active)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup regular or quick-cooking oatmeal (not instant)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2teaspoon kosher salt
1/2cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, cut into small pieces
3 pounds strawberries, cleaned and halved (about 5 generous cups)
2 cups chopped rhubarb, about 3 stalks
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1 orange, zested and juiced (about 1/2 cup total)
1 lemon, zested and juiced (about 1/2 cup total)
2/3cup sugar in the raw
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, optional
Build a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Or preheat oven to 350 F.
Make the topping: In a large bowl, combine all the topping ingredients except the butter. Work in the butter with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture resembles large, coarse bread crumbs. Set aside.
Make the filling: In another large bowl, place the strawberries. In a smaller bowl, toss the chopped rhubarb. Add the orange juice, lemon juice, orange and lemon zests, sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon; mix lightly. Add the Grand Marnier, if using. Set aside for 5 minutes.
Place the fruit mixture in a deep round baking dish or souffle dish. Top it evenly with the streusel mixture.
In a grill, place the dish in the center of the cooking grate over indirect medium heat, cover the grill, and bake.
In the oven, set the dish on a sheet pan and place in the center of the oven. Bake for 60-90 minutes, or until the juices bubble over the baking dish, and are clear, and the top is browned.
Chef’s Note: For those of you used to making fruit crisps, you may be surprised by the longer cooking time, but the rhubarb takes longer than most fruit to cook. I made this twice, and the first time that I took out the crisp at 60 minutes, the rhubarb was still crunchy. Ninety minutes resulted in a perfect texture.
Transfer the baking dish to a cooling rack. Serve warm with ice cream, if desired.
Nutrition information per serving: 444 calories; 160 calories from fat; 18 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 24 mg cholesterol; 107 mg sodium; 72 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 50 g sugar; 4 g protein.
Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”