There’s something about a warm fruit crisp with a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream melting alongside that most people are unable to resist. And who doesn’t love pulling that heavy baking dish, fragrant with the aroma of sweet seasonal fruit, out of the oven, with the rich fruit juices bubbling, with the heavenly smell of the buttery, nutty topping?
Really, what’s not to like?
Well…the dart-in-the-butt is that if you let it sit for any length of time, what you’re left with is a baking dish of fruit topped with solidified mush. And that, my friends, is what’s not to like.
So I came up with a plan—To put the crisp back in crisp topping.
Ever since I came up with this recipe, it’s become the only one I use and is a summertime staple around chez David. Even though there’s perhaps nothing easier to prepare in a moment’s notice, I like to keep a batch in the freezer for an impromptu fresh-fruit crisp, so you can easily double the recipe and freeze Part deux for the next time.
I use the coarsest polenta available, although you can use stone-ground cornmeal or even ‘instant’ polenta which is the mostly commonly available in Paris.
This Polenta Crisp Topping is enough to cover a 2-quart (2 liter) baking dish of fruit filled with about 8 cups (2 kg) of sliced and sweetened fruit. Some favorite combinations are peaches and nectarines with berries or big-’ole Bing cherries, tangy fresh apricots tossed with sour cherries, Gravenstein apple slices heaped with blackberries, and rhubarb with raspberries, which I like in place of the usual strawberries.
Making the recipe is pretty straightforward and is easily whizzed up in your blender or food processor. If you don’t have either, you can chops the nuts by hand and use your fingers or a pastry blender to make the crisp topping. And although I often recommend toasting the nuts in advance, sometimes I don’t feel like firing up the oven and just add them as is. Since they’re getting toasted again, that might be a bit redundant.
Polenta Crisp Topping
- 3/4 cup (105 g) flour
- 2/3 cup (90 g) coarse polenta
- 3/4 cup (80 g) almonds or walnuts
- 1/2 cup (90 g) packed light or dark brown sugar (or cassonade)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- nice pinch of salt
- 4 ounces (1 stick, 115 g) unsalted butter, well-chilled
In a blender or food processor, pulse the flour, polenta, nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt until the nuts are in smaller pieces.
Cut the butter into chunks and pulse in the machine until the butter is finely broken up and the mixture no longer looks sandy and is starting to stick and clump together.
Distribute crisp topping over prepared fruit and bake until fruit is bubbling and cooked underneath, and the topping is deep-golden brown. (Plunge a sharp paring knife in the fruit to feel if it’s cooked through.)
Note: You can store the mixture in a zip-top freezer bag for a month or two, or refrigerate it for up to one week.