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In Korea, where my family is from, dessert is usually a simple array of fresh fruit. Apples, Asian pears, persimmons, and tiny, delicious, juicy mandarins from Jeju Island are the standbys, at least in my family. No one would ever deny you seconds when it came to this type of dessert.
When we moved to Chile, we were welcomed with a whole new set of fruit we hadn't known existed. Chirimoya, pepino dulce, lúcuma. We devoured these, too, in massive quantities that would have been financially prohibitive in Korea, where bananas in the 1980s cost 50 cents apiece.
It wasn't until I took a trip to the volcanic lake town of Pucón in southern Chile with my friend Barbara one year that I was exposed to fruit dressed up in sugar and flour. OK, maybe I'd had other forms of fruity desserts before, but this trip was memorable for the massive spread Barbara's family had for breakfast every morning — fresh bread, butter, fruit, and something called kuchen. Their version was essentially a fruit cobbler, but kuchen is actually the German word for "cake," or so the Internet tells me. And it covers a broad range of cakes — any type of coffee cake made with a sweet yeast dough.
In southern Chile, which has a sizable German immigrant population, the kuchen has become a staple dessert for the region and is more of the cobbler/streusel/crumble variety.
I'd always enjoyed the whole fruit, undoctored. But I've also always been partial to sweets, so I wasn't surprised to fall in love with baked fruit. Since then, I've been on a quest to bake the best imitation of the perfect crunchy-and-gooey memory of the kuchen from Pucón. I haven't had much luck. My crumbly tops tend to bake soft and limp, not light and deliciously crunchy.
While I search the corners of the Internet for more and better recipes, here's a solid placeholder: a sour cherry crumble from www.epicurious.com. Though I'm not a huge fan of baking with canned or preserved whole fruit, a few things appealed to me right off the bat — the easy recipe, the sour cherry base and the almond flour-based crumble. I think almond flour is great at adding texture and crunch, so I was hopeful it would keep the crumble actually crumbly. And it did. Next time, I think I'll coarsely grind up some almonds and use them in place of half the all-purpose flour.
The result was a perfectly tart and sweet dessert with a good filling-to-crust ratio. Like a cherry pie, but easier. The brown sugar in the crumble really stood out, in a good way. I suspect you could easily cut the sugar down in the filling, or maybe if you're feeling bold, eliminate it altogether. I'm all for sweets that aren't heart-attack sweet.
I halved this recipe with success. I also successfully managed to eat it all in one day, with some minor assistance.
Jenna Cho blogs about food on theday.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sour Cherry Crumble
Adapted from www.epicurious.com
For the almond crumble:
1 cup almond flour
½ cup cold butter, diced
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
For the cherry filling:
4 cups pitted sour cherries (I used Trader Joe's dark morello cherries, which come in 24.7 ounce jars. You'll need two jars for 4 cups)
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour (Knucklehead that I am, I forgot to add this, and it still came out delicious)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
Zest of half a lemon
3 tablespoons butter, diced
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Almond crumble: Add all the ingredients into a bowl. Use a hand mixer to blend the ingredients together until crumbly. (I didn't have much success getting the mixture to blend, so I used my hands to pinch the butter and incorporate it into the flour.) Refrigerate while you mix the cherry filling.
Cherry filling: Go ahead and mix all the ingredients except the butter directly in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or a large pie dish. Scatter the diced butter evenly on top of the mixture. Cover with the almond crumble and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Epicurious recommends a third step, making a whipped ricotta, but I say skip that altogether and serve this with vanilla ice cream.
Like Pavlov’s dog, the start of fall triggers an unhinged desire to buy more apples than one person can responsibly eat, and drink gallons of apple cider, and wrap myself in cozy sweaters and read by pumpkin-scented candles.