An introduction to fruit-and-dough desserts
It's the best time of year to try your hand at grunts, slumps, and pandowdies.
I’m in dessert heaven these days. It’s late summer, when my favorite luscious fruits are at their prime. All I want to do with those peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, and blueberries is toss them with a little bit of sugar and bake them under a blanket of dough until they’re soft and bubbly. Topped with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, it’s the greatest dessert in the world, as delicious in the evening as it is the next morning.
My go-to version is the traditional crisp, but I’ve discovered that there are many variations on the fruit-and-dough theme. Here is a brief overview of the many kinds of fruit desserts you can make. These work with apples in winter and strawberries in spring, but I still think they’re best right now – so get baking!
We’ll start with the most familiar fruit dessert. Crisps consist of a lightly sweetened fruit base sprinkled with a generous amount of streusel topping. Most basically this is a sugar-flour-butter mixture. If rolled oats are added, then it’s called a ‘crumble.’ I love the Canadian Living cookbook version of a peach-blueberry crisp with a ground ginger-scented topping.
Cobblers have a sweetened fruit base topped with a thick, fluffy biscuit-type dough. The problem with cobblers is that sometimes, if the dough is too thick, it doesn’t bake all the way through and tastes underdone. Fine Cooking offers a good solution – cooking the fruit partially in a skillet before adding spoonfuls of dough, so that its heat helps to bake the topping once in the oven. Try this delicious recipe.
In its Baking book, Food52 calls a slump the “most easygoing member of the family of fruit-and-dough desserts.” Its fruit base is covered with a custardy covering that barely holds together. The eggs help it to rise while baking, then it ‘slumps’ into itself while cooling. Try it with summer stone fruits, like peaches or nectarines. Recipe here.
4. Brown Betty
Presumably the word ‘brown’ comes from the buttered breadcrumbs that are layered alternately with sliced fruit in a baking pan. It’s a good way to use up leftover bread, or you can be decadent and replace with cookie crumbs, such as gingersnaps. The Kitchn has an impressive list of recipes with eight different fruits, so use whatever you've got.
The closest thing to a cake, a buckle inverts the pattern by putting dough on the bottom and fruit above, sprinkled with a crumble topping. The cake rises, then ‘buckles’ afterward, pulling the fruit inward. It’s more work than the other versions, but delicious for brunch or teatime, especially with blueberries. Here's Smitten Kitchen's nectarine brown butter buckle.
A pandowdy consists of a fruit base with a pie-like pastry spread over the top. Near the end of the baking time, the dough is pushed down into the bubbling fruit and returned to the oven; there it absorbs the sweet juices while cooking. Here's a recipe for peach pandowdy.
This is the only non-baked version. A fruit base is simmered, then topped with sweet dough dumpling and steamed on the stovetop. Try Martha Stewart's berry grunt recipe.
Arguably the most labor-intensive of this list, a galette is a free-form pie, also known as a lazy person’s pie. Dough is rolled into a rough circle, topped with a sweetened, spiced fruit filling; the sides are folded in to hold it in place. Here is a formula for any kind of fruit galette.
What's your favorite?