Search This Blog

Monday, June 18, 2012

Naturally Sweetened Apple Crumble

I'd say "sugarless" or "sugar free" except that, technically, there is a lot of fructose going on in the fruit.

It's all naturally-occurring, however, and better than loading up on sucrose or glucose.

Fructose is a very sweet sugar, and I'll never understand why something with so much sweet fruit (like apples) is more often than not paired with copious amounts of added sugar.

I mean... it can be delicious... but it certainly isn't needed.

In my opinion, the addition of sugar to something with fruit in it transforms it from just being a regular food to now being an extravagant, superfluous 'dessert' item.  A 'luxury' item if you will.

So, sure it's good, but now you'd need to 'keep an eye on it' so to speak, and limit its consumption or face the consequences.


Now, that said, apples in particular are really sweet, I find.  Some varieties more than others, of course, but a good honey crisp, ambrosia, or royal gala apple should certainly have enough sugar to sweeten an entire dish, shouldn't it?

That's what I thought, anyway, upon concocting this recipe from a melange of about three other apple crumble recipes.

The filling I wasn't too worried about - I was reasonably confident that that could still turn out just fine by just omitting (removal without substitution) the (large amounts) of both white and brown sugars.

However... the 'crumble' part kind of gets its name and characteristic brown, nutty, delicacy - in part, at least - from brown sugar.  So I tried to compensate for that a little.

The solution for this came from an ATK recipe (America's Test Kitchen) wherein they extolled all the good things that came by 'pre-baking' the crumble part.

So, that's what I did.  And it worked.

Anyway, here's my own creation of a naturally-sweetened apple crumble, which is an altogether not-so-bad-for you 'dessert'.

First off, the yield for this recipe is quite small (I'd guess about 4-6 persons) so feel free to double it for a portion more akin to normal.

I had some apples which were starting to get a little soft and bruised, so that's what prompted me to give this a go in the first place.  If you're going to try this without sugar as I have, you pretty much need to use 'sweet' apples.  i.e. Granny Smiths are not going to cut it.  

I'm using royal gala apples which are naturally quite sweet.

If you haven't read my Homemade Organic Apple Sauce With Peel post, you should know that I am also an advocate for keeping the peel on in sauces.  They're just so full of good stuff I can't understand why you would not keep them in.

I learned a few things from making apple sauce that day.  Namely, leaving the peel on is just fine, provided you puree it well enough; but also, you can definitely get away without adding any sugar if you use sweet apples like these.

So, I was pretty confident I'd be able to pull of this tweaked recipe I'd just now concocted.

I'll list for you here, what it entails:

For the filling:

  • 4 organic royal gala apples, cored, quartered, and chopped.
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened fruit juice (like cranberry)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • pinch of lemon zest
  • dash of cinnamon

For the crumble:

  • 1/2 cup flour (all-purpose)
  • 1/16 tsp (yup, that's half of 1/8 a tsp) salt
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened fruit juice (like cranberry)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • dash of cinnamon
It's basically your standard recipe for apple crumble, just without the sugar.

So, I began by coring and cutting the apples.

I think I have a fairly decent apple-cutting technique.  I learned it from my mom who learned it from her mom in turn.  And she made an astounding amount of apple pies.  Astounding.

Peeling I learned from her as well, but I haven't peeled an apple in some time (see above-mentioned leaving-the-peel-on rant).

Begin by quartering the apple straight up - cut in half right down the centre, and then again right through the core.  Effectively cutting the core in half once, and then again to quarter it.

Then take your quarters and just quickly incise in and behind (what's left of) the core.  If you follow the 'hard' part (I'm sorry I don't know the correct term for the cartilage-y bit surrounding and housing the seeds) the core just 'pops' right out with a little nudge from behind with your paring knife.

Anyway... that's my masterful apple cutting technique.  I find it is very time- and waste-efficient.  Just look at how much waste there was only from all of these apples:

That's pretty cool if you ask me.


ANYWAY... chop these babies up into little 1/2" chunks, and then get them cooking (on medium) in a saucepan with a heavy lid.  Add your other liquids (for the filling) here - so a tablespoon each of juice and vanilla - rather than any water or anything, to help 'cook' the apples.  You can add the cinnamon here too if you want (particularly if you really enjoy the strong presence of cinnamon.)

For the juice, and in order to ensure this is truly a 'naturally-sweetened' dessert, make sure  to pick one that does not have any sugar added.

I used Oasis cranberry juice, of which I am a big fan.  It's technically not a 'cranberry cocktail' but it does have a couple of other juices in there from other fruit.  From my own grocery research and shopping, it seems almost impossible to find a 'cranberry' juice that is actually just composed of cranberry juice.

Anyway, these ingredients are still pretty decent, as you can see, and the juice is delicious... not overly sweet, but not deathly tart either.

So... no sugars except those naturally occurring from the fruit, and yet the juice is very sweet.  I figured it would do well as a sweetener for my baking today.

As the apples are blipping away on the stove, I got to work on the crumble part.  At this point you can preheat your oven (350°) if you like.

So, 1/4 cup of flour in a large mixing bowl, mixed with the salt, and then cut-in the liquid and the butter, in batches.

At this point I took a frantic 5 minutes to turn my kitchen upside-down looking all over for my pastry cutter.  I could have sworn I had one... but it up and disappeared on me.  So, I had to use my fingers.  I've heard of other tricks to cut-in fat or liquid, including two knives, but eventually it was my fingers that worked best.

So, I pinched and squeezed and mixed and blended until my fingers hurt, trying to ensure as much even distribution as possible.

And then did the same with the butter.  There wasn't much butter, so again just used my fingers.

After cutting-in the butter, I realized my ratio was off a little bit.  It could be a problem with halving the original recipe, or it could be because it was an exceptionally humid afternoon, I dunno, but in any case, I needed to add a bit more flour, as you can see:

So, I added some more flour (just a couple spoonfuls) and then (using a trick from the ATK recipe) gave the mixture a few quick pulses in my mixer.

What came out was a little finer, and was spread out as evenly as possible upon a parchment-covered baking sheet.

This got baked in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes, until they just started to turn brown.

Meanwhile, the apples got nice and cooked, and thoroughly softened.

So, they go into my large blender along with a spoonful of corn starch, and some lemon zest.  Add the cinnamon here if you didn't add it before.

Even though they're completely mushy and practically falling apart, the blender still needs a few careful nudges with a spoon; I do not recommend sticking utensils - or anything for that matter - into blenders when in use!!!  However, sometimes a sticky mixture needs a little coaxing.  Especially if adding liquid is not an option.

Anyway, after a couple minutes, I carefully spread this mixture out into a small, greased, baking pan.

Although it looked disturbingly like apple sauce (most apple baking calls for 'chunks' and my method of pureeing the filling is definitely not the norm) it was still kind of... sproingy.


The nicely golden (but not fully browned) crumble comes out of the oven and gets crumbled (fancy that!) just with your hands, on top of the filling.  Give it a dash of cinnamon on top, and then put the whole thing back in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.

When it comes out, the top should be wholly browned, and the fruit should be sizzling up at the sides of the pan.

This was really good.

It was surprisingly sweet, but not 'dessert' sweet.  After finishing a large piece, I was left with a 'feel-good' sensation rather than a saccharine bloated feeling, and not all of that was just psychological.


Seriously, it was flaky and crunchy, with a dense apple-tastic layer that still left the entire dish surprisingly light.

I'd definitely make this again.  I might even add a bit more corn starch to the filling to make it a bit more sproingy.

Anyway, I encourage anyone to give it a try, and/or let me know similar recipes which you've effectively "de-sweetened"!