I recently spent a few days in northern Michigan, the heart of tart cherry country. I ate the most transcendent piece of cherry pie I'd ever had, and I was reminded of how much I love tart cherries in baking. They are the baker's dream fruit: plump, juicy, bite-sized, and not too sweet at all. I am not a great pie-baker, so I was inspired to bring you instead an adaptation of my favorite crumble recipe: a crisp brown butter topping, like the best cookie you ever ate, spread over a field of tart cherries swimming in their sweet, jammy syrup.
This crumble recipe is a direct adaptation of perhaps my favorite dessert of all time: Marion Burros' plum crumble. I got the recipe from Molly, who got it from Luisa, who read it in Burros' column. As originally written, the crumble topped a dish of prune plums, and it bakes up like the lovechild of a drop biscuit and a sugar cookie. It's a little crumbly, a little soft, and crispy around the edges from the rather astonishing amount of butter used in the recipe.
In my adaptation I use cherries, obviously, but I also tweak the sugar a bit and pull back on the butter. I use browned butter instead of regular melted butter, which gives a toastiness to the crumble topping that works marvelously well with the tart cherries.
It's a simple crumble, but one that has made repeat appearances this past month in my kitchen. As I told you earlier, tart cherries are almost exclusively a frozen product — too delicate to ship fresh, and preserved instead for us to enjoy all fall and winter. And that's a very good thing, because this crumble is not something I want to reserve for summer alone.
Finding Tart Cherries
Even though tart cherries are predominantly frozen, they can be hard to find. Some tips:
Locally: In some areas, Trader Joe's and Meijer carry frozen tart cherries. Have you seen them elsewhere in your area? Tell us in the comments!
Ask: If your grocery store doesn't carry them, ask the frozen foods manager. This goes for other things too, besides cherries; if you ask at your store, the ordering manager can usually get what you want.
Order online: If you're really craving tart cherries and want to get a bunch, then mail-order is your friend. Here's where the cherries pictured above came from:
For the cherries: 1 pound tart cherries, frozen
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger, optional
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
For the crumble: 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten well
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F.
Spread the frozen cherries in an ungreased 9x9-inch baking dish, deep pie pan, or similar-sized dish. Toss the cherries with the sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon, and salt.
Cut the butter into several pieces and melt over low heat in a small saucepan. Raise the heat slightly after it has melted, and cook, swirling frequently, until the butter has turned nutty brown. Remove from the heat.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the beaten egg and use your hands to combine the dry ingredients and egg. As you work the egg into the flour, it will form small moist crumbs. Sprinkle these over the cherries, then drizzle the browned butter over the topping.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is browned and the cherries are bubbling. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream.