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Willie's Crisp

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This is a wonderful recipe for berry season or for that matter, stone fruit season. I got it many years ago from Marion Cunningham's column in the San Francisco Chronicle. This was back when elevation was the hot new plating fashion in trendy restaurants, with filets stood on end and all. I was fortunate enough to chat with her at a luncheon for industry folks and have her remark that she disliked having to deconstruct the food before she could take the first taste. This crisp requires only that you wait until it cools sufficiently to prevent burns, which can be a bit longer than you thought.

1. Preheat oven to 375º F.
2. Mix 1 C. flour, 1 C. sugar, 1 t. baking powder, and ½ t. salt in a large work bowl. Set aside.
3. Cut up 5 to 6 c. stone fruit in bite size pieces (I've used peaches, nectarines, and apricots, but any of the others might work, too), or use cherries or berries, or any tasty combination. To help keep the fruit from being cooked into a senseless mush, select slightly under-ripe specimens. The full six cups has sometimes produced overflows during cooking, so I stop at 5 ½ cups of fruit. The best crisp I ever made was with sour cherries, but these have a very short season and are difficult to find...not to mention being ouchy pricey.  Furthermore, since they run so damn small, pitting enough with my little hand pitter to get 5-6 cups of them becomes rather tedious. My second favorite is made with half nectarines and half blackberries, and I have used this combination many times. Using all blackberries may tempt you. It certainly did me, but repeated trials have convinced me that, as much as I love blackberries, they should be mixed with a fruit in this recipe as they come on too strong by themselves.
4. Mix together 2 T. flour and ¼ to ¾ C. sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is. If you're using sour cherries, you need every last crystal of the full ¾ cup. Likewise, under-ripe fruits and berries are less sweet than dead ripe ones and require more sugar. Distribute the flour/sugar mixture evenly throughout the fruit. Spoon this evenly into an 8x8 baking dish, making the surface as flat and level as possible.

You can make the dish an hour or two ahead of baking time up to this point. However, once you mix the egg into the dry ingredients below, you must proceed without stopping until the dish is in the oven.

5. Melt ¼ lb. butter.
6. Beat one egg well and then use a work fork to rapidly mash it evenly into the dry mixture until you get BB size crumbs. This is a lot of work but is an opportunity to display your forearm strength. Spread the topping evenly over the fruit. It must be absolutely flat. I had been making this dish for years before i discovered that if you gently pat the topping down with your fingers, you can get it flatter. More importantly, this for some reason causes the crust to crisp up better.
7. Drizzle the butter evenly over the crisp mixture. It is not easy to get ¼ pound of melted butter to cover an 8x8 plain of crumbs. You need to work fast before it soaks in and makes further spreading impossible. The best solution is careful drizzling quickly followed by pan tilting. Touching the crust with an instrument of any kind does not work, as the slightest touch causes a large quantity of the crumb topping to lift off the surface, leaving a hole that is a nightmare to patch.
8. Bake about 40 minutes or until topping is a dark golden brown, which always takes longer than 40 minutes for me but which is necessary to make the crust crisp. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, quark, or nothing at all. On the other hand, I have in the middle of the night standing in front of the refrigerator eaten with great enjoyment huge quantities directly out of the cooking pan.

Note: Those who don't need the exercise, or like me are losing their grip, may wish to use a food processor to mix the beaten egg into the dry ingredients. I have cautiously experimented with my ancient Cuisinart and have found that the best solution is to use the metal blade and, with the Cuisinart off, pour the beaten egg down the feed tube. Then use brief pulses to distribute the egg.

At any rate, the glory of this crisp is that the topping really is crisp. None of that soggy crust all too often found on cobblers and pies.