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the ongoing saga of gluten-free crumble (or crisp)

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13 August 2007

the ongoing saga of gluten-free crumble (or crisp)

gluten-free crisp

Elliott and I held hands as we walked back to the picnic table. This is one of my favorite places in the world: my nephew beside me, his small hand in mine, my family and the Chef waiting at the other end. Elliott and I talked about the treehouse, the bubbles he had been blowing, the silly sound of giggles as he sat beneath the table, begging for us to drop our keys down the hole in the wood. We had been playing all afternoon together, this nephew of mine and his new uncle. (By marriage, maybe, but by action the Chef has been his uncle for over a year.)

It was time for lunch.

“We’re having roasted chicken,” I told him. “And your uncle has made a tomato-cucumber salad.” I knew he would probably not eat the salad, with the julienned vegetables and the champagne vinaigrette. He would only touch the chicken if I cut it into tiny cubes for him. He is only four. But I wanted him to hear the names of what we were about to enjoy. “Food” is just too general. No one remembers “food.” We remember meals.

He listened, seriously, and then tugged at my hand. When I looked down at him, I saw his smile at the bottom of my arm. “Will there be blueberry crisp?” he asked me, his face animated.

I grinned. He remembered the day before the wedding, weeks before.

During the barbeque the Chef and I threw for our families and closest friends, Sharon and I ducked into the kitchen. With blueberries the Chef’s sisters had picked up at the farmers’ market, and apricots from the Market, we hunched close together and made two crumbles. The Chef’s mother came in to check on us. “You two girls need to sit down,” she said, worried that we were not yet relaxed.

But nothing relaxes me like baking. I love the people who were filling our backyard. I looked forward — with eager edges of anticipation — to the day that was to follow, the one we had been planning for months. But with my hands covered in butter, blueberries warmly bubbling in the pan beneath me, and the smell of sugar wafting to my nose, I am at peace in the world.

When Sharon and I pulled the crumbles from the oven — the dark juices of the blueberries threatening to escape the pan, the topping as brown as our sun-warmed skin — we felt triumphant. Like two conquering heroes returning from the berry wars, she and I marched out to the garden, and lay down our trophies.

Even though there had been barbequed hamburgers, and ribs soaked in sweet-salty sauce, homemade dill pickles, potato chips galore, a crisp green salad, plus beer and wine and laughter — everyone found room for crumble.

No one commented on the fact it was entirely gluten-free. It was just blueberry-apricot crumble.

Half an hour after I had pulled the crumble from the oven, I saw Elliott sitting at the picnic table, with Cooper by his side. Their pale faces were stained purple-blue happy, with smudges at the lips that lengthened their smiles. When I walked by, Elliott looked up at me, quite directly, and said, “This blueberry crisp is good, Shauna. It’s the best I ever eaten.”

Cooper nodded too, quick to agree with his new friend.

That is, without a doubt, one of my favorite moments of the entire weekend.

And so, when Elliott wondered if we were going to be eating blueberry crisp, I realized that the moment I so fondly remember is a memory in his mind too. He’s only four, but he’s a real person now. We have entire conversations, not just smooshy noises on his belly and silly sounds at the top of my voice. We still sniff — he wanted to smell the rosemary and thyme planted in the large pots in our yard — but now we talk about the smells, and where they reside in his mind. They remind him of other smells, and he tells me. He is, without a doubt, fully here now.

I looked down at him, holding my hand, and said, “Oh sorry, sweetie. We don’t have blueberry crisp today. It’s my birthday. We’re having chocolate cake and roasted peaches.”

His grin grew bigger. “Oh good!” he said. What little boy turns down chocolate cake? And what did it matter to him that it was gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, and soy-free? It tasted like dark chocolate, nothing more. “This is good cake,” he said with his mouth full of crumbs. I’d recommend it to anyone, but I have a feeling that cake was best eaten in the open air, surrounded by family. Afterwards, there were more bubbles to blow, apples to throw, and a swing to sway in, with the help of his uncle.

But next time Elliott is in our backyard, I’ll make sure there is warm blueberry crumble, for him, and for the memory.

Apricot and blueberry crumble, inspired by David Lebovitz and Shuna Fish Lydon

What’s a crisp and what’s a crumble? It sounds like the start of a nursery rhyme, in some way. But for me, the answer is — not much. Perhaps a crumble has a bit more butter, a softer bite. A crumble is like nursery food: comforting in summer, and even better when you need a little something to liven up the day.

My crisps and crumbles both improved when I read David Lebovitz’s recipe, which calls for cornmeal. Somehow, this ingredient had never occurred to me. But he’s right. That lovely stuff that can become polenta also adds a crunch and cohesiveness that I never would have expected in a crumble, particularly a gluten-free one. I’ll never make one without some, now. And of course, just knowing that Shuna had made a gluten-free crisp for our wedding made me want to go back and work on my recipe.

This lovely dessert fumbles softly in the mouth. When it’s first out of the oven, this crumble melts and tumbles, one bite butter, another brown sugar. It’s heavenly with homemade vanilla ice cream — believe me. Wake up in the morning, and pull the pan out of the refrigerator. Scoop some into your favorite bowl, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee, and sigh into the topping. If you can eat this on the glider, with your love beside you, that morning can be nothing but fine.

Crisp or crumble? Call it you want. Elliott calls this good.

Fruit filling

1 pint blueberries
2 cups apricots, pits removed and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
¼ cup demerara sugar

Crumble topping

½ cup almond flour
½ cup quinoa flakes
½ cup sorghum flour (if you don’t like sorghum, try brown rice flour)
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
¾ cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, frozen, for perhaps an hour before you begin

Preheating the oven. Turn your oven onto 375°.

Preparing the filling. Jumble the blueberries and apricots in a large bowl. Sprinkle the lemon juice and vanilla extract over them and toss. Coat the fruit with the tapioca flour, until the mix feels a little pasty. Toss in the sugar and stir well.

Baking the filling. Pour the prepared filling into a buttered pan. (I like a shallow casserole dish, but you could just as easily use a 9-inch pie pan. Just be sure you have an inch of room, at least, after you have poured in the filling.) Put it into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the fruit is fork-tender and the juices are beginning to run.

Preparing the topping. As the fruit is baking, put together the crumble topping. (You can also prepare double batches of this and store them in the refrigerator, which allows you to make crumble any time of the day you wish.) Combine the almond flour, quinoa flakes, sorghum flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Sift them into another bowl. Add the brown sugar and stir well.

Take the butter out of the freezer. With your microplaner or box grater, grate the frozen butter into the flours and sugar. The butter has to be frozen for this to work. This will make the pieces of butter small and easy to combine with the flours.

Work the small pieces of butter into the flours with a pastry cutter or fork. When the topping feels well mixed— but not one big mass — you are done.

Baking the crumble. When the fruit has baked sufficiently, pull the baking dish out of the oven. Spoon the crumble on top of the fruit, making sure to cover it all. Slide the dish back into the oven.

Bake for an additional fifteen minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling juicily, and the topping has browned nicely.

Let the crumble cool for at least fifteen minutes before eating it. (Go on. Try.)

Feeds 8.


At 9:56 AM, Blogger Jean Layton-GF Dr. Mom said...

Ah the joy of fresh berries and children. I just love how you convey all of the goodness in both.
Happy Birthday and many more years of crumbles and cuddles.

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Where my people come from we call it cobbler. Idaho, that is.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Kate said...

Happy Birthday =)
And happy Blueberries!
I have a 1/2 flat from the local farm and they are delicious - perfect timing. Blueberries all around. =)

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Balboa said...

that crisp sounds fabulous. I plan on making that whenever I get invited to people's houses, at least I know I can eat something.


At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Shauna- it's time to pick BLACKBERRIES! Crumble, Cobbler, Crisp... You and the Chef, a bucket, and long sleeves. My place, Labor Day Weekend! Bring the almond flour and the other gluten-free flours. I'll provide the berries, bucket, and ice cream.

At 4:42 PM, Blogger Heather said...

I have found that using crushed up rice krispies to be extremely helpful in making crisps and crumbles. I find the simplier the ingredients the better. For those that cannot do corn...Organic Rice Krispies do not even have corn.


At 5:17 PM, Blogger Mrs. G.F. said...

This looks great!! I will be trying a version of this..we are going blueberry picking this week at a friend's farm, this will be perfect!

Thanks for the inspiration.

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks really yummy, and I am always into gluten-free recipes that use nutrient-dense flours like almond and sorghum rather than gluten-free recipes that rely on potato and tapioca flours which have way less nutritional value! By the way, this is the first week I've found your blog, but I'm really enjoying it and telling others about it too.

At 10:59 PM, Blogger Just a girl said...

i love your blog. so much. :) and i'm so very happy for you, for all of the exciting things that have happened in your life recently. and for the fact that you share them with us all, using your gift for storytelling and words. :)

At 1:44 AM, Blogger shuna fish lydon said...


Thanks for the link and nod!

as an aside-- if you do not want to put a binder {in this case the tapioca flour} in the fruit then you can cook the crisp just until the crisp topping is browned. this way your fruit flavors will be cleaner/ more tasting like themselves... just a thought.

also I beg of you to try melting the butter-- I found that once I began to do this I never looked back... it makes quite a difference in the finished texture and also decreases prep time considerably.

At 5:35 AM, Blogger Andromeda Jazmon said...

This makes me so happy!

I tagged you with the Reflective Blogger Award today. Thanks for writing a beautiful, inspiring blog.

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Cookie baker Lynn said...

Happy birthday! Beautiful relationship with your nephew. I can tell he adores you and his new uncle.

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Gluten Free Girl! i too am gluten free and have slowly come to embrace my gf life. One thing I simply can not live without and often dream about is tortellini. I know you and Chef are brillant cooks but I sadly am not. Making it from scratch is simply not an option. Please tell me you know where or how I can find some gf tortellini deliciousness!!
ps. your wedding pictures are BEAUTIFUL

At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought that cornmeal was made with wheat flour??

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The crisp sounds FABULOUS. Can't wait to try!

On an unrelated note, ELISABETH HASSELBECK, co-host of The View just mentioned in passing that she has CELIAC DISEASE! Possible book marketing possibility for you??? Just thought you might like to know...

Barrie (another GF, 40+ Leo in Seattle!)

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and ps to Heather...

most rice crispies have malt in them, which is dangerous for those with very severe gluten allergies.

Just fyi! Check to make sure your rice crispies don't have malt before feeding it to GF people.

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my, that looks wonderful, my favorite dessert of all time and gluten-free! That looks like a good use of quinoa flakes. I have some quick quinoa powder and wonder if it might be easy to incorporate. Hmmm...

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Lorraine said...


At 7:25 AM, Blogger Just a girl said...

i made this crumble last night, and it was fantastic. all who were served were mighty pleased. nice job GFgirl :)

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


Thank you, so. Now that the wedding is over, I'd love to see you soon!


Cobbler. Oh, another lovely idea. In my mind, cobbler is doughier, like dumpling batter almost. But if it's gluten-free, I'll be willing to eat it!


Thank you. Blueberries all around. If I were queen, I'd order that!

Balboa and Mommy,

oh yes. It is a perfect gift. No one will comment that it's different. Prepare yourself for the pan to be empty.

La Nina,

Oh my god, YES!


As someone said later, that's hard for us gluten-free folks. Almost every brand of Rice Krispies I have found has barley in it. Have you found one that doesn't? I would love to know.

Slacker Mom,

You're welcome. How did it come out?


I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog. And I have to echo you. Almost all gluten-free baked goods use white rice and potato starch, or tapioca. Might as well be enriched white flour.

Starry-eyed surprise,

Ah shucks. I'm so happy to read this. And that's a great name you have.


Brilliant! As always, you come through. in my experience, the tapioca keeps the blueberries from exploding into juice. But I'll try your way next time. And the melted butter. Do you drizzle it over the top at the end? We're having an apple crisp party next week, so I'll try your way.


Thank you for the honor. I'm really touched.

Cookie Baker Lynn,

Thank you. I do adore that boy. And he loves his new uncle. There was some hesitation at first -- who is this person hanging out with my aunt -- but it's total acceptance now.


Oh my dear, we haven't started with tortellini yet. But we're going to be in Italy soon, so I will see if I can find you something suitable!


Oh heavens no. Cornmeal should just be ground corn. We should all check the label to see about cross-contamination in the factory. Different brands might have some of that. But cornmeal, at its essence, should be entirely gluten-free!

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Anonymous II,

I do know about Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Let's just say...fingers crossed. (If you wrote to the View and said you'd like to see us on there...)

Anonymous III,

Point well taken. I think it's the good-hearted people who try to cook for us who would never know such things. Thanks for pointing that out for me.


I've never heard of quick quinoa powder. Hm. Something else to explore.


It is yummy! Even if I could eat gluten, I'd choose this combination of flours.

Starry-eyed surprise,

Yay! I'm so happy to know that it worked for you. I've had a number of people email me in the last days to say this was scrumptious. I'd say this one is a keeper.

At 5:40 AM, Blogger ~M said...

Could I use the Argentine quick-cooking (but not instant) polenta instead of the cornmeal for this recipe. I plan on using this crisp/crumble topping over Italian plums, available now, as per one of your earlier recipes.

By the way, Erewhon makes a gf rice crispy cereal and Amazon grocery sells it. So does my nearby Whole Foods.


At 4:52 AM, Blogger Michaela Deasy-Smith said...

Hi there GFG - I host Around the World Without Blog, and I wondered if I could add your link to my page, if you could add my link to your page. Congratulations with the book. I too hope to have something published in the new year. View my blog at

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Shirin said...

Hi Shauna, I may be too late here but I just tried this. The quinoa flakes tasted a little dry and uninfinished. Do you think I should have let it bake a little longer? Or maybe the butter wasn't dispersed well enough. I tried the freezing trick but took the butter out too early and it got too warm to use the microplaner. I still enjoyed it -- hard to go wrong with warm berries! Thanks!

At 12:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just checking out some recipes. (It's cooling enough to bake again now that we're out of the 90's - almost. Yes, it is November...)

This sounds so good. Just a quick question - I can't have eggs or dairy (cow proteins) either. Any suggestions for substitutes?

My mom was a home ec teacher (back in the day) and if it has a crust-like topping it's a cobbler (and I believe the crust starts on the bottom and moves to the top during baking). If it has a crumbly top, it's a crisp. At least that's what Mom taught me.

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Jen H said...

I'm not restricted to a gluten free diet, but this crumble looks so good I'll be trying it for sure!

My Summer Fest entry is Peach & Radish Salsa

At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Janice said...

Love your GF recipes! I'm not gluten-restricted, but do cook occasionally for people who can't have gluten (having a cupcake tasting this wednesday for some!).
My Summer Fest baking this week was Rainier Cherry tarts


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