Dessert As You Like It

My Denver friend, Sharon Thomas, is a former caterer and fine cook who entertains at home a lot. She puts some effort into her dinner parties, so it really annoys her when she brings a homemade dessert to the table, and half the guests say, “Oh, just a tiny sliver,” or “No whipped cream, please,” or “Can you put the sauce on the side?”

Recently, Sharon told me that she had devised the perfect dessert for today’s finicky eaters. She makes a deconstructed fruit crisp and passes all the parts separately: sugared berries, crunchy topping, whipped cream. Guests take as much of each component as they like, creating a customized dessert that puts them in control.

Sharon now prepares her crisp topping in quantity. She freezes it unbaked and bakes it on a cookie sheet as needed. I have also found that you can successfully freeze the topping after baking. It stays crisp when thawed. Or you can keep the baked topping in a tightly closed container in the pantry for a couple of weeks. It’s basically a crumbled cookie, after all.

With summer fruit from the farmers’ market, completing your deconstructed crisp takes about 10 minutes. Use a single type of fruit or a combination: peaches, nectarines, plums, pitted cherries, apricots, figs or berries. Sweeten the fruit to taste. Add a splash of brandy, kirsch or anisette (my favorite). Whip some heavy cream or crème fraîche with a little vanilla and sugar. Dessert is served.

Deconstructed Crisp Topping

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cool but not cold
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt, mixing on low speed until blended. Cut the butter into small pieces and add it, mixing on medium-low speed until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the oats and walnuts and mix until the mixture forms clumps, 2 to 3 minutes. Alternatively, you can prepare the topping in a food processor or by hand. If making in a food processor, add the walnuts by hand so they’re not chopped finer.

Spread the topping on a heavy baking sheet and bake until golden brown and fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once or twice so the mixture browns evenly. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Makes about 3-1/2 cups