The Ultimate (Gluten-Free) Crumb
Adapted and modified from David Lebovitz by My Little Blue Heron
Crumb is why we bother to eat crumb cake, any crumb pie, crumble, and why Entenmann’s “Fine Baked Goods” one-upped their crumb coffee cake to “Ultimate Crumb Coffee Cake".
Sbrisolona is from Mantua, Italy, and it dates back to about the year 600. In its local dialect, brisa means (give up?) "crumb." In 600, basic ingredients were used: corn flour, lard and hazelnuts. (Almonds were a luxury item.)
My preference is to add anise seed. Gluten-free baking tastes better, even shines, when strutting strong flavors. Grind the seed (coarsely) in your spice grinder (If you don't own one, get a coffee grinder .. the blade kind, and label it, “for spices only”), with a mortar and pestle (did you know that you pronounce it : pɛsəl?), or with a Japanese suribachi. This Japanese mortar and pestle is my favorite grinder. Its greatness lies within its ridges. Because of its design, you can effortlessly grind spices, seed, other dried or semi-dried foods, and sesame seeds into a paste. Here's a link for one in the U.S. on Amazon.
If you make your own GF blend, I recommend using superfine brown rice and superfine white rice flours.
Still in its youth, gluten-free baking and flours have begun to grow up. Superfine flours have eliminated that mouthful of sand quality to baked goods. Balancing rice dominance with softer flours and varied starches are producing flour blends that are finally merging taste with texture.
You can substitute wheat flour for gluten-free flour (that felt great!)
The only dairy I include in my diet is butter, and this recipe screams butter. If you don’t use butter, use the finest butter substitute you can find. I haven’t made this dairy-free, but there are excellent quality non-dairy butters available. If yours has sodium (I haven't seen any "sweet" or "salt-free" non-dairy butters, have you?), omit the salt in the recipe.
If you don't like touching things, you'll need a helper. If you loved Play-Doh, this is like getting the blue. You can use a pastry blender, but there’s no way out of using your hands for the final step of putting this wonderful dough together.
To achieve excellent crumb, be vigilant and patient; and make sure you bake it until it’s golden-brown.
from my little blue heron’s kitchen to yours,
with peace and love,
1 ½ c./170 g. almonds, toasted for about 6-8 minutes in a preheated 350º oven, until lightly toasted, then cooled
1 ¼ c./175 g. gluten-free flour mix of choice (xanthan gum added)
If no xanthan gum has been added, add ¾ tsp. xanthan gum
¾ c./110g. stone ground cornmeal
½ c./100 g. granulated white sugar
¼ c./45 g. packed, light brown sugar
¾ tsp. Kosher salt
8 oz.(2 sticks)/225 g. unsalted butter, CHILLED and cubed
2 large egg yolks (you can freeze the whites for later use)
½ tsp. each: vanilla extract I highly recommend Baldwin's of West Stockbridge, Mass., almond extract, Fiori Di Sicilia (click here for link to this fantastic flavoring, a distinctively Italian combination of vanilla, orange and citrus.)
zest of one unsprayed or organic orange (JUST the zest .. no white pith)
1 tsp anise seed, coarsely ground optional (but highly recommended)
|L-R, Back to Front: whole anise seed, Baldwin's Vanilla Extract, King Arthur Flour "Fiori Di Sicilia"|
Japanese suribachi (grinding bowl)
Getting ready: Preheat oven to 350º F. (180º C.) Butter a quarter sheet pan, or a 9-10” square or a round cake pan. Cut butter into small cubes and refrigerate. The butter must be very cold.
Remove 1 c./110 grams of the almonds and ¼ cup/35 g. of the GF flour blend and put in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse until almonds are in small pieces, but are still recognizable as almonds. Don't go all perfectionist about getting them all the same size. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. MLBH Truc: When you pull out a mixing bowl, return it and pull out a bigger one. Always.
Place the remainder of the almonds in the bowl of the food processor and pulse several times until they are in large(r) pieces. For now, leave them in the bowl.
Add the remainder of the dry ingredients to the large bowl that has the first batch of chopped almonds that you pulsed with the flour, mixing well (with a whisk or with your hands.)
In a small bowl, whisk together the orange zest, egg yolks and extracts. Set aside. (If you do this in advance (mise en place), cover with plastic wrap to keep this mixture nice and moist.
Add the cold, cubed butter, and with your hands (or with a pastry blender), cut in the butter or rub with your hands into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles small peas. Again, irregular pieces are fine. What is important is that the butter doesn’t soften too much from the warmth of your hands (work quickly and with your fingers and not the ‘warm’ part of your hand.)
Now, dump in the larger almond pieces and the orange zest/egg yolk/extract mixture. Use a spatula to get every last drop of the wet ingredients into the dry/butter mixture.
With your hands, mix together, squeezing gently, until dough comes together in clumps.
Transfer into your prepared pan. DO NOT pat down the mixture. Leave is in clumps. It’s okay if there’s space between the clumps .. like a crumb topping. It’s critical that you don’t press down or compact the mixture.
N.B.(If you like raw dough, this recipe is fantastic because it isn't highly sugared. Next time, double the recipe and mix this into vanilla ice cream or some chocolate sorbetto. Three cheers for your next
binge/pity party decadent/comfort-food blue ribbon Americanized dessert!)
Bake in preheated oven until golden-brown, approximately 30-40 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool completely before breaking up into uneven pieces.
Store in an air-tight tin/container for about 5-7 days at a cool room temperature. Freeze Sriboslona for up to two months.