If summer fruit pie is the hare, then summer fruit crumble is the tortoise. Stay with me. Pie is the dessert that looks supremely impressive, the one that when you pull it out of the oven, people swoon and say, “Wow! Did that take you all day?! You’re amazing!”
Now, I’m not trying to hate on pie. But what I am trying to say is that crumble is the underdog—the dessert that sneaks up on you and proves itself the ultimate winner. And this Plum-Cardamom Crumble with Pistachios is the best version of the underdog I’ve had in awhile.
Here’s my take: Buttery, sugary, nutty clumps are better than flaky pie dough. I’m aware that this is an opinion, specifically my opinion, but I will maintain that opinion for as long as I live. The crumble clumps taste like broken-up sandy cookies, softening as they soak up the bubbling plum juices beneath and, if you’re smart, melting vanilla ice cream scooped on top. And yet, in this case, they still maintain crunch from the pistachios that are sprinkled on right before baking, a trait that pie dough, alas, does not possess.
The crumb part is also far easier to make than pie dough. There is no fear of overworking, no rolling it out into a crack-filled blob shape that is hopefully reminiscent of a circle, no oh-my-god-how-did-flour-end-up-on-every-surface-of-my-kitchen moment. All you do is pulse together flour, brown sugar, salt, and cardamom in a food processor (and honestly, you can do it by hand, too) until combined, and then add pieces of cold butter until it all clumps up.
Now onto the plums. They are the best fruit. And yes, this is also my opinion, but it is the correct opinion, and another I will maintain for as long as I live. In this recipe, plums (I made it with a mixture of all the varieties I found at the store), get cut up and tossed with lemon juice, cornstarch, brown sugar, salt, and cardamom. That mixture sits until the bright-pink juices are running wild and free. And now all that’s left to do is chop up some whole, raw pistachios for the top; they toast beautifully as the whole crumble bakes.
You can also play with a lot here. “The plums and cardamom go beautifully together, but I intended for this to be a template for whatever fruit is looking best at the farmers market, or whatever spices you have in your pantry,” says senior associate food editor Molly Baz, who developed the recipe. You can swap, say, peaches or nectarines for the plums, almonds for the pistachios, or cinnamon, or even nutmeg or ginger, for the cardamom. But one word to the wise. The recipe calls for a deep pie dish or an 8x8x2” baking dish so that you don’t end up with burnt juices all over your oven floor, which will definitely happen if you use a standard pie dish.
The assembly goes like this: fruit on the bottom, then the crumb you scatter haphazardly, so that some of the fruit still peaks out. “Make sure to squeeze handfuls together as you go so that you get bigger chunks and not just a fully sandy sprinkling,” says Baz. And then the nuts on the very top. Forty-five minutes later, plus however long you can wait to let it cool and set up (in my case, about an hour), and you’ll vote crumble over pie. And so will all your friends. The underdog wins again.