Growing up my mom used to make an apple crumble that was incredible. I wish I knew the recipe that she used (I suspect it was from an old Betty Crocker cook book we had, though it may have been on one of the recipe cards she kept in her grandmothers old wooden recipe card box… I wonder what happened to that). Nevertheless, it was something that signified fall for me and was the ultimate in comfort food. The smell of apples and cinnamon bubbling away under a buttery and crisp crumble would fill the house and wrap you, and everything for that matter, in its warmth.
I went years without ever making an apple crumble for fear that it wouldn’t live up to the memories I had of the one my mom made. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever get there. So why not embrace it?
Pork and apple were meant for each other in a savory setting—think Thanksgiving dressing with sausage and apple, marinating ribs in cider, roasting a juicy pork loin over a bed of chopped fennel and apples, or stuffing hollowed out apples with ground pork and sage—but why couldn’t the same be said for something on the sweeter side? I mean, bacon is the perfect ingredient. It’s saltiness balances ingredients that are incredibly sweet—think sweet potato—and also softens intense bitterness—just studding a radicchio salad with bacon and streaming some fat into its vinaigrette takes away some of the jarring jaw-shock of the leaves. Here a mix of sweet honey crisps and sharp granny smiths balance each other—it’s the best way to bake with apples if you ask me—so the bacon is an added bonus at this point.
Naturally, the bulk of the bacon is found in the crumble topping, having been crisped to a delightfully salty crunch, but some bacon fat is reserved, chilled, and then broken up with butter in the crumble itself. It lends a savoriness to this that is so satisfying. It tastes like brunch (which, by right, gives you full permission to eat this for breakfast). With a big scoop of salted caramel ice cream on top it’s absolute perfection.
It’s not just like Mom made—she would never—but I’m totally fine with that.
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Start by cooking the bacon—I cut it in half lengthwise and then into about 1" wide pieces. Tumble these into a non-stick pan and place over medium-low heat, letting them gradually heat as to render all the fat. Once the pork starts to give off a humble pitter-patter of sizzling fat you can turn it up a bit and cook to a crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside; reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and chill in the freezer to firm up (about 30 minutes), and save another tablespoon or two of fat for greasing the baking pan.
Once the butter and bacon fat are filled start the crumble. Load the flour and sugars in either a food processor or stand-up mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or feel free to do by hand or with a pastry cutter). Mix just a bit to combine before cutting in the butter and bacon fat—in a food processor pulse about 10 - 12 times or mix on medium-low to medium in the stand-up mixer until, either way, you're left with something resembling lumpy wet sand. Stir in the oats and cooked bacon and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°
Peel the apples, halve them, scoop out the cores, and slice each half into about 6 - 8 slices, depending on the size of the apples, so that you have about 1/4" slices. Toss the apples with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. I usually start with 2 tablespoons of flour and give the apples a few minutes to macerate in the sugar—if they throw off a lot of juice while they sit I'll add in another tablespoon.
Lightly grease a 9" x 12" (or roughly 2-quart) baking dish with bacon fat and tip the apple mix into the dish. Top the apple mixture with evenly with the crumble, squeezing some of the crumble in your fist and break coarsely over the dish for large pieces of crumble topping.
Bake for about 45 minutes, until the apples are soft and bubbly and the crumble is tanned and crisp. Allow it to cool outside of the oven for about 10 minutes before digging in with some good ice cream not far out of reach.
You can make this ahead and reheat, covered, at 300°, for about 15 minutes or even better yet, assemble the whole thing and bake off when you need it.