A brown betty just might be the simplest fruit dessert that you can make – apart from just pairing fresh fruit with some ice cream! The dessert is a kind of fruit crisp that uses breadcrumbs instead of a streusel or biscuit topping. While that may sound a bit strange at first, it works surprisingly well and allows you to put together a dessert that showcases ripe, in-season fruit in mere minutes.
This Summer Plum Brown Betty is a delicious option for enjoying ripe plums when they are in season. I often feel that plums don’t get as much time in the baking spotlight as other stone fruits, but they are one of my favorites to work with, as much for their juicy sweetness as for their brilliant color. I never peel plums before baking with them. Plums have a thin skin that, while it actually has a slight tartness to it when the fruit is eaten raw, has very little flavor after baking and is almost unnoticeable in the finished dessert. What makes the skins worth keeping is the fact that they bring a lot of color to plum desserts, as the rich red/purple colors of the skin are released into the dessert during baking. This means that the filling will have a vibrant plum color to it that will give the dessert some “wow” factor. This is true in every application where I use plums, so keep those skins on!
I used challah bread and pulsed it in the food processor to create the crumbs for this recipe. Rich breads like challah and brioche are flavorful and make a great topping. Prepared bread crumbs (such as Panko) are so dry and bland that they don’t bring a lot to this recipe. Plain white bread would be a better substitute than the dried breadcrumbs, but if you do have to use the dry variety, add in two additional tablespoons of butter and a little extra sugar to give them some moisture and additional depth of flavor.
This dessert is best served when it is still warm from the oven, when the plus are tender and juicy. I like to serve small bowls full of brown betty with a side of vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream, but it is good on its own, too. Leftovers should be refrigerated and can be warmed to serve.
Summer Plum Brown Betty
2 lbs (approx) ripe plums
2 cups fresh bread crumbs, either challah or brioche
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F.
Halve plums, removing the pits, then cut each half into three even slices. It is not necessary to peel the plums.
Arrange plums in an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish. (Optional: If plums are tart, sprinkle with 2 tbsp additional sugar)
In a medium bowl, stir together bread crumbs and brown sugar. Stir in melted butter and vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit in baking dish.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until fruit juices are bubbling. Tent pan loosely with aluminum foil if topping gets too dark in the last few minutes.
Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.