Some people prefer to turn their ovens on in the colder months. Come autumn, they start devoting hours, curled up in their most comfortable spot at home, researching recipes that require the warmth of a preheated oven. Food bloggers worldwide type in what I read to be loud voices, about the exciting winter recipes they have in store; and after Halloween, the ovens of the world come alive, counteracting the creeping cold that likes to spring itself on unsuspecting and stubborn summer dress-donning individuals.
Those people are not the group I belong to. Beginning my cooking journey in Malaysia, there was never any winter and there was always an air conditioning unit crisply cooling the room, killing the humidity that threatened to turn all pastry into clumps of mush stuck to the kitchen counter. I, being the kind that feels the cold quickly, lived with a blue fleece blanket on our sofa for easy access and my oven working hard, working more days than not. My husband with his love for air conditioning provided a guaranteed yearlong spot of winter for me right at home and so my love affair with my oven grew.
After the first few months of getting comfortable with the stovetop, I felt the need to bake. Always wanting to have something sweet but home baked, it started out with cake box mixes. As I gradually moved up from there, the oven became my little box of magic tricks. Arabic flatbreads, roasted duck and rotisserie chickens, baked prawn and braised beef were highlights my Malaysian oven added to my scroll of memories and bragging rights.
Considering myself lucky to be in Cairo when the weather is cooling, it’s nice to feel the heat emanating from the ovens I’ve recently come across. During Eid and since we’ve been invited over to one another’s, I’ve used it as a chance to sneak into people’s kitchens under the pretense of helping, all the while secretly scoping out their work space to see what new technique they may be using that I have yet to discover.
Although I haven’t seen any special methods used in the average Egyptian kitchen lately, people are now more aware of the benefits of baking and many have switched over to using the oven instead of frying. For convenience or for health reasons, it’s good to see a small shift in our culinary thought.
If you haven’t branched out into cooking full meals in your oven, the weather couldn’t be better. Get to know your oven. Go ahead and name it. Stick to the temperatures in the recipe until you get acquainted with your oven. Watch if it plays dirty by changing temperatures on you. Each oven is different. I would recommend using it regularly at first to fully understand how it functions. Most importantly, clean it regularly or you’ll have a hell of a time trying to return it to form.
For a house-warming breakfast, prepare this recipe the night before but don’t bake it. In the morning, preheat your oven while you get dressed then pop this crumble in. By the time you’re out of your room, the house will be warmer and you’ll have a hot fruity breakfast waiting to greet you with a small helping of the world’s two favorite evils, flour and butter, to get you through to lunch.
You’ll need (per bowl/ramekin)
5 to 7 pitted cherries
1 heaped tablespoon of all-purpose flour
5-7 crushed almonds
1.5 tablespoons of rolled oats
1.5 tablespoons of brown sugar
A pinch of salt
1 tsp of water
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
1 tablespoon of cold butter
Extra butter/vegetable oil for greasing
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Grease each bowl or ramekin all around and up the length of the sides with some melted butter or vegetable oil. Chop your cherries into bite-size pieces and divide them equally among the greased ramekins, depending on how many you’re making. In a separate bowl, combine all of your dry ingredients. Mix together with a small spoon then add the cold butter to the mixture. Knead the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers until it all begins to stick together and develops a crumbly texture. Add the dry, buttery mixture to the cherries in your ramekins and bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm with a side of plain yogurt for breakfast or vanilla ice cream for dessert.