Best Crisp Topping Recipe

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The best crisp topping recipe is one that you can say is the best, whether that’s in your eyes or someone else’s. I’ve got a few tips for you on how to pick the best crisp topping recipe and make sure you’ll never need another.

Crisp topping is one of the best toppings you can put on a pie. It’s easy to make, tastes delicious and everyone loves it. It shouldn’t be surprising that it’s my favorite crisp topping recipe.

How To Make Any Fruit Crisp in 4 Easy Steps

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Crisps are quintessential dessert fare, with many of us having fond memories of spring rhubarb or fall apple crisps in the memory banks of our childhood. Maybe the reason they show up so often, with their warm bites of buttery oat topping giving way to jammy fruit, is because they are entirely utilitarian. Their ingredients are few, they’re best at using up fruit that’s going soft, and you can make one without a recipe, completely by heart.

Once you understand the basics of making a crisp topping, you can use literally any fruit to make a sweet and juicy filling. Here’s how to make a fruit crisp in four easy steps.

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What Is a Fruit Crisp?

Crisps, crumbles, and cobblers often get lumped together as the same dessert, but they are distinctly different. Cobbler requires a biscuit-like dough with a sturdy structure and is more like a distant cousin to crisps and crumbles. Crisps and crumbles are like sisters. They share very similar ingredients and once baked their texture is much the same.

Here’s the distinction: Crisps always include whole oats, while crumbles do not. Both are held together with a mixture of flour, sugar, and butter and bake up into crisp and tender pastry not unlike streusel.

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The Essentials of Making a Fruit Crisp

I promised a crisp in four easy steps and I plan to deliver. Here are the essentials.

  • Selecting and preparing the fruit.
  • Making the crisp topping.
  • How to know when the crisp is done.
  • Serving the crisp or crumble to applause.
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Preparing the Fruit for a Crisp

Crisps are a causal fruit dessert, and by that I mean their requirements for fruit are loose and allow for creativity and resourcefulness. A standard crisp uses about six cups of chopped or sliced fruit, roughly 1 1/2 pounds. Almost all fruit can go into a crisp raw, with one major exception: Apples should be par-cooked before being turned into a crisp. Peeling peaches, plums, and other fruit is totally optional. You can also select frozen fruit for crisps. Say a peach crisp craving strikes in the dead of winter — just make sure that frozen fruit is thawed before baking.

Thickening the Filling with Cornstarch

It is possible to make a fruit crisp without cornstarch, if you’re out or just want to skip it, but cornstarch will magically transform the baking, bubbling fruit juices into a thick and velvety sauce. You’ll see that this recipe calls for two tablespoons of cornstarch, but you can add more or less depending on the juiciness of your fruit. Juicier fruit will need more cornstarch.

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How to Make Crisp Topping

Crisp topping is very much like making a crumb or streusel topping. You work butter into a mixture of flour, oats, and sugar until the mixture can hold together when pressed. Some crisp toppings call for working in cold butter, but I’ve found that working with melted butter allows the flour to hydrate better, leading to a crispier topping.

Make-Ahead Crisp Magic

Crisp toppings freeze incredibly well. You can make crisp topping in large batches and freeze it for crisp anytime.

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How to Serve Crisp

Juicy, warm crisp is a pleasure in its own right, but when topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or even crème fraîche, crisp becomes a dinner party-worthy dessert. Cold crisp is a borderline indulgent breakfast as a topping for your morning yogurt.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1/8 teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg (optional)
  • 8 tablespoons slightly softened unsalted butter, cut-into pieces

Preparation

  • Combine the flour, both sugars, salt, and cinnamon or nutmeg, if using, in a medium bowl. Rub in-the butter with your fingertips until it’s well blended and the mixture crumbles coarsely; it should hold together when you pinch it. Refrigerate until needed.

Oatmeal topping variation

  • Adding oatmeal makes a more voluminous topping with a rustic, crumbly texture. Add 1 cup old- fashioned oats to the master recipe.

Cornmeal topping variation

  • Cornmeal adds some unexpected crunch but makes the topping a bit less crumbly. Add 1/4 cup cornmeal to the master recipe.

Nut topping variation

  • After rubbing in the butter, add 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts, or sliced almonds to any of the recipes above.

CRISP VS. CRUMBLE

A crisp is a specific type of crumble. The term “crumble” encompasses any dessert with a crumb topping, but when we use the word crisp, we are directly implying there is going to be a crumbly oat topping.

a close up of a spoonful of peach crisp with the pan of it in the background

Crisp toppings always contain whole oats, also known as old-fashioned or rolled oats.

HOW TO MAKE CRISP TOPPING

You can use this crisp topping for all the heavy-hitter fruit crisps. Apple, strawberry, blueberry, peach…you name it — this crisp topping will work on top of it.

uncooked crisp topping in a bowl

HERE’S WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • ¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • ¾ cup old fashioned oats
  • Scant ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ⅓ cup room-temperature butter

COMBINE DRY INGREDIENTS

Combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon (if using), old-fashioned oats, and sea salt in a medium bowl. Then, use a whisk or fork to stir and combine these ingredients together.

crisp topping ingredients in a bowl, before mixing

MIX IN THE BUTTER

Cut the butter into small cubes and sprinkle it over the top of your flour mixture.

chunks of butter on top of dry ingredients in a bowl

The easiest way to mix the butter into your dry ingredients is to use your fingertips. Begin rubbing the butter and the dry ingredients together, continuing until all of the elements appear moistened and no longer dry.

hands squishing butter into crisp topping dry ingredients

Your crisp topping is ready to use when no sandy patches remain and it holds together when you pinch it. 

THE BEST BAKING DISH FOR FRUIT CRISPS

As far as baking dishes go, you have options. Any small baking dish with a 1.5 to 2-quart-capacity will work.

overhead view of peach crisp with sliced peaches beside it

I prefer an au gratin or rectangular dish due to the increased surface area. The added surface area means your crisp topping-to-fruit filling ratio goes up. So, if you’re in it for the crisp topping (more so than the filling), this is probably the route for you.

A square, 8×8″ baking dish also works great. If you’re super keen on that fruit filling and the crisp topping is just a little side bonus, I recommend this pan for you!

BASIC FRUIT CRISP RECIPE

To make just about any fruit crisp on the planet, all you need is this secret sauce crisp recipe format. For the filling, you’ll need:

  • 3-3 ½ cups of fruit (about 1 ½ pounds)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Generous pinch of salt
lemon being squeezed into a bowl of cherries and sugar

ABOUT THE FRUIT

Small berries will not require much preparation. However, larger fruits like rhubarb, strawberries, apples, pears, plums, apricots, and peaches should either be roughly chopped or sliced so they can cook through in the allotted bake time.

Because of their crispy, crunchy nature, apples, in particular, should be cut into small 1″ cubes. If the apple pieces are too large, your crisp topping will brown before the apples have a chance to cook through fully.

You also have the option of using fresh fruit or frozen fruit that has been thawed. Make sure that if you are using frozen fruit, you allow it to thaw all the way through and let the excess juices drain before using.

thawed frozen cherries being scooped into a bowl

MIX THE FILLING INGREDIENTS

Once you have your fruit picked out and prepped, add it to a large mixing bowl along with the granulated sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until the fruit is coated in the sugar mixture, and it’s time to assemble!

ASSEMBLE AND BAKE

Once you have your pan ready and greased, as well as the fruit filling and crisp topping prepared, it’s time to assemble and bake!

overhead view of a pan of cherry crisp

Add the fruit filling to your prepared pan, crumble the topping over, and bake at 375°F for about 30 minutes

Allow the crisp to cool for about 15-20 minutes before serving. Serve with either a gigantic scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream, or a drizzle of creme Anglaise.

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