Fruit & Berry Crumble: keep it crisp

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What’s the difference between fruit crisp and fruit crumble?

You don’t know?

I didn’t, either.

And after reading up on crisp and crumble (to say nothing of brown betty, slump, and pandowdy) on my favorite culinary history site (The Food Timeline), I still don’t know.

Somehow, I had the notion that fruit crisp was sweetened fruit baked with a topping of flour, sugar and butter; while fruit crumble was the same thing, but with oats and perhaps nuts added to the topping.

A topping baked with JUST flour, sugar, and butter will be crisper than one with additional elements (oats, nuts), which don’t contribute to structure and thus produce a topping that’s crumbly, rather than crisp.

Hmmm… did I make this all up? But it does make sense, this subtle distinction between crisp and crumble.

And, speaking of subtle distinctions, I discovered something interesting while baking a few versions of this iconic fruit dessert: for a crispier crisp or crumblier crumble, bake the topping separate from the filling.

Come again?

That’s right – don’t bake the topping over the simmering filling; it tends to become moist (sodden, if I may), as well as sinking into the fruit.

Bake the topping and fruit separately, then put them together just as they come out of the oven. The topping will stay atop the fruit, rather than sinking below the surface – and retain its crispness longer.

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Now, mid-August, is the perfect time for all kinds of fruit desserts. Berries are abundant at farmers’ markets and pick-your-own farms. Peaches and nectarines are reaching their height of perfection.

And though pie is the #1 thing bakers think of during berry and stone fruit season, a crisp/crumble is simply pie without its crust.

“Simply” being the key word here – as much as I love pie, skipping the extra step of mixing and rolling out a pie crust saves time and effort – to say nothing of calories, for those of us counting…

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Heavily grease or butter a 9″ x 9″ pan or similar-sized casserole dish.

Whisk together the following:

3 1/2 tablespoons Instant ClearJel or 1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2/3 cup to 1 cup granulated sugar, to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt

How do you decide how much sugar to use? Taste the fruit – does it taste very sweet, or is it tart/sweet? What’s your own personal preference for desserts – do you like them very sweet, or less sweet? The answers to these questions will guide how much sugar you use.

I  like to err on the side of “less sweet,” since I often add ice cream to fruit desserts. But please don’t reduce the sugar too precipitously; like salt, sugar is a flavor enhancer, and almost all fruit will taste “fruitier” accompanied by at least a touch of sugar.

Next, rustle up the fruit: pitted, peeled, sliced stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums) and/or berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, coarsely chopped strawberries, or your favorite berries). You need a total of about 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 cups fruit.

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Combine the dry ingredients with the fruit.

Here, I’ve chosen to use peaches and blueberries, and will layer them separately – you can toss them together if you like. If you layer them separately, mix the dry ingredients with the fruit that will form the bottom layer.

Pour or layer the fruit into the prepared pan.

Next up: the topping. We’re making a crumble, so I’m including oats and nuts, along with the flour/sugar/butter.

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Stir together the following in a bowl:

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup (3 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned or quick rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Add 4 tablespoons softened butter, working it in until the topping is crumbly.

Spread the topping evenly, in a thin layer, on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Place the fruit and topping in the oven. Bake the topping for about 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven,  stir to redistribute, and bake for an additional 15 minutes or so, until it’s a light golden brown.

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Remove the topping from the oven, and stir it to break up any clumps. Continue to bake the fruit until it’s bubbly, a total of around 50 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the hot fruit.

So, what’s with the half-topped crumble? I wanted to see if adding the topping when the fruit had just come out of the oven, vs. waiting until it cooled, made a difference.

It did – just slightly. The topping added when the fruit was piping hot, just as it came out of the oven, adhered better. And there was no subsequent difference in how crisp/crumbly it stayed.

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I know it’s hard, but cool to lukewarm before serving. Fruit crisp/crumble served hot from the oven will be a soupy mess; trust me on this.

If you let the crumble cool completely, reheat individual portions to piping hot in the microwave just before serving, if desired.

Ice cream or whipped cream are a tasty accompaniment. Aren’t they always?

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Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Fruit & Berry Crumble.

Print just the recipe.

P.S. Let’s not forget betty – as in apple betty, blueberry betty, peach betty… What’s the difference between betty and crisp/crumble? Betty has its bread-crumb “topping” layered into the fruit filling, as well as crisped on top.

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Erika

    Okay, I’ll bite. In my house growing up (and now), a crisp has an oatmeal-heavy topping; a crumble is a sad thing with no oatmeal. It’s “always” been this way, but my reasoning is that our crisp topping is in fact very crisp, while crumbles are stuck with just having crumbs on top (and you can guess that my foremothers only ever make/made crisp, not crumble). The traditional family crisp topping contains twice as much oatmeal and brown sugar as flour and a bit more butter than called for here, which bakes up into a larger-clumped granola-like mixture that stays not-mushy even after a few days of refrigeration. On my more fat-conscious days, I’ve had success replacing the half-cup of butter with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a large egg: not quite as crisp, but still very granola-sturdy. I understand the rationale of baking the components separately, but I can’t help but feel that simpler (and one pan!) is better for such a homey dessert, especially when making a “crisp” instead of a “crumble” solves the texture problem. But this is (part) of what I love about baking: plenty of room for variation.

    You are absolutely correct! Baking is so wonderful (and sometimes confusing) because there is never just one way to do anything.-Jon

    Reply
  2. Joni M

    I fix a lot of peach, apple, blueberry, rhubarb etc “crisp” (and yup, at my house the crisp topping has oatmeal added too–I’d never thought to do this without oatmeal…) and I’m perplexed in that sometimes my crispy topping is crunchy and wonderful and sometimes it is soggy. I make a big batch of topping all at once in the food processor and then keep the rest in the fridge for another time, so the crispy and the soggy are coming from the same initial batch as I just use enough to cover however much fruit I’m using. So then I started putting the fruit in a pan in the oven to cook at least half an hour and then add the crisp topping and cook at again at least that long because the topping was getting way too browned and I could see the fruit wasn’t bubbling yet. So what am I doing wrong that sometimes it turns out great and well, sometimes it isn’t? This past weekend we had peach crisp and the next day the top was every bit as crunchy as the day before. So yesterday I did another peach crisp and it was soggy. Humidity perhaps?? I’m just not getting why some batches are turning out so differently. And Erika, so just how much more butter are you using for your double the oatmeal and brn sug ratio to your flour–how much of what are you using?? Because if your crisp is always crisp the next day–I want to try that one!!! I’m after the larger clump granola like crunchy that you describe!

    Humidity plays a large roll in whether or not crisp products stay that way! Also, I imagine that the crumb topping you keep in the refrigerator will also have more moisture in it as refrigerators are quite humid. This could lead to a softer topping once it has been baked.-Jon

    Reply
  3. Amanda

    Can you explain how the oats are interchangeable? I would think there would be a difference between using old fashioned or quick cooking. Have I not known something all this time? Please share.

    If you are making an oat bread or cake then yes, there is a big difference between the amount of moisture that quick cooking and traditional oats absorb. However, in something like a crust or crumble this difference is negligible.-Jon

    Reply
  4. Susan

    When I make crisp with topping I use the flour butter oatmeal as above but add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. I bake it together and it is quite crisp.

    Thanks for the tip, Susan!-Jon

    Reply
  5. Nicole

    It might be a regional difference as well. My west coast Canadian mum makes a crisp IDENTICAL to my Scottish in-laws’ crumble (and boy do the in-laws get annoyed when I call it crisp). Both use oats btw.

    If you don’t make a solid, dense layer of topping that should help your topping come out crisp every time. I will try the bake separate, add later method though as that sounds interesting.

    Regional differences are completely possible! Just look at soda, or pop…or cola. Same type of drink, different name.-Jon

    Reply
  6. marcin

    I made some cutout gingerbread cookies from this recipe: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/gingerbread-cookies-recipe. It says on the recipe: “Ginger and peach is an especially wonderful combination; try gingerbread cookies served with fresh sliced peaches, or a peach crumble topped with gingerbread crumbs.” I’d like to try this with some of the cookies I made. How would I do that? Make the peach filling, then make the crumb topping and stir in some (how much?) cookie crumbs? As always, thank you so much.

    I’d substitute the crumbled cookies for the flour, oats, salt, and most of the sugar – try maybe 1 1/2 to 2 cups crumbs, 1/4 cup brown sugar, plus the nuts, spices, and butter. Mix together and prepare as directed. Let us know how it works, OK? Sounds delish! PJH

    Reply
  7. Apple and Raspberry Crumble Recipe

    Fruit and berry crumble is a delicious low calories option. Many people like it because it is healthy as well as tasty.

    Reply
  8. Candy C.

    I made this with fresh peaches and blueberries (mixed together) and it was wonderful! The filling was nice and thick, just the way I like it. I did bake with the topping on the fruit and covered loosely with foil about half way through to prevent overbrowning. The addition of the nuts is really good.

    Reply

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