Recipe Review

I Tried 4 Top-Rated Apple Crisp Recipes and I’ve Been Making the Winner on Repeat

published Nov 23, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Headshots from Top to Bottom: Food Network Kitchen, Getty Images,

I grew up with an apple tree a few feet from my house. Every fall there was a dizzying amount of school teacher-red apples hanging off the tree, just begging to be picked. We’d get to work making applesauce and apple butter, pie, cider, and, of course, apple crisp.

Of all the apple things my family made, the crisp was the one I looked forward to the most. It’s ridiculously easy to throw together, which means that dessert can be on the table in an hour or two (and most of that is hands-off time). And more importantly, I love the flavor and texture of perfectly spiced, slightly tender apples against the crunch of the streusel topping.

This year, I took advantage of apple season and baked my way through four of the highest-rated apple crisp recipes I could find. Read on to see whose recipe reigned supreme. You might be surprised at the results — I know I was!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How I Chose the Apple Crisp Contenders 

Out of all the Kitchn recipe showdowns I’ve done (and at this point, there are quite a few), researching the best apple crisp recipes was actually the hardest. Because most apple crisp recipes are so simple, there’s not much difference between one recipe and another. But I was determined to find the best recipe out there, so I needed to make sure that each of the recipes I selected had something that made it stand out.  

Meet the Contenders

Ina Garten: I chose Ina’s recipe because she’s never let me down. Her recipe features orange and lemon juice, lots of citrus zest, and spices, which all sounded like they’d make an extra-flavorful crisp.

The Neelys: The Neelys add maple syrup to their recipe, which sounded especially festive and autumnal to me. There are also pecans in the topping, which add a great texture.

King Arthur Baking Company: I found King Arthur’s recipe to be particularly intriguing. The recipe calls for some interesting add-ins, such as liquor or apple juice in the filling and baking soda in the topping.

Virginia Willis: Lastly, I’ve never made a recipe from Virginia Willis, but the name “Brown Sugar Apple Crisp” was enough to entice me all on its own. 

How I Tested the Apple Crisp Recipes

All four recipes I chose only had a handful of steps and ingredients, which is standard for crisp recipes. I figured because each recipe required a different size baking vessel, I could bust them out one after the other. The crisps from Ina, the Neelys, and King Arthur were all baked at 350˚F, so I baked them first. When those three were done, I turned up the heat to 375˚F and popped in Virginia Willis’ crisp. I tasted the crisps 30 minutes after they came out of the oven, and then again when they had all cooled to room temperature.

As always, I tried to keep the ingredients as consistent as possible. I used King Arthur all-purpose flour, Florida Crystals sugar, and Horizon Organic unsalted butter for all the recipes. Ina’s recipe called for McIntosh apples, while the Neelys called for Granny Smith apples. I used Jonagold for the recipes that didn’t specify which type to use, but I think you could use any good baking apple. I honestly didn’t see any difference in how the apples held up between the recipes. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Ina Garten Apple Crisp

1. The Surprising Disappointment: Ina Garten’s Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp

It’s hard for me to accept this surprising defeat, but out of all the recipes I tested, Ina’s came in last place for me. I’m a huge Ina fan, but her apple crisp recipe was so loaded with orange juice and zest that it tasted more like a heavily spiced orange dessert than a classic autumnal crisp. The apple flavor was completely overpowered by the orange, and I also felt like there was too much cinnamon. I will say that the recipe wasn’t a total bust — I really loved the topping, and would happily use that part of the recipe again. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

2. The Apple Crisp to Make if You Have a Sweet Tooth: The Neelys’ Apple Crisp

While the Neelys’ apple crisp was way too sweet for my taste, the flavors and textures were excellent. Pecans in both the filling and the topping added a pleasant crunch throughout and plenty of nutty flavor. Finely chopped apples also gave the filling a nice texture. And I loved that they opted for ramekins over the classic baking dish, making individual crisps that are perfect for entertaining.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3. The Most Classic Apple Crisp: Virginia Willis’ Brown Sugar Apple Crisp

This apple crisp showdown was the first time I’ve actually tried a Virginia Willis recipe, and I immediately understood why she’s such a lauded figure in food. This recipe was super easy to follow — seriously, it only has two steps and a very short ingredient list. While I was making it I wondered if it was almost too simple, but the final result was a lovely, classic apple crisp. The subtle seasonings and perfect level of sweetness really allowed the flavor of the apples to shine through — just what you want from an apple crisp!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

4. The Best Apple Crisp I’ve Ever Had: King Arthur Baking Company’s Classic Apple Crisp

I took one bite of this apple crisp from the Vermont-based baking company and right away knew it was the winner. It’s everything I want in an apple crisp recipe, and then some. It has all the trappings of a classic crisp, with perfectly spiced apples and a crunchy oat topping, as well as some fun additions that add a great depth of flavor. For example, for a liquid in the filling, you can use plain water or your choice of liquor such as rum, apple cider, or apple juice. (I went with Apple Jack for extra apple flavor.) And you can include boiled cider in the filling and diced pecans or walnuts in the topping to really make the recipe your own. Even after tasting four recipes in one day, this is the one I returned to at the end of the night for dessert. I’ll be making this recipe on repeat until spring. Also, shout out to King Arthur for delivering a clear, well-written recipe.