Kitchn Love Letters

This Old-Fashioned Cherry Crunch Is the Perfect Quick Dessert

updated Apr 30, 2021
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Purple bowl with single serving of quick cherry crunch and a spoon
Credit: Patty Catalano

When I need a big dose of comfort, I return to the recipes my mom made when I was growing up. Not one for serving sweets for sweet’s sake, my mom usually instructed me and my sisters to serve ourselves a piece of fruit for dessert — quite the disappointment to any sweet-toothed 10-year-old. That’s why it felt so special when Mom would pull out her 1964 edition of the Joy of Cooking to make Quick Cherry Crunch. The baking dish of bubbling fruit — usually apples or peaches subbed for cherries — sandwiched between caramelized oat clusters was cause for sweet celebration.

Credit: Patty Catalano

Joy of Cooking Was the Only Cookbook We Needed

The Joy of Cooking was the essential cooking tome in my childhood home. While Mom cut recipes from the local paper, stuffing them into her recipe file, our bookshelves were filled with very few actual cookbooks. Anytime my mom needed to reference a recipe, she reached for the Joy of Cooking. The guide was comprehensive enough to answer most of the cooking questions she had while feeding our family of six in the 1980s. Her copy is grease-stained and dog-eared — easily recognizable by its signature baby blue cover. And although she sent me to college with a newer edition, it was a joy to snag my own vintage Joy at a thrift store years later.

Buy today’s version: Joy of Cooking

Start with Cherries, Then Try Your Favorite Fruit

While the recipe is written for cherries, I, like my mom, regularly swap in apples, pears, or peaches. The fruit I choose depends on the season and/or whatever has been lingering too long on my kitchen counter. When the produce drawer is empty, opt for canned cherries, which turn sweet and jammy under the caramelized oat clusters. Use fresh, peeled apple slices any time of year, but especially when you want classic Americana flavors without the fuss of making a pie. But my favorite iteration of this dessert has always been peach. Mid-summer fresh peaches release their juices, bubbling and thickening into a sweet, floral syrup.

No matter what fruit you choose, the crisp is technically a dessert. But take my advice: Don’t sleep on serving it for breakfast. The oat cluster topping is basically granola and you can easily balance the sweetness with a dollop of tart, creamy yogurt. See what I did there?

Credit: Patty Catalano

If You Make This Quick Cherry Crunch, a Few Tips

  1. Opt for fresh or frozen fruit. While the original recipe calls for canned cherries, the sweet brown sugar oat crisp is best when paired with fruit that doesn’t have any added sugar.
  2. Substitute flour for tapioca. The fruit’s juices thicken with quick-cooking tapioca, but if that isn’t a starch you commonly keep in your cabinet, use an equal amount of all-purpose flour instead.
  3. Don’t forget a creamy accompaniment. The crisp is hella sweet, which is something I didn’t mind as a kid, but I’ve since realized that it’s better with a creamy accompaniment. I like a dollop of plain yogurt or crème fraîche, or you can never go wrong with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  4. Freeze the crumble for last-minute crisps. Freeze all or a portion of the oat crumble on a baking sheet until firm then transfer to an airtight container or freezer zip-top bag. Single servings are easy to make any day of the week with whatever fruit you have and a sprinkle of crumble from the freezer.

Get the recipe: Quick Cherry Crunch