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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How To Make a Fruit Crisp by Heart
Serves 8 to 10
What You Need
- For the filling:
sliced fresh or thawed frozen fruit, such as peaches, plums, or cherries
freshly squeezed lemon juice
- For the topping:
1 1/2 cups
old-fashioned rolled oats
packed light brown sugar
(6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for buttering the baking dish
vanilla extract (optional)
9x9-inch or 11x7-inch glass baking dish
Measuring cups and spoons
Gallon-size zip-top freezer bag (optional)
Heat the oven and prepare the baking dish. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Coat a 9x9-inch or 11x7-inch glass baking dish with butter; set aside.
Make the fruit filling. Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a medium mixing bowl until lump-free. Add the fruit and lemon juice and toss gently to coat. Transfer to the baking dish.
Make the crisp topping. Combine the oats, flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and stir until combined. Drizzle the butter and vanilla over the oat mixture and stir to combine. Set aside or store in the freezer in a zip-top freezer bag for later use.
Top the crisp. Scatter the crisp topping evenly over the fruit mixture, leaving large clumps intact.
Bake the crisp. Bake until the fruit juices are bubbling around the edges of the baking dish and the topping is golden and firm to the touch, 30 to 35 minutes.
Cool the crisp. Let the crisp cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. If transporting to a picnic or party, let the crisp cool completely to give the fruit filling time to set. Crisps will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week. Serve cold, room temperature, or re-warmed in a low oven for 20 minutes.
Make ahead: Crisp topping can be made and frozen up to 3 months in advance.
Storage: Cover and refrigerate leftover crisp for up to 3 days. Enjoy cold for breakfast or gently rewarm in a low oven for 20 minutes before serving.