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Streusel—better known by its street name, crumb topping—is simply flour, sugar, and salt that’s cut with lots of butter until it turns, well, crumbly—like a free-spirited cookie dough.
Derived from the German word streuen for “sprinkle,” streusel usually exists in that very definition—sprinkled atop strawberry pie or buttery crumb cake.
At the little bakery where I work, we always have at least a couple gallons in the freezer. The type of streusel changes with the season, as our fruit pies shift from apple to pear, from strawberry to peach. Of all the recipe cards in our collection, streusel is the chillest chick at the party.
It takes just minutes to whip up, can be baked straight from the freezer, and keeps there for months. It can be piled on pies or layered into cakes.
Or soup! Or salads. Or pasta. That's right: Lower the sugar and add some umami oomph—say, chili powder or potato chips—and streusel adopts the role that we normally default to breadcrumbs. Except it’s more adaptable. And buttery. (Read more about how to turn your streusel savory right over here.)
The base recipe below is meant to be played with. Recklessly. Knock it apart and build it back together like Leggos. I'll show you how to customize your batch, and then give you about a million ideas for putting your streusel to good use: You'll be at the bottom of the bag before you know it.
The Bare Bones Base Recipe
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
How to Dress It Up
Use this chart to customize your streusel based on your favorite flavors, the ingredients hanging out in your fridge and pantry, or its final destination.
A note on the mixing order: Streusel is rustic by nature, so the only crucial step is under-mixing (too dry) or over-mixing (too cohesive). Any "bonuses" can be included with the other dry ingredients, and the fat should always be last.
How to Use The Entire Bag
- For pies, mound 1 to 1 1/2 cups on top before baking.
- For cake, follow your pan size and your heart, but figure you'll want a very thick layer in the middle and on top (pour in half the batter, add streusel, add the rest of the batter, then sprinkle on more streusel). The more streusel, I say, the better.
- To make streusel crunch, preheat the oven to 325° F and line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silicone mat. Spread streusel into a single layer (use two baking sheets if you have to) and bake until the streusel begins to brown and crisp, about 20 minutes total, tossing with a fork halfway through. It will continue to crisp as it cools. Cool completely before sprinkling on everything from yogurt to ice cream to macerated fruit. You can even serve it with milk, like the cereal of your dreams. Store in an airtight bag or jar for up to 3 days.
- For more ideas, check out this flow chart, which well help you figure out what flavor of streusel to make depending on what you're cooking. For example, peach pie with salty brown butter streusel. Or frozen yogurt with wheat germ streusel. Or chocolate babka with hazelnut-rye streusel.
- Below, you'll see graham cracker-lemon-poppyseed streusel atop macerated strawberries, Greek yogurt, and lemon sorbet:
What's the first type of streusel you'll make? Tell us in the comments below!