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The Goodie Bag Pastry Cooks Keep on Hand to Amp Up Any Dessert

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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.

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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.

Oregon Bounty Berry Buckle

Oregon Bounty Berry Buckle by hardlikearmour

Nigella Lawson's Very Smart Strawberry Streusel Cake

Nigella Lawson's Very Smart Strawberry Streusel Cake by Sarah Jampel

Third Generation Peach Pie

Third Generation Peach Pie by Rhonda35

Rhubarb Lavender Streusel Muffins

Rhubarb Lavender Streusel Muffins by xuedanw

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—à la Dorie Greenspan, who writes about “streusel crunch” in her book Dorie's Cookies—it can be baked solo on a sheet tray, then scattered over ice cream. Or yogurt.

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Sweet streusel on the left; savory streusel on the right; buttery goodness all over.
Sweet streusel on the left; savory streusel on the right; buttery goodness all over. Photo by Mark Weinberg

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

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Base Recipe for Any Kind of Sweet Streusel

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Makes 5 to 6 cups
  • 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.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.
Whole Orange Bundt Cake with Five-Spice Streusel

Whole Orange Bundt Cake with Five-Spice Streusel by hardlikearmour

Granola Peanut Butter Icebox Bars with Oatmeal Cocoa Streusel

Granola Peanut Butter Icebox Bars with Oatmeal Cocoa Stre... by Kristin Irani Myruski

  • 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.
A glimpse of the flow chart magnificence. Click the link above or below to see—zoom! print!—the whole caboodle.
A glimpse of the flow chart magnificence. Click the link above or below to see—zoom! print!—the whole caboodle.
  • Below, you'll see graham cracker-lemon-poppyseed streusel atop macerated strawberries, Greek yogurt, and lemon sorbet:
We ate our fair share of streusel by the palmful, then got around to putting it to use.
We ate our fair share of streusel by the palmful, then got around to putting it to use. Photo by Mark Weinberg

What's the first type of streusel you'll make? Tell us in the comments below!