Dessert

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

June  1, 2017

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.

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Top Comment:
“I just want to make sure I understand the chart. These all sound delicious.”
— cindy
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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.

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


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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Photo by Mark Weinberg

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

18 Comments

EmmyLoop June 25, 2017
Wow! This is the first time I've heard of savory streusel. How fun!
 
Joe June 18, 2017
Would it be possible to give the recipe in weights, including the add-ins?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 18, 2017
Hi Joe, here is a chart that should cover a lot of the conversions! (I also like using a scale when baking!) http://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/ingredient-weight-chart.html
 
Joe June 22, 2017
Hi Emma. The problem with conversion charts is that they often disagree with each other. King Arthur uses 4.25 ounces for a cup of flour, but Cook's Illustrated uses 5 ounces. In the book "Ratio", Michael Ruhlman states that a cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 4 to 6 ounces, depending on the moisture already in the flour as well as how packed in the flour is. So the humidity levels in your kitchen when you test the recipe can impact the weight of the flour in the cup. The only real way to solve it is for you to weigh the flour when you make a successful batch of the streusel. Next time you make a batch, could you take a quick weight of your flour and let us know?
 
Joe June 22, 2017
Hi Emma. The problem with conversion charts is that they often disagree with each other. King Arthur uses 4.25 ounces for a cup of flour, but Cook's Illustrated uses 5 ounces. I the book "Ratio", Michael Ruhlman states that a cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 4 to 6 ounces, depending on the moisture already in the flour as well as how packed in the flour is. So the humidity levels in your kitchen when you test the recipe can impact the weight of the flour in the cup. The only real way to solve it is for you to weigh the flour when you make a successful batch of the streusel. Next time you make a batch, could you take a quick weight of your flour and let us know?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 22, 2017
I love the book "Ratio"! Michael Ruhlman is an incredible resource. Streusel is a very flexible, forgiving recipe, so an ounce, give or take, should be fine. I would recommend starting with a lower weight of flour (say, 9 ounces), mix it all up, then add a bit more flour if needed. You're looking for a shortbread-like consistency — cohesive but not sticky. Hope this helps!
 
Suzette June 16, 2017
This looks so good Emma. Thanks for sharing your recipe, and the substitutes! Looking forwarding to incorporating with a summer dessert soon.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 18, 2017
Thanks, Suzette!
 
Maribones June 16, 2017
I love streusel! Thanks for the lovely article. It never occurred to me to bake it alone. Putting it on yogurt and ice cream, Wow what an amazing concept. I know what I'm doing this afternoon.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 18, 2017
Thanks, Maribones! Such a dream sundae topping :-)
 
cindy June 1, 2017
So for the Dress It Up items - do you substitute 1 Cup of rolled oats for 1 Cup of the flour? I just want to make sure I understand the chart. These all sound delicious.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 1, 2017
Hi Cindy — yes, that's right!
 
Katharine M. June 16, 2017
Not to be dense, but again, to be clear, if the main recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, and I "swap in" 1 cup of rolled oats, I also use 1 cup of flour? And if I put in 3/4 cup of graham cracker crumbs, do I still use 1 1/4 cups of flour?<br />
 
Sharon S. June 16, 2017
Yes, I have the same question. Chart confused me a bit. Is the total amount of each ingredient the same with the sub of one of the options + the rest of the original ingredient? Does that even make any sense??🙁
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 16, 2017
Yes, by "swap in," we mean substitute an equal amount. So, 2 cups flour is the base. If you're swapping in 1 cup oats, you do 1 cup oats + 1 cup flour. And if you're swapping in 3/4 cup cracker crumbs, you do 3/4 cup cracker crumbs + 1 1/4 cups flour. Hope this helps!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 16, 2017
And hi Sharon, hope my reply to Katharine (above) helped clarify the chart! If you still have questions, let me know!
 
Katharine M. June 16, 2017
Perfect, thanks, Emma.<br />
 
Sharon S. June 16, 2017
Aha! That is what I thought. Thx for the clarification👍🏽