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A Buttery, Better-Than-Breadcrumbs Topping for All Your Summer Dinners

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You know and love sweet streusel, the pebbly, crumbly, buttery topping you scatter like flower petals over pie, coffee cake, and dome-topped muffins.

And now, with a little help from this chart, your head is spinning with ideas for how to customize it to your pantry and predilections: Swap in Nilla Wafers for a portion of the flour and maple syrup for some of the sugar; add a dash of cardamom; turn the whole thing chocolate.

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Graham-lemon-poppyseed sweet streusel (left) and Saltine-garlic-feta streusel (right).
Graham-lemon-poppyseed sweet streusel (left) and Saltine-garlic-feta streusel (right). Photo by Mark Weinberg

But what about taking streusel and running in the other direction, all the way to destination salty and savory? 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—without bread at its base, holding it back—it’s more adaptable. (And more buttery!)

Savory streusel takes just minutes to mix together and can be baked straight from the freezer, where it keeps for months. It can be piled onto savory pies or galettes, casseroles or gratins.

Just don't call it strudel.
Just don't call it strudel. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Or follow the lead of Dorie Greenspan, who writes about “streusel crunch” in her book Dorie's Cookies: Bake the streusel on a sheet tray, then throw it over pasta, salad, or soup.

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THE mASTER RECIPE

The master 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.

While the sweet streusel recipe is lovely on its own, the savory needs to be dressed up. See the variation table below for mix-and-match ideas, and the flowchart for recipe pairings.

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Master Recipe for Any Savory Streusel

17d754b8 8a6f 4619 b268 baade3ca1f9e  img 8399 Emma Laperruque
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Makes 5 to 6 cups
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt, to taste
  • 12 ounces cold unsalted butter, cubed
Go to Recipe

How to Make It Your Own

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 (that includes cheese) should always be last.

How to Get to the Bottom of the Bag

  • For savory pies, mound 1 to 1 1/2 cups on top before baking. You can scatter streusel over casseroles and gratins about 20 to 30 minutes before you'll be pulling the dish out of the oven.
Sue Lyon's Tomato Pie

Sue Lyon's Tomato Pie by Sara Jenkins

Leek, Fennel and Mushroom Galette

Leek, Fennel and Mushroom Galette by Waverly

  • 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 it on everything from pasta to salad, baked fish to savory oats, creamy polenta to sautéed greens to succotash. You can even serve it as you would snack mix or salted nuts. 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. Pair a tomato pie with brown butter-anchovy streusel, pesto-dressed penne with walnut-Parmesan streusel, or Manhattan-style clam chowder with oyster cracker streusel.
Click the link above to zoom in on the image (print it out, frame it, and hang it on the wall).
Click the link above to zoom in on the image (print it out, frame it, and hang it on the wall). Photo by Mark Weinberg
Croutons? I don't know her.
Croutons? I don't know her. Photo by Mark Weinberg

How would you flavor your dream streusel (and what would you put it on)? Tell us in the comments below!