Big Little Recipes

The Only Fruit Crisp You'll Make All Summer, Thanks to a Big-Little Trick

June  4, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re baking a plum crisp with a trick up its sleeve streusel.


I worked as a baker for almost three years, peeling apples, shaping baguettes, frosting cakes, scooping cookie dough, flipping Spanish tortillas, and listening to Lorde. But, in truth, most of that time was spent making pies—thousands and thousands and thousands of pies.

In theory, this should have turned my home kitchen into Pie Heaven. A place where I would whip up one or four pies on a whim. (Friend’s birthday? Pie. The Bachelorette is on? Pie. It's a Tuesday? Pie.) In actuality, baking pies for work made baking pies in real life feel like work, and convinced me that my favorite way to show off seasonal fruit isn’t pie at all.

It’s crisp. Which brings us to a quick detour on terminology: While cobblers (baked fruit with a cakey or biscuity topping), pandowdys (baked fruit with a cut-up pastry topping), and buckles (cake with as much fruit as possible), know what they are, crisps and crumbles are in an identity crisis. Both start with fresh fruit, which gets tossed with this and that, then gets baked in a dish with a streusel on top. The catch is: Does the streusel contain oats? And, if it does contain oats, does that make it a crisp or a crumble? The answer depends on who you ask. But if you’re asking me, oats make a crisp.

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Top Comment:
“For the crisp I often mix half ' old fashioned' oats with the ' 1 minute' version .. the grain is slightly less broken/ processed and gives texture. I use alot less flour! about 3/4 cup to one cup of oats. Same for butter, 1 stick for cup of oats. ( if using more butter i guess you would need more flour to soak it up) I prefer light brown sugar but raw sugar also will work and makes a crispier topping. Line baker with butter and add nothing to fruit. Simply toss into the baking dish add topping and bake! ( Stone fruits really need no added sugar, caveat rhubarb or gooseberries benefit from being tossed with a bit of raw sugar. And a bit of flour w cornstarch helps if the plums are very ripe /watery. ) Less sugar helps the flavors of the fruits stand out and contrasts well with the sweetened & browned oats and a creamy topping like creme fraiche, whipped or iced cream. ”
— Tara T.
Comment

Especially when it comes to this crisp where the oats are crispy.

Often, a Big Little Recipe is all about eliminating unnecessary ingredients. Say, ditching the Worcestershire in Caesar dressing because there's already anchovies and lemon. Or skipping egg whites and heavy cream in chocolate–peanut butter mousse because water works just as well. In this case, we’re keeping the classic fruit crisp ingredient list—but we’re making one ingredient work a lot harder.

Photo by Julia Gartland

If you’ve ever baked with nuts, you’ve probably been told to toast them beforehand. This extra step requires little effort (throw them on a sheet pan, slide it into a hot oven), but yields big, toasty, roasty, complex flavor. And the same is true with oats.

Twelve minutes in a 350°F oven takes oats from milky and soft-spoken to caramely and bold. Their flavor reminds me of roasted almonds or toast or roasted almond butter on toast. This simple upgrade is all it takes to make an otherwise everyday fruit crisp stand out.

In this recipe, I call for plums, but the template works well for any fruit. Try peaches or nectarines or apricots. Or swap in some berries. The fruit’s sweetness and juiciness will tell you exactly how much sugar to add (more for firmer fruit, less for riper fruit)—and the opposite goes for the flour (less for firmer fruit, more for riper fruit).

If you’re a planner, you can toast the oats in advance, and keep them in an airtight container in the pantry, for fruit crisp on a whim. Like when it’s a friend’s birthday, or The Bachelorette is on, or it's a Tuesday.

What's your favorite way to make fruit crisp? Tell us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • pratchford
    pratchford
  • Tara Taylor
    Tara Taylor
  • Amanda Beresford
    Amanda Beresford
  • CindyinOttawa
    CindyinOttawa
  • Noreen Fish
    Noreen Fish
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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing stories about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now, she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter.

16 Comments

pratchford June 11, 2019
I love the idea of crisping the oats! Could I use my homemade granola (thickcut rolled oats, spelt flakes, almonds or walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds cooked with a bit of canola oil and honey)
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 11, 2019
Ooh, such a fun idea! The oats here are a little less toasted/crispy than in a granola, but it *should* still work. Maybe try it with a half-recipe in a smaller baking dish just in case? If you give it a try, please let me know how it goes!
 
Tara T. June 11, 2019
Crisp is a must at our house to enjoy summer fruits . This recipe sounds delicious.
I make a slightly more primitive version.
Firstly for inexperienced cooks, this recipe doesnt mention peeling the fruit, scald briefly in boiling water for the peel to slip off..especially plums, this reduces maceration of the flesh & helps preserve the juices.
For the crisp I often mix half ' old fashioned' oats with the ' 1 minute' version .. the grain is slightly less broken/ processed and gives texture.
I use alot less flour! about 3/4 cup to one cup of oats. Same for butter, 1 stick for cup of oats. ( if using more butter i guess you would need more flour to soak it up) I prefer light brown sugar but raw sugar also will work and makes a crispier topping.
Line baker with butter and add nothing to fruit. Simply toss into the baking dish add topping and bake! ( Stone fruits really need no added sugar, caveat rhubarb or gooseberries benefit from being tossed with a bit of raw sugar. And a bit of flour w cornstarch helps if the plums are very ripe /watery. )
Less sugar helps the flavors of the fruits stand out and contrasts well with the sweetened & browned oats and a creamy topping like creme fraiche, whipped or iced cream.




 
Amanda B. June 10, 2019
I’m Australian and we call this crumble, as do the English and the French (as in “le crumble”). I’ve made more than I can count over the years: favorites are rhubarb and strawberry; plum and almond; apple and blackberry. Last week I tried a tropical fruit combo with mango, banana and pineapple, and added coconut and nutmeg to the crumble - a stunner! Some rum soaked raisins would be good too. My own topping recipe uses equal weights oatmeal, brown sugar, half flour half ground almonds, and soft unsalted butter which is rubbed in to make a pebbly mixture. It’s my absolute favorite go-to dessert and much loved by my family. I’ll try toasting the oats but i don’t want it to taste too much like granola!
 
CindyinOttawa June 9, 2019
Perfect timing! I am making a rhubarb crisp today, with fruit picked at our cottage. Will definitely try this topping. With Rhubarb, getting the sweetness right is key, but a crisp is my favourite way to eat it!
 
Noreen F. June 9, 2019
I often make up a big batch of crisp topping and just keep it in the refrigerator for crisps on a whim whenever we've got some good fruit. It's an easy dessert to make for two without having a bunch of leftovers. I suspect that making it ahead would defeat the purpose of the toasted oats, but I may have to try it anyway.
 
Joana June 9, 2019
My crisp is a crunch...no oats, just flour, brown sugar, butter and vanilla extract. I used to include toasted pecans until a family member developed an allergy. We still grieve the loss of them, but decided we would rather keep the family member around. When I make the topping, I usually double or triple the recipe, which I pulse in the food processor for convenience, and keep the extra in the freezer for an even quicker dessert.
 
drbabs June 9, 2019
What a cool trick. I used the toasted oats to make oatmeal cookies, and they were delicious!
 
Joana June 9, 2019
I discovered this trick many years ago in the Fanny Farmer’s Baking book—those oatmeal cookies remain my children’s/grandchildren’ favorite and the smell of roasting oats brings so many good memories. I’m wondering what toasting might add to oatmeal, but that will have to wait til what passes for fall in the deep south
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 12, 2019
Toasted-oat oatmeal cookies are *the best.*
 
Sandy June 9, 2019
Best flour substitute to make gluten free?
 
leslie W. June 9, 2019
Finely ground oats are a great substitute. A little melted coconut oil works well as a replacement for the butter if you’re gluten free
 
leslie W. June 9, 2019
Meant to write that the coconut oil is a great replacement if you’re dairy free🙃
 
judy June 5, 2019
My basic recipe for years. In the last year I have learned I have a significant intolerance to brown sugar. I did not realize it. Sad, as I miss those molasses overtones.( I always used dark brown sugar in many recipes (including my to die for brownies). I now use white sugar and add a little extra vanilla to compensate for the lost brown sugar. But still tastes amazing. I also like to add seasonal or unusual spice blends with fruits. How about garam marsala with peach or nectarine and a squeeze of lime and dash of chili. So nice and so unusual. Thanks for the reminder. Summer fruits are beginning to appear. Yeah!
 
Valerio F. June 4, 2019
as a crisp lover with an aversion to baking, this couldn't come at a better time!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 4, 2019
Yahoo!