How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) in 5 Steps

July 22, 2013

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Food52 recipe tester Jo Keohane shows us a simple ratio and a few tricks to ensure a buttery, crispy topping for whatever fruit you've got.

How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) on Food52

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Being a Brit, liking crumble is mandatory in our house. It would be practically unthinkable to get through the winter without piping hot apple crumble and custard -- or summer without rhubarb crumble straight from the fridge with ice cream.
Crumble by its very nature is just about the most relaxed, thrown together dessert you can make. But as with any kitchen endeavor, a little bit of care and attention turns something mediocre into something magical.
Having tinkered around with crumble far too much to be healthy, I’ve come to believe that as with so many things in life, it’s all about the butter. Specifically: adding enough.
Personally I’m a crumble purist and just use plain old white sugar, flour, butter, and a pinch of salt. But feel free to add chopped nuts, oats, or brown sugar to your topping.

How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) in 5 Steps

1. Slice your fruit, peeling optional. Mix with any sweetener (sugar, maple, honey) and other flavorings you like (booze, spices). If you're using apples soften them first on a medium-low heat on the stove for around 10 minutes. Other fruits won't need this. I don't add any thickener to my fruit -- I honestly don't think it needs it and I think you get a fresher, cleaner taste without.

How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) on Food52


2. Rub 1/2-inch pieces of cold butter into flour. I now use a ratio of 1 cup of butter to 1 heaped cup of flour -- which for me is the key to getting a rich, pebbled crunchiness (rather than something that resembles breadcrumbs).

It's fine to mix the flour and chilled butter in the food processor if you’re short on time -- but I seem to get a better result (and less cakey texture) if I make it by hand as the pieces are less uniform.

How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) on Food52


3. Mix in about 3/4 cup sugar (and chopped nuts or rolled oats, if you're not a purist like me). If you have time, stick your crumble mix back in the fridge before baking -- like pastry, it seems to like a little chill before cooking.

How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) on Food52


4. This is important: when you tip the crumble on the fruit, don't be tempted to press it down -- it needs its space. (That is the secret of a great, craggy, crumbly texture!).

How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) on Food52


5. Bake at 400° F till the top is browned and the fruit juices are bubbly, about 30 minutes (depending on how deep your fruit is). Serve with vanilla ice cream -- custard optional.

How to Make Any Fruit Crisp (or Crumble) on Food52

Still want a recipe? Here are a few for inspiration:

Strawberry Apricot Breakfast Crisp
Rhubarb Cherry Hibiscus Crumble
Joan Nathan's Red, White, and Blue Fruit Crisp

We're looking for contributors! Email [email protected] and tell us the dish you could make in your sleep, without a recipe.

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gretchen @ Backyardnotes
    Gretchen @ Backyardnotes
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  • Ruth McAllister
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Jo Keohane

Written by: Jo Keohane

Chief cook and bottle washer. When not cooking in my own kitchen I'm usually found cooking in someone else's as a food stylist's assistant and recipe tester/developer.


Gretchen @. July 28, 2015
I read this article just after reading about "Bill Smith's Atlantic Beach Pie" and thought that substituting crackers for some of the flour could work and give a little added crunch instead of oats or nuts. I liked reading about the simple technique, adding no thickener to the fruit and applying the topping thickly; it sounded like something I could do in a dutch oven on a camp stove. (It was and I did!) I cut back on the flour by 1/4 c and used about 1 1/4 packages of Ritz crackers. I crumbled them with the flour and very cold butter and and used 1/4 c. each brown and white sugar; then stashed in my tiny camper fridge for about an hour while peaches and cherries macerated with a little sugar. I poured all of the fruit into an 8" foil cake pan; slightly more than half of the topping covered the whole nicely and there was still plenty of topping to use later (which I did after coming home and baking another crisp in my home oven). Cooking in a dutch oven required about 20 more minutes of 'baking' than a traditional oven. The results were fantastic and easily served a group of eight with morning coffee. This recipe is so simple and delicious. Thank you, Jo!
AntoniaJames November 24, 2014
"Custard optional," you say? I think not. Custard non-negotiable. Seriously. Some good custard-based drizzling sauces here:

For a pantry super-quick option (using jars of lemon curd and a few spoonfuls of quince jam or marmalade) I recommend this quince, lemon and brandy sauce:

Just some suggestions. ;o)
Ruth M. June 26, 2014
If you are making a rhubarb crumble, adding some candied ginger to the rhubarb makes it even more amazing! And unsweetened shredded coconut to the topping. I made 8 the other day and they're such fun to give away.
Nela August 12, 2013
This explanation in fabulous. A crowd pleaser!
Helens August 2, 2013
I never measure crumble - I just wing it by mixing together flour, oats, sugar, sometimes ground almonds and/or cinnamon, then adding butter until the texture is right (basically enough to crumb up without getting lose crumble on top once its cooked.) So I guess I fall into the less butter camp - I estimate around 1:2 butter:dry. The difference seems to be in the size of crumb, and while I make my crumbles with a finer crumb, I certainly wouldn't say no to a nice chunky, craggy crumble right now - I think the latter would be especially good on a wintery apple crumble.
Michele J. July 30, 2013
Amazing! This is precisely how I make my crisps and crumbles...right down to the oats and nuts! Wonderful tip about softening the apples; I definitely will be doing that once they are back in "crisping" season. I also love to mix up my sugars - half brown/ half white, or sometimes 'sugar in the raw' for complexity of flavor. Lots of cinnamon and a grating of nutmeg, too. Thanks for another great column :)
Helens August 2, 2013
Pro-tip - if I'm feeling lazy, I soften the apples in the crumble dish in the oven for 10-15 mins before I add the topping. It saves on washing up.
Jackie July 29, 2013
If making this gluten free, make sure that any oats you use are gluten free. Oats in general are gluten free, but unless it states gluten free, they are most assuredly contaminated. If someone is following a GF diet because they think it's healthier, it doesn't matter, but those with Celiac's Disease or allergic to gluten, could get sick from the oats that are not specifically gluten free.
Frankie July 28, 2013
Not all butter is created equally. Use a good brand or a brand from England. The cheaper butters often do not stand up well to crisp toppings.
tonys July 28, 2013
Made this tonight with some plums from the farmers market. Added a handful of rolled oats and some chopped walnuts, baked for around 45 minutes, yum.
Dee K. July 28, 2013
Thank you for this great method. I shall use it with peaches which
are now in season. I love using good, sweet, organic butter. Now,
since you are a Brit, do you per chance have a really great custard
recipe to go along with that? Hope not involving the yellow packet with the bird on it?! Thanks. Dee
cyndin July 28, 2013
I'm sure you can all tell me how it's not "as good" but, for those of us allergic to dairy, coconut oil (use virgin/unrefined only! refined makes a greasy mess) works nicely as a sub. I also use oats instead of wheat flour to make it gluten free (you can make oat flour easily in a dry food processor). Sometimes I use finely ground nuts, or nut flour, instead of flour to make it vegan, gluten-free, and lowcarb. You know, just to be difficult :-)
cyndin July 28, 2013
Note: That's lowER carb if you use the sugar. Lowcarb for real if you use stevia and forego the lovely heated sugar flavor.
basileorri July 28, 2013
Inspired by all the fresh stonefruit that are locally grown & of course, in season - within hours of reading this article, I made a crumble topping based off this recipe - I only modified the sugar amounts - I use a bit less (:
I used a ratio of 2C flour, scant less than 2C unsalted sweet cream butter, 1 heaping cup of turbinado sugar, a pinch of sea salt & tossed in 1/4 C rolled oats. A rather large batch, but I've frozen the crumble topping so that in the very near future, I can make fruit crisps/crumbles in a practically no time at all! The turbinado sugar makes for a nice crunch. As for the fruit, I toss the fruit slices in a couple tablespoons of honey & a splash of rum. Baked for a little over than half an hour & wow. Delicious & easy; the only way to elevate the crumble was if I had creme fraiche or vanilla bean icecream on hand...

Thank you Jo for posting this recipe/article up!
Auros H. July 28, 2013
My version of fruit crisp is somewhat more complicated -- there are oats and nuts, as well as the butter / flour / sugar.

Worth noting, for those who have gluten-free friends. I've found that crisp/crumble recipes are actually pretty easy to turn gluten free; you can swap out wheat flour in the topping for some gluten-free grain (I usually use oat, when cooking for any party/event where I know gluten-avoidant friends will be present), and if you use flour to thicken the filling, you can replace it with roughly half as much tapioca powder. (It helps to mix the tapioca with the sugar for the filling before mixing both in with the fruit, to prevent clumping upon contact with moisture. But that's true even if you're just using flour.) I actually like the look and texture of the tapioca better than flour, so I've largely switched to using it even when I'm using regular flour in the topping.
Auros H. July 28, 2013
Recipe link:
Jo K. July 28, 2013
Hi Jen, sorry to hear you're having trouble. Did you start with very cold butter? Sometimes if the butter warms up or gets overworked the crumble mix will become soggy. If you're making it by hand its important to just rub it lightly with your fingertips - or if its in the food processor it needs literally only 4-6 pulses (so you can still see chunks of butter). Its fine to cut back the butter a bit if you prefer, too. Hope this helps!
HelloMyNamesJen July 24, 2013
Sorry, 'rather than'
HelloMyNamesJen July 24, 2013
I baked this tonight and, though I haven't had a bite yet, it looks... disastrous. The one cup butter seemed to be FAR too much - I had a craggy mess, even after adding additional flour and 3/4c sugar as suggested. The end results looks more like pale, half cooked breakfast biscuits ratemger than a lovely browned crumble. Help!
Christina @. July 28, 2013
Hi Jen, I agree that it would be way too much butter. Try this 2-4-6 ratio instead; it's really easy to remember and always turns out great (make sure the butter is cold, though). Good luck!
Carole E. July 28, 2013
I always use a ratio of half fat to flour, like pastry. You could add a bit more butter I suppose but equal quantities does seem far too much to me and I,ve been baking for over 40 yrs. So, for example I might use 6oz flour 3oz butter 3oz sugar for a small crumble. If you want to add oats or whatever just keep the total weights the same, ie 2ozoats 4ozflour.= 6oz in total. Sugar for the fruit depends on personal taste I think, and how tart the fruit is, plums for example always need loads, a bit of cinnamon reduces the need for sugar as it has a naturally sweet effect. Happy
Jimbob67 July 23, 2013
I like the "non recipe" format, but how about a hint on how much "sweetener" to add to the fruit?
Jo K. July 23, 2013
Hi Jimbob - I would say its totally dependent on which fruit you use, how ripe/sweet it is and how sweet you like your crumble. For example it might be a couple of tablespoons of sugar with very ripe peaches - or 2/3 cup with tart apples. Also remember the crumble adds a lot of sweetness once cooked. Hope that helps!
Jimbob67 July 23, 2013
That helps a lot, thanks! At least now I have a point of departure (love eating these but no real experience in making them....yet.
Auros H. July 28, 2013
For 5 cups of fruit, I use about 3 tbsp with a really sweet fruit (like peaches), ranging up to 3/4 of a cup for rhubarb (which is super tart). (Though really, I don't generally make an all-rhubarb crips; usually it's half rhubarb, half strawberries, and in that case something around 1/3 of a cup of sugar is fine.)
Auros H. July 28, 2013
Oh, and I find it helps to add just a tiny sprinkle of salt into the filling, as well as the topping. A little salt helps make the flavor seem fuller, balancing out any tartness, and letting you get a sweeter perception with less actual sugar.