How to Make Easy Fruit Crisps With Any Fruit, Any Time
Why are they called crisps, and what's the difference between a crisp, a cobbler, and a crumble?
Fruit crisp is one of those recipes you should always have in your back pocket. It is one of the easiest and most adaptable ways to turn fruit into a dessert, and it works with pretty much any fruit you have on hand. It makes the most of fabulous fruit at the peak of ripeness but can also magically salvage fruit that is a bit battered and bruised, and even gets the best out of fruit that is not quite as sweet and juicy as you might like. Read on to learn everything you need to know about making easy fruit crisps all year long. But before we dive in, let's talk a little bit about the difference between a fruit crisp, a cobbler, and a crumble.
What Is a Fruit Crisp?
Crisps, cobblers, and crumbles are often mistaken for one another because they share so many similarities. At their core, they're all rustic casserole-like fruit desserts baked with a topping — but it's the topping that distinguishes one from the other. A cobbler usually has biscuit or batter topping. A crumble has a topping made of flour, sugar, and butter cut together into crumbs. And a crisp has a crumb topping that includes oats.
How to Make Easy Fruit Crisps
For me, the key to fruit crisp is that it is a ratio and technique, not so much a recipe. That means that I can whip up a fast crisp for one with a handful of leftover berries or one overripe peach as a midday treat or personal dessert just as easily as a giant baking dish to serve 16. You can control the amount of sugar, making it lighter or more decadent as you see fit, and it is delicious hot out of the oven, at room temp, or even chilled — which makes it the perfect potluck dish.
Along with coaching you through how to make a fruit crisp, I'll share a time-saving make-ahead tip that will help you whip up a fruit crisp of any size at a moment's notice.
1. Make your topping.
The most time-consuming part of making any fruit crisp is the topping, so I make and stash a large batch to make last-minute crisps that much easier. (That's my time-saving, make-ahead tip!) I make a lot of crisps in summer, so I keep a ziptop bag of the topping mix in the freezer ready to go. But you can make it fresh every time; it only adds a few minutes to the process.
Topping formula: Your basic crisp topping ratio can be easily remembered as 3:2:1:1, or 3 parts rolled oats to 2 parts flour to 1 part sugar to 1 part fat.
Since I make large batches of topping, I tend to do three cups oats, two cups flour, one cup sugar, and 1 cup liquid fat. Mix in a bowl till well combined, then spread it out in a single layer on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet and pop in the freezer for about an hour. Scoop the crumbly frozen mix into a ziptop bag for ease. Tip: If you don't pre-freeze, you risk the mixture compressing and freezing in big clumps, which will make it harder to use.
- Oats: The rolled oats are key: They provide the crunch and nuttiness that makes a crisp different from a crumble. Combined with the flour, sugar, and fat, they bring in that streusel-like nubbly sweetness that enhances the fruit.
- Flour: You can use any flour you have on hand; all-purpose is standard, but whole wheat can bring earthy notes, and flours like oat flour can make it gluten-free.
- Sugar: I usually use light brown sugar because I love the subtle caramel notes it brings, but granulated is fine, as are alternative granular sugars like maple sugar, date sugar, coconut sugar, or even honey crystals.
- Fat: I most often use melted butter for the fat, but it is also great with a neutral oil, ghee, or coconut oil. If you are making a crisp topping to use right away, just mix all together in a bowl and have at it!
When I go to make my crisps, I just have to measure how much I am using for my topping and add it to the top. I can do it straight from frozen and just add about 5 minutes to my bake time. You can also batch up the dry ingredients and keep in the pantry and just add the fat to each individual batch.
Optional: Fancy it up!
Crisp topping is great as is, but it can also take some extra crunch in the form of nuts, and some spice if you like.
- Nuts: All sorts of nuts are amazing, from slivered almonds, to chopped pecans or walnuts, or whole peanuts. Or you could go super next level with things like pine nuts or pepitas.
- Spices and flavorings: Add some vanilla or almond extract if you want a flavor boost, or some orange flower water for a little floral extra something. Sprinkle in some warming sweet spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg, or even bring a little heat with a fruity chile pepper like Aleppo or espelette. Spice blends like apple pie spice are a natural in a crisp, but so are things like Chinese Five-spice or French Quatre Epices blends. Even some of the Indian masala blends are delicious with fruit, so feel free to experiment!
Tip: Need a cheat to make things even quicker? You can make a crisp with store-bought granola as the topping. Pre-bake the fruit filling in the oven for the first 10-15 minutes, then top with the granola and finish baking. Since the granola is already cooked, adding it later in the process will prevent burning.
2. Prepare the fruit.
The fruit filling for any crisp is as simple as can be. The size of your vessel will tell you how much fruit you need, and the other ingredients will follow.
- Large: A standard 9x13 casserole dish, which serves a generous 12 people, needs about 9 cups of fruit.
- Medium: An 8x8 or 9x9 square pan, or an 11 inch oval gratin will do fine with 6 cups of fruit.
- Small: And if you want a little personal one, one cup of fruit in a 4-inch ramekin will make you happy.
Fruit formula: For every cup of fruit, you will want about ½ teaspoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of corn starch or tapioca flour to thicken, and between 1 and 1½ tablespoons sugar. Multiply up based on the volume of fruit you are using and the size of your vessel.
- 9 cups fruit + 4½ teaspoons lemon juice + 9 teaspoons thickener + 9 to 13½ tablespoons sugar
- 6 cups fruit + 3 teaspoons lemon juice + 6 teaspoons thickener + 6 to 9 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup fruit + ½ teaspoon lemon juice + 1 teaspoon thickener + 1 to 1½ tablespoons sugar
Tip: If your fruit is very naturally sweet, or you are watching your sugar, use less. If it is underripe or extra tart, use more. I don't use regular flour to thicken because I think it can taste raw or floury, and cornstarch or tapioca both give a nice clear gelling effect. Just mix all the ingredients well.
3. Assemble and bake!
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and spray or butter your chosen vessel.
- Fill with your fruit mix, and top with as much or as little crisp topping as you like. Tip: I like to add a sprinkle of flaky sea salt over the top to add little pops of salt that really bring the crisp to life.
- Bake between 15–20 minutes for a medium or small version, or up to 35–40 minutes for a large casserole. The crisp is done when the topping is lightly browned and the fruit juice is bubbling around the edges and has thickened slightly.
4. Let cool and EAT!
For best results, let the crisp cool for at least 10–15 minutes before digging in. This will let the juices settle and finish thickening, and prevent you from burning your mouth. Serve hot, warm, room temp, or cold, with ice cream, whipped cream or a dollop of crème fraiche or yogurt. Fruit crisp will keep covered in the fridge for up to a week, but let's be honest, it will never last that long.