A crumb or crumble topping—a.k.a. streusel—is a stroke of genius, says chef Johnny Gnall. A few basic ingredients, mashed together by hand and popped into the oven, results in a sweet, rich, crumbly voluptuousness that’s wonderful with any number of sweets. It’s a low fuss, crowd-pleasing dessert topping that can really dress things up.
Crumble topping, known in German as streusel (SHTROY-zul,) is a crumb topping of butter, flour and sugar; it can contain chopped nuts or rolled oats. The word derives from the German “streuen,” meaning to sprinkle or scatter. Streusel is used as a topping for a variety of pies, fruit crisps, cakes and pastries, most notably coffee cakes. A pie with a streusel topping is sometimes referred to as a “crumble pie.”
A cobbler is the British term for a crisp. Here are the related desserts: betty, buckle, crumble, grunt, pandowdy, slump, etc.
The best thing about a crumble topping is its versatility.
Apple crumble with ice cream. Get the recipe. Photo courtesy Betty Crocker.
In this recipe, made with whole wheat flour and golden brown sugar, oats add a pleasant heartiness—plus, they’re a second whole grain. You can substitute white flour and hold the oats; but you’ll get much more flavor as shown.
2. Once all of the dry mix is incorporated into the butter, spread out on a cookie sheet or baking tray topped with a piece of parchment paper. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. For a crispier crumble you can bake longer, but you may prefer it on the softer side, especially with baked apples.
CRISP, CRUMBLE, COBBLER: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Crisp. A crisp is a deep-dish fruit dessert made with a crumb or streusel topping and baked. A betty is a crisp topped with buttered bread crumbs or bread pieces instead of streusel; “brown” (as in apple brown betty) refers to the brown sugar in the recipe.
Crumble. Crumble is the British term for a crisp.
Cobbler. A cobbler topping is different from a crisp or crumble, which has a crumb topping. Shortcake batter or biscuit dough is dropped onto the fruit before baking. The dish got its name because the lumps of cooked dough resembled cobblestones. Related desserts include a grunt, which is a spoon pie with biscuit dough on top of stewed fruit (fruit which is steamed, not baked); a pandowdy, a spoon pie with a rolled top crust that is broken up to allow the juices to come through; and a slump, a spoon pie topped with biscuit dough or pie crust, which can be baked or steamed, and can be made upside down.
Learn your pie and pastry types in our Pie Glossary.
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