On the eve of August you may be wondering what to do with all the incredible stone fruits and berries arriving fast and furious at your local farmer’s market. The following recipe for crisp topping, easy to assemble and substitution friendly, is baking at it’s most streamlined, straightforward and “I can’t bake”-proof.

I don’t normally take requests, but after my Pie II Crust Revisited post on Eggbeater where I went through making pie dough point by point, a reader asked that I write about crisp topping as her own recipe was not quite up to snuff. My delicious crisp topping stems from working with Claudia Fleming at Gramercy Tavern. We served an exceptional apple and cranberry crisp that, although it was created to serve two, was one of our most popular desserts on chilly fall nights.

If you’ve had a chance to pick up the Spring 2006 issue of Edible San Francisco, you know that the crisp recipe resides in there as well. But for the requester, who lives in Australia, and those of you unable to pick up this new local mag, here’s the recipe again.


3 C All Purpose Flour
1/2 C Sugar
1/2 C Dark Brown Sugar
1/2-3/4 C Nuts, lightly toasted and rough chopped
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ground or Crushed Cardamon
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt

8 oz. Unsalted Butter, melted

1. Put all ingredients, except butter, in a large bowl.
2. Stir with hands to mix, breaking apart clumps of brown sugar with fingers.
3. Melt butter.
4. Make “well” in center of bowl and pour butter in while it’s still hot.
5. Stir in butter with wooden spoon or spatula.
6. Finish incorporating butter into all of the drys with hands.
7. On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, lay out raw crisp topping and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
8. When you are ready to make the crisp, preheat oven to 400F.
9. Assemble filling, sprinkle on as much or as little crisp topping as you like, set baking dish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (your “dish-washer” will thank you later!)
10. Bake until topping has browned and filling is bubbling up. If you are making a large crisp I suggest you check in on it about 15-20 minutes into the baking time. If you’re topping is gaining more color than you’d prefer, turn the pan around and turn the heat down to 350F.

Crisp topping can be kept in a tightly covered container for upwards of a month refrigerated. (I have even kept it longer.) This recipe can be doubled, tripled or more.

The filling is completely up to you! I picked up rhubarb, plums, nectarines, blackberries and raspberries at the market Friday and whipped up a fabulous filling. I add the sugar to taste, as it depends on the sweet or puckeriness of the fruits on hand, and sometimes a dash of lemon zest shavings. I tend to like my fruit to taste like itself, not like the sweetener, so I err on the bright side. I rely on the topping to carry in the sweet crispy layer.

I’m a big fan of walnuts in the crisp topping and I pre-toast them so as to add an extra dimension to the crisp topping besides texture. If you have them, hazelnuts would be gorgeous, especially with stone fruits, and I’ve not tried peanuts or pecans, but I can only imagine what great choices they would make.

Sometimes I brown my butter slightly, toss in a bit of mace for deepened spiciness, or omit the ubiquitous cinnamon altogether in favor of secret ground toasted coriander. Suffice to say light brown sugar could be substituted for the dark and the sugar in the filling could be any sort you desired as well. I don’t much use whole wheat flour but it might be a new take, and I always love me some flavorful corn meal!

The signature difference in this recipe is that the butter is melted. What this means is that the crisp topping actually crisps in the oven because the fat source has permeated every grain of flour and sugar. The preparation of cutting cold butter into flour, as is the case in many crisp topping recipes, creates a topping that melts into the fruit juices, therefore producing a gooey, unbaked layer of flour-butter-sugar lumps between hot fruit and still tender topping.

In this recipe you bake the crisp is a fairly hot oven because all you are really baking is the topping. In a crisp or cobbler there’s no need for a starch thickener as one eats these desserts in a bowl, hence no pressure for them to stand upright.

Have fun with your seasonal fresh fruit crisp. Make too much topping to always have some on hand. Try it with different spices, intriguing nuts, alternative sweeteners, and please report back and let us all know how it went!

Crisp Topping: An All Year Round Fruit Dressing 30 July,2006Shuna Fish Lydon

  • deccanheffalump

    This has been a great morning catching up on all my blog reading.. the find of the day has been your pie crust post and this one with a recipe very close to the topping I used to make for my famous Apple Crumble (which was once actually marketed in Pune, India, during very enthusiatic times.)
    Thanks..Darn the dal…I just have to make a pie today.

  • cucina testa rossa

    you saved me again. i have a huge bag of blueberries that i’ve been staring at for a few days. and cardamon, what a delicious idea! i’ll let you know how it turns out since i am pastrily-challenged. i think i need a pie crust lesson when i am back.

  • Amy Sherman

    Pastrily challenged, I like that! I just posted about my first successful pie attempt. Fruit crisp and cobbler have been my fall-back positions for a long time.

  • christine

    I’ve just recently made an Apple Crisp for the first time. (http://gypsysoul73.blogspot.com/2006/09/glorious-apple-crisp.html) It was heaven. Now that I’ve read your post, I learned how to make it even better and to make different variations of it (using melted butter instead, trying it with different nuts etc). Thank you so much for sharing your baking wisdom with us! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    rhubarb crisp goes particularly well with pistachios in the topping – i think i got this idea from nigella – it’s yum-o!

  • thank you shuna for this recipe! it worked a charm. i made it last night – with rhubarb and raspberries – it was deliciously tart. the raspberries were frozen but it tasted great. i also put 1/4 cup of oatmeal into the topping and omitted nuts because my family is allergic. i can’t wait to make another crisp once peaches and nectarines come into season here in new york.


Shuna Fish Lydon

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She’s had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC.

Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna’s resume reads like the who’s who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers’ markets her muse.

Currently “at large,” Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.

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