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Year of Baking: Fruit crisps, the easiest dessert you’ll bake this year


It’s hard to mess up a fruit crisp.

Crisps and crumbles are — by most definitions — the same dish and are the most forgiving baking project: A layer of fruit baked with a topping of flour, butter and sugar. Many bakers draw a thin line of old-fashioned oats when defining their dessert: crisps get the oats, crumbles don’t. But no matter if you put oats or nuts or spices in the topping, crisps and crumbles are easy to make, even easier to adapt and widely appealing to anyone with a sweet tooth.

Let’s start with the fruit. With the exception of melons and tropical fruit, including citrus, you can make a crisp with just about any fruit. Baked cantaloupe or grapefruit won’t go over quite as well as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, peaches, cherries and all the other stone fruit and berries out there.

Apple has always been the pinnacle crisp, but I made five fruit crisps for this story and think that a mix of blueberries and blackberries might be my new favorite.

Crisps are ideal for people who don’t identify as bakers or who want more free reign in the kitchen. Unlike pies or cookies or cakes, crisps don’t require a definite ratio between filling and topping or exact quantities of ingredients.

Just how much freedom is there? For a juicier filling, don’t add cornstarch. For a sweeter dessert, add sugar to the fruit. Fruit already sweet enough? Skip it. For a more complex topping, add nuts or spices to the flour and butter mixture. Because you aren’t trying to roll out a pie crust or bake a cookie that won’t crumble when you pick it up, you can use any gluten-free or whole wheat flour you’d like without any other changes to the recipe.

You could fill small ramekins with fruit for exactly the number of people you are serving, sprinkle the topping on and freeze any leftover topping you might have for the next batch. Or, you could fill a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with all the fruit left in your fridge at the end of the week, use the whole quantity of topping and eat the results for dessert and breakfast for the next three days.

If you like a lot of topping, you could fill an 8-inch-by-8-inch dish with fruit, use the whole batch of topping and end up with a crust-covered dessert that looks almost like a cobbler, which has more of a biscuit- or cake-like topping.

To paraphrase the great creative muse Bob Ross: This is your crisp; you are the creator.

Here are some tips to help guide you to create your own five-minute masterpiece:

  • Slice any fruit that’s bigger than a blackberry and be sure to remove pits. Don’t worry about peeling any fruit, even apples or peaches, unless you really cannot tolerate the softened peels. The skin of the fruit contains much of the fiber and nutrition, which makes leftover crisps easier to pass off as breakfast.
  • A cup of fruit per person is a good estimate for how much you’ll need per serving.
  • Fresh fruit is divine for crisps, but sometimes fresh fruit is at its highest and best enjoyment in its natural state, so don’t hesitate to use frozen here. Frozen fruit tends to have a little more liquid, so you might want to add cornstarch to thicken the filling. Soupy crisps are quickly remedied by serving with ice cream or whipped cream.
  • Lemon juice or zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, candied ginger, and vanilla or almond extracts are all quick ways to add a little oomph to the filling, and those spices and any sliced nut will do the same for the topping. Consider almonds and allspice, walnuts and cardamom, or nutmeg and pecans.
  • Assembling crisps doesn’t take more than a few minutes, but to cut that time down even more, consider making a double batch of topping and freezing half of it. As with using frozen fruit, you might have to add a few minutes to the baking time, but not much.
  • You can bake crisps in countless vessels, including cast iron skillets.
  • You can use a vegan butter or margarine in place of the butter, but if you’re trying to make a low-fat crisp, don’t cut down on the quantity by more than a tablespoon or two. The topping needs the fat in order to hold the flour together and form the crust.
  • Feel free to use any kind of sweetener in the fruit filling, including liquid sweeteners such as agave nectar or maple syrup, but in the topping, stick with dry sugars. Just remember the ratio: 2 parts flour to 1 part fat, 1 part sugar and 1 part oats, if using.
  • No need to press the topping into the fruit when you sprinkle it on top. You want an uneven texture — that’s how all those delicious crunchy peaks and gooey valleys form.
  • Bake anywhere between 375 and 425 degrees and just watch for that moment when the fruit juices start to bubble on the sides, which will take between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on the size of the vessel.

Any Fruit Crisp

1 cup flour (all purpose, whole wheat, gluten-free, etc.)

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

8 to 10 cups fruit (2 to 3 pounds)

1/2 cup sugar (more or less to taste)

1 Tbsp. cornstarch (optional)

1 Tbsp. lemon juice (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, oats, baking powder and salt, breaking up any clumps of brown sugar. Add the butter and use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry mixture. (You could use a fork for this.)

Place the fruit in a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish (see tips for more information about baking smaller quantities and freezing any leftover crisp topping) and add sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice, if using. Mix well, and then sprinkle on the crisp topping. Bake for 30 minutes or until the fruit juices are bubbling on the sides and the top has formed a golden brown crust.

— Addie Broyles



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