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Fruit Crisp Recipe: Create Your Own

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by Brigid Callinan

from Fine Cooking
Issue 51

If ever there were a surefire candidate for the grace-under-pressure award in the dessert  world, it would be the humble fruit crisp. Equally appealing in summer and winter, the fruit  crisp is the last-minute-dinner-party-host's best friend. Just cut up the fruit-some of my  favorites are peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears, apricots, cherries, and berries-toss  with lemon juice, sugar, and a flavoring, slide into a baking dish, and sprinkle on a quick-to-make crumbly topping. Pop it in the oven and, in less than an hour, dessert is ready and  your home is filled with the aromas of fruit, butter, sugar, and spice. No rolling, chilling,  fluting, or glazing-just endless compliments and many satisfied guests. A scoop of vanilla  ice cream has yet to find a more meaningful relationship.

As simple as crisps are, they're also tremendously flexible. Almost any fruit that works in a  pie will work in a crisp. You can be creative, pairing peaches with ginger, for example. Or  you can be a minimalist, using nothing more than fresh fruit, lemon juice, and a classic  crumb topping. The formula stays the same no matter which way you go, as you'll see in the method below. Glance over it and you'll realize you don't need a formal recipe to make a  crisp, just a bowl of ripe fruit for inspiration.

Serves 8

Heat the oven to 375°F.

Make the topping

Combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, a pinch of table salt, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional) or 1/8 tsp. grated or ground nutmeg (optional) in a medium bowl. With your fingertips, rub in 8 Tbs. slightly softened unsalted butter that's been cut into pieces, until it's well blended and the mixture crumbles coarsely; it should hold together when you pinch it. If you like, mix in one of the topping add-ins (see options below). Refrigerate the topping until ready to use.

Choose one topping add-in (optional)

  • oats
    Oatmeal: 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • meal
    Cornmeal: 1/4 cup
  • walnuts
    Chopped walnuts: 1/3 cup
  • pecans
    Chopped pecans: 1/3 cup
  • hzelnuts
    Chopped hazelnuts: 1/3 cup
  • sliced almonds
    Sliced almonds: 1/3 cup
Prepare the fruit

Fruits that are in season together make great combinations; think of Bing cherries and  apricots in early summer, peaches and berries at summer's height, and apples and pears in  fall and winter. Berries, cherries, and rhubarb, work best when they're used in combination, either with one another  or with other fruit. They're either too tart or mushy to use on their own.

Cut your chosen fruit (see options below) into even-size pieces: 1/2-inch pieces for firmer fruit, 3/4-inch pieces for tender fruit. You want a total of 6 cups of fruit.

Choose one or two fruits

  • apples
    Apples, peeled and cored
  • pears
    Pears, peeled and cored
  • peaches
    Peaches, pitted
  • nectarines
    Nectarines, pitted
  • plums
    Plums, pitted
  • apricots
    Apricots, pitted
  • strawberries
    Strawberries, stemmed, cored, and quartered or halved
  • cherries
    Cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • blackberries

Taste the fruit and sprinkle on 2 tablespoons to 1/3 cup sugar. For less ripe or tart fruit (like rhubarb) use more sugar; for sweet, ripe fruit, use less.

In a small dish, dissolve your cornstarch in 1 Tbs. lemon juice. The amount of cornstarch depends on your chosen fruit: 1 tsp. for denser fruit, like apples and pears, 1 Tbs. for juicier fruit such as berries, and 2 Tbs. for rhubarb. Pour the cornstarch slurry over the fruit.

Add optional flavorings

Use restraint when mixing in spices, extracts, zests, or dried fruit. These ingredients can add an interesting dimension, but too many ingredients muddy the flavor and overwhelm the fruit.

Gently toss your chosen flavorings into the fruit.

Choose one or two flavorings (optional)

  • orange zest
    Grated orange zest: 1 to 2 tsp.
  • lemon zest
    Grated lemon zest: 1 to 2 tsp.
  • cinnamon
    Ground cinnamon: 1/2 tsp.
  • ground nutmeg
    Grated or ground nutmeg: 1/8 tsp.
  • fresh ginger
    Grated fresh ginger: 1 to 2 tsp.
  • vanilla extract
    Vanilla: 1 tsp. extract or the seeds from 2 inches of a vanilla bean
  • almond extract
    Almond extract: 1/2 tsp.
  • dried cherries
    Dried cherries: 1/2 cup soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
  • dried cranberries
    Dried cranberries: 1/2 cup soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
  • raisins
    Raisins: 1/2 cup soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
Bake the crisp

The topping is my favorite part of the crisp, so I blanket it on thickly. But if it's too thick, the bottom layer of topping doesn't really get crisp. The solution I've devised is to sprinkle on only half the topping, bake for 20 minutes, sprinkle on the rest, and then bake until done , another 15 to 35 minutes. This way, the first half gets a head start on browning and crisping, so you get less of a gooey layer next to the fruit.

Pour the fruit mixture into an 8- or 9-inch square (or similar-capacity) glass or ceramic baking dish. (You could also divide the fruit into small ramekins for individual crisps;just remember that the cooking time will be shorter). Set the pan on a baking sheet to catch overflowing juices. Top the fruit with half of the topping (refrigerate the other half) and bake for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the remaining topping over the crisp and continue baking until the fruit is tender when pierced with a knife, the topping is crisp, and the juices are bubbling, another 15 to 35 minutes, depending on the fruit (apples take more time; berries take less). Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Crisps are best served the same day they're made, as the topping tends to absorb the fruit's juices and become soggy. If you fancy it for breakfast, however, you can reheat day-old crisp in a 400°F oven.

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