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When the air gets crisp, there’s nothing like homemade apple crisp, hot out of the oven, to summon sweater weather. There’s just something about that combo of tangy apple goodness and crispy, buttery topping, melting with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, that keeps us coming back for more. And more. Good news: you don’t have to love baking to make a good apple crisp. With a few apples and a little know-how, you too can make this simple dessert and live happily ever after all Autumn long.

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History of apple crisp

Despite its timeless appeal, apple crisp is actually a relatively modern invention. The dessert made its first known appearance in a cookbook in 1924, namely Everybody's Cook Book: A Comprehensive Manual of Home Cookery by Isabel Ely Lord. Thanks to the abundance of apples in the Fall and simple, homey ingredients already in everyone’s pantry, the dessert has been a steadfast autumn staple ever since.

Apple crisp rudisill / Getty Images
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Variations of apple crisp

Apple crisp takes its place alongside many similar, but often much older, apple dessert recipes.

  • Apple cobbler has a biscuit-like topping that looks cobbled together. Apple grunt and apple slump are apple cobblers cooked on the stovetop.
  • Apple buckle resembles a coffee cake.
  • Apple Brown Betty, also known as apple pudding, is made by alternating layers of apples and sweetened buttery bread crumbs or crackers. It’s often topped with a sweet sauce.
  • Apple pandowdy has a pie crust topping that is broken up before serving.
  • Apple crumble is a British pudding that is essentially the same thing as apple crisp, minus the oats.
Apple desserts simarik / Getty Images
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Pick your apples

When it comes to apple crisp, not just any apple in the produce aisle will do. Softer apples like Macintosh just turn to applesauce in the oven. You’ll need to go with a tart, crisp variety that holds up to baking, and also stands up to the dessert’s sweetness. The best apples for apple crisp include any combination of:

  • Granny Smith
  • Honeycrisp
  • Pink Lady
  • Cortland
  • Braeburn
  • Mutsu

To peel or not to peel? The answer to that question is whatever appeals to you, but you really don’t have to. Peeling apples for baking is time consuming and not actually necessary. Unpeeled apples will give your apple crisp a more rustic, homey look.

Apple picking ClarkandCompany / Getty Images
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It’s better with butter

Nothing beats the mouthwatering flavor of real dairy butter. No exceptions. Real butter gives you just the right crisp, crumbly texture. And, you’re going to need enough of it to hold the crumble together like cookie dough before baking, so don’t skimp! Cold butter is the secret to a flaky, pastry-like topping. You could use a pastry cutter to incorporate it with the dry ingredients, but using your hands will give you much more control—and it’s faster.

Butter milan2099 / Getty Images

Oats are optional

If you don’t have oats on hand or if you forgot to add them to your shopping list, feel free to skip them. They are an optional ingredient added at the last minute, and your apple crisp will hold up just fine without them. That said, you can thank the oats for the nutty, crunchy texture that makes apple crisp so dangerously addictive. If you do opt for oats, for best results you should go with plain rolled old fashioned oats—quick oats don’t quite cut it.

Rolled oats or oat flakes in wooden bowl

Ingredients

  • 4 apples, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (or one stick) of cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup of old fashioned oats
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Apple crisp ingredients milan2099 / Getty Images

Prep

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Toss apples in a large ovenproof skillet with the sugar, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon.
  2. Set skillet on a large baking dish with a rim.
  3. Whisk together brown sugar, flour, the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Use your hands, or a pastry cutter to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture until it’s coarse and crumbly.
  4. Finally, add the oats, and squeeze the mixture in your hands to form large, moist clumps. Scatter the oat mixture on top of the apples.
Preparing apple crisp belchonock / Getty Images

Topping tips

For the crispiest apple crisp, take your time when adding the crumble. Form the crumble dough into balls, then break off little pieces and drop them one by one over the top of the fruit. This allows for ideal air circulation in the oven. The result? Perfectly crispy pieces of buttery cookie-like crumble.

Topping apple crisp kumikomini / Getty Images

Bake and serve

Once you’re satisfied with your topping application, it’s baking time! This step is a true test of patience—staring longingly through the oven window as the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon wafts through your kitchen! Bake the apple crisp about 45 minutes, until it’s bubbling and the topping has crisped to a golden brown. Let the crisp cool about 10 minutes—if you can even wait that long—and serve with a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream.

Baking apple crisp StephanieFrey / Getty Images

Leftovers?

If, for some reason, you experience the rare phenomenon of leftover apple crisp, store it in the fridge. Its high moisture content means it won’t keep on the countertop like other desserts. Let it cool completely first. Then, place a paper towel over the crumble to ward off condensation, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. It will last for several days. To reheat, simply slide the leftover apple crisp in the oven at 350°F for about 15 minutes. Or, pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until it’s warmed through. You can also make ahead and freeze your apple crisp under a double layer of foil for up to three months.

Leftover apple crisp viennetta / Getty Images

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