Hot apple crisp, with its deliciously spicy, buttery fragrance, is a rite of fall, served with a soft scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s a harvest celebration that, thanks to the longevity of apples, can continue to bring cozy comfort through the long, dark evenings of winter. The smell of it alone is warm happiness.
Apple crisp is one of the great lazy baking recipes. After some peeling and slicing, the baking part of it couldn’t be more basic. Butter. Sugar. Flour. Blend. Sprinkle on top and bake.
I’ve been making this recipe, adapted from Craig Claiborne’s classic New York Times Cookbook, since I was a kid. It’s one dessert that’s always easy to make on vacation or at someone else’s house – three ingredients in memorably simple proportions.
The fruit filling is endlessly flexible – cranberries or pears make happy fall mix-ins; peaches and berries are marvelous in the summer. Proportions can be tweaked: I like a lot of fruit, but my friend Alli always likes a thicker layer of buttery crisp.
I made the first apple crisp of the season for my brother’s birthday. In the past few weeks, we’d had chocolate pie for my husband’s birthday and lemon cake for my daughter’s. My mom received some Golden Delicious apples from a friend’s tree, so we decided to celebrate both autumn and my brother’s birthday with apple crisp.
Soft, sweet Golden Delicious apples are my standby for cooking. I know many bakers swear by Granny Smith, but I find them too tart and firm. If you have it, a variety of apples is a good idea to give a mix of flavor and textures. But don’t fuss – apple crisp is good no matter what.
The kids often help peeling and cutting the apples. Uniformity is not important – in fact, some variation is good, with smaller pieces breaking down and larger pieces keeping their shape. A little peel here and there is no big deal either.
Sugar and cinnamon. I love extra cinnamon in my crisp. A wee squeeze of lemon gives an extra note if you have it. Often I don’t.
I plan for some apples to disappear before they make it in the oven. When I was a young baker, it was my little brother who delighted in snacking on the cinnamon-sugar-coated apples – now it’s my own four little apple munchers.
The topping is super easy. Cold butter, sugar, flour. A pinch of salt if you are using unsalted butter.
Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Or just use your fingers to rub it in.
The topping is done when it looks like coarse crumbs. You’ll have some clumps of crumbs, but you shouldn’t have any chunks of butter left. At this point you can refrigerate the topping if you want to bake the crisp later.
Sprinkle the topping over the apples just before baking.
By the time the topping is golden brown, the apples should be well cooked. When the fragrance fills the house, you’ll know it’s close to ready.
Warm apple crisp cries out for a cool side of ice cream. Vanilla, naturally, or cinnamon ice cream if you can find it.
Breathe it in. And eat.
To my Canadian friends…happy Thanksgiving! Just thinking about it is making me excited for November here.
Cinnamony Apple Crisp
One of my staple easy desserts: soft apples, spiced with cinnamon, topped with sweet buttery crumble. Adapted from Craig Claiborne’s classic New York Times Cookbook.
- 6 cups apples, peeled and sliced (about 6 large)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; omit salt if using salted butter)
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place apple slices in 8″x8″ square baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice (if using). Stir briefly to mix in.
- Add flour, sugar and salt (if using unsalted butter) to a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and add to bowl. Blend the cold butter into the dry ingredients until mixture looks like coarse crumbs (use a fork, pastry cutter or two knives, a few pulses in a food processor, or your fingers to rub bits of butter in repeatedly, releasing quickly to keep the butter cold). Some lumps are fine, but you should not have any chunks of butter left. Mix in nuts, if using.
- Sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the filling in the baking dish. Bake for about 45 minutes, until topping is golden brown.
- Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.
- I usually use Golden Delicious apples for baking, but I like my baked apples soft and sweet. Granny Smith are traditional baking apples, firmer and more tart. A mix of apples is nice, to bring in different flavors and textures.
- Don’t fuss too much about the slicing of the apples – aside from having pieces thin enough to cook through, the size and uniformity is not important. Some variation in size will give a welcome variation in texture of the cooked apples, with smaller pieces breaking down and larger pieces maintaining their shape.
- To make ahead, prepare filling and topping separately. Refrigerate topping until ready to cook. Use spoon or fingers to loosen topping (it may have clumped a bit in fridge) and sprinkle on top of filling just before baking.
- For 9″x13″ baking dish – Filling ingredients: 9 cups apples, 3/4 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 4 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Topping ingredients: 12 tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks), 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cups sugar, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.
- Try apple-pear, or apple-cranberry (apple-cranberry will need extra sugar in the filling).
- If your fruit is particularly juicy, mix in a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch with the filling. This will thicken the juices during cooking.
- The crisp will work in a smaller or larger baking dish – a larger dish will result in a thinner crisp; smaller dish will make a thicker one. If your baking pan is very full, you may want put a rimmed baking sheet underneath to catch any sticky juice that bubbles over during cooking.
- You can bake at 375 degrees F if you are in a hurry, shortening cooking time to about 35 minutes.
Here’s the link to a printable version.