Channel your inner pastry chef and bake up a warm apple crisp this season! Sauteeing the apples first ensures that each slice is tender and caramelized even before it hits the oven. The topping on this dessert is loaded with oats and spices.
The moment a piping hot apple crisp comes out of the oven, you’ll want to quickly grab a big spoon. This sweet treat may not be as fancy as apple pie, but it’s just as tasty and by far easier to prepare. The caramel glaze, cinnamon, nutmeg spice, and the rustic crumble topping are a winning combination. It’s hard to resist juicy spiced apples topped with crunchy oatmeal clusters.
The one thing that’s at risk when making apple crisp is undercooked fruit with a runny sauce. This happens when tart apples are tossed in raw with a flour-dusting then baked. The topping cooks faster, so the filling never softens and the juices don’t thicken up. The good news, this is easy to avoid by pre-cooking the apples.
For a juicy apple crisp filling
To make a fork-tender filling with a syrupy glaze, pre-cook the apples. Make sure to cut them into uniform slices, about ¼-inch thickness to ensure even cooking and faster softening. To quick-start flavor development, the baking apple mixture is tossed with sugar, a pinch of salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice to balance the sweetness.
A generous amount of apples are sauteed until crisp-tender and coated with the sticky cinnamon sauce. I notice that the apples drop to about half of their volume. Even though 3 pounds of apples seems like a lot, don’t forget the shrinking factor as moisture is released from their flesh.
Make sure not to overcook as the apples will still have more heat exposure when baked with the topping.
Crunchy topping texture
What makes for a good apple crisp topping with nice crunch is blending the right ratio of flour, brown sugar, butter, oats, and sweet spices. For the texture, I want to have large chunks that are crunchy and golden delicious on the outside, and slightly chewy in the center. If you can imagine tiny bites of oatmeal cookie crumbles, that’s what you’ll experience.
To achieve this, cut the butter into dime-sized pieces and place in the flour mixture. Once baked, the proteins in the flour deepen in color and harden while the sugar creates a caramel flavor. The result is a lightly sweet, but crunchy base.
Old-fashioned rolled oats are used because the flakes maintain their shape and stay chewy once cooked. If you’ve ever wondered the difference between a crisp or a crumble, they both have streusel-style toppings, however, crisps have oats and crumbles do not.
What kind of apples do you use?
The best kind of apple to use for apple crisp is Honeycrisp. When fall rolls around until the end of spring, this juicy, tart, and sweet fruit is my top pick. They are great apples for cooking because they hold their shape, and don’t become mealy like red delicious apples.
If Honeycrisp is not available, then Fuji or Granny Smith apples are good substitutions. Fuji is closest to flavor profile with a slight more flower blossom taste, and Granny Smith is more tart for those who want their dessert to have just a hint of sweetness.
Extra topping ideas
This easy apple crisp recipe is by far my favorite fall dessert that you can bake and enjoy year-round. Eat it plain, sprinkle the topping with salt, or go a la mode with vanilla ice cream, the choice is yours. Maybe before you peel and slice, drizzle it with caramel sauce if you have a real sweet tooth.
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Gently pre-cook the apples for better texture
Don’t be tempted to crank up the heat to cook the apples in a shorter time. In this case, a little patience, constant stirring, and moderate heat prevent the apples from becoming too soft and mealy. Gentle heat helps to strengthen the internal structure of the fruit, so it keeps its shape once baked. We want intact apples, not applesauce filling.
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- 3 pounds honeycrisp apples
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Set the oven rack to the center position. Preheat to 375ºF (191ºC).
- Peel, core and cut apples to ¼-inch thick slices.
- Combine sliced apples, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a large bowl.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat, once hot add 1 tablespoon butter and the apples.
- Saute until the apples are crisp-tender, most of the moisture is released, and a syrupy sauce clings to the apples, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Lightly butter an 8 by 8-inch baking dish.
- Evenly spread cooked apples into the baking dish.
- Mix together flour, rolled oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg in a small bowl.
- Cut butter into small ¼-inch pieces and add to the flour mixture. Use your fingers to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, pressing together to create large pebble shaped pieces of crumble topping, about the size of a dime.
- Evenly sprinkle the topping over the apples.
- Bake until the topping is golden brown and crisp, 30 to 35 minutes.
- Wait 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
- Granny Smith apples can be substituted for a more tart flavor. Fuji, Gala or MacIntosh apples can also be substituted for the Honeycrisp apples.
- Apple crisp can also be baked in an 8 to 10-inch cast iron pan.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute gluten-free rolled outs and gluten-free flour. I recommend Bob's Red Mill brand for both products.
- Make it Dairy-Free: Substitute coconut oil instead of butter.
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