Feast your eyes on this delicious apple crumble with warm spices and a crunchy buttery topping. Sauteing the apples before baking speeds up the cooking time and creates a fantastic caramelized flavor.
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A freshly baked apple crumble is the perfect dessert for sharing, and it’s easy to make. When there’s not enough time to construct a classic apple pie, this sweet treat is a quicker alternative that delivers similar warm fruit flavors and a crunchy crust. The glazed caramel slices and buttery, crumbly topping go great with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
One of the biggest challenges with crumbles is thoroughly cooking the apple filling while achieving a dry, crisp surface. Don’t worry. I have a simple solution! Pre-cooking the fruit on the stovetop concentrates the juices before baking. This process also cuts down on bake time and gives less moisture for the flour crumble to absorb. The result is tender fruit and an extra crunchy top.
When the fall season hits, grab a batch of Honeycrisp apples. Their fruit is sweet and tart yet balanced in flavor. Their juicy flesh is also sturdy enough for cooking and doesn’t fall apart like mealy red apples. You can use other types of apples like Fuji, McIntosh, Braeburn, or Golden Delicious if you want a sweeter filling. I would only use Granny Smith apples with a mix of other sweeter varieties for a more tart flavor.
Pre-cook the apples
I prefer to pre-cook the apples on the stovetop instead of guessing if they thoroughly soften during baking. This sauteing process allows you to see the juices release and concentrate. Slice them into ½-inch thick pieces. They will reduce by about half in volume.
Toss them with warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, lemon juice and zest, brown and granulated sugar for a balanced taste. I add a small amount of flour to create a thick syrup-like glaze, but you can omit this for a thinner consistency. When sauteing, don’t let the apples turn entirely mushy as they will finish cooking in the oven.
Make a crumble topping
Compared to rolling out a pie crust, a crumble topping is fast and straightforward to prepare. Just combine all-purpose flour with the dried ingredients first. A combination of dark brown sugar and granulated sugar adds sweetness, with some molasses for a deeper caramel note. Salt and cinnamon prevent the flour mixture from tasting bland.
My secret ingredient for a super crunchy texture is to add baking powder. The leavening agent slightly puffs up the topping, creating a more hollow, snappy bite. I also add melted butter instead of cold butter to hydrate the flour and bind the topping ingredients together. This technique develops more aromatic flavor compounds that taste like butterscotch, similar to making browned butter. It tastes like cinnamon graham crackers, so delicious!
The topping will be clumpy. You’ll need to break it into various pieces about the size of a dime. Sprinkle it evenly on top to cover the pre-cooked apples. Bake at 375ºF (191ºC) to cook the topping and further tenderize the fruit. The flour and sugars will harden and turn golden brown. The caramel flavors developed in the crust complement the cinnamon apple filling.
The dessert tastes better when cooled for at least 30 to 45 minutes if you can be patient. Resting gives the butter and sugars in the topping time to cool and harden. It also allows the sauce to thicken up into a syrupy glaze over the fruit.
Serve this with
They both have similar fruit bases and streusel-style toppings made from flour, butter, and sugar. The difference is that an apple crisp typically contains oats, while a crumble is just flour. Variations can be made in each, often adding chopped nuts for extra crunch.
Typically all-purpose flour, sweeteners like brown sugar and granulated sugar, and melted butter to make it very crunchy.
The topping should be dry to the touch and golden brown. The apple filling will soften and bubble on the edges of the baking pan.
Apples that hold their structure when cooked. For a sweeter and tart balance, use Honeycrisp, Fuji, McIntosh, or Braeburn. Use Granny Smith apples for a more tart flavor.
Yes, since the crumble contains fresh fruit, refrigerate after cooling completely. The humidity will cause the topping to pick up moisture, so it’s best to eat within two days. Reheating in the oven at 350-degrees will help dry the surface and make it crunchy again.
Sauteing the apples prevents a soggy topping
If you’ve ever had an apple crumble that wasn’t crunchy, it’s because the fruit was not pre-cooked before baking. Adding the apples raw to the baking pan will steam and release too much moisture. This liquid soaks up into the topping’s flour and gets soggy on the bottom instead of being crunchy throughout.
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- 3 pounds honeycrisp apples, about 6 large apples
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, optional
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Set the oven rack to the center position. Heat to 375ºF (191ºC).
- Peel, core, and cut the apples into about 1/2-inch thick slices.
- In a large bowl, stir to combine sliced apples, granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour (if using), cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
- In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apple mixture and saute until crisp-tender, and most of the moisture releases, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Lightly butter the bottom and sides of an 8 by 8-inch baking dish. Evenly spread the cooked apples inside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the melted butter and vanilla. Stir with a spatula to combine and press together to make large clumps.
- Evenly scatter the topping over the pre-cooked apples. Break them into dime-sized pieces along with some smaller ones.
- Place the baking dish on a sheet pan. Bake until the topping is golden brown and crisp, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for about 30 to 45 minutes. This allows the topping to become crispier and for filling to set.
- Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if desired.
- Apple Substitutes: Golden Delicious, Fuji, Braeburn, Gala, or McIntosh apples taste similar to Honeycrisp. Use Granny Smith apples for more tartness.
- Stronger Spiced Filling: Increase the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon, nutmeg to 1/2 teaspoon, and salt to 1/4 teaspoon.
- Make-Ahead: The crumble topping can be refrigerated for up to 7 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
- Make it in a Skillet: Bake inside an 8 to 10-inch cast iron pan.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute with gluten-free flour.
- Make it Dairy-Free: Substitute coconut oil instead of butter.
- Storing: Cool completely, then cover with foil or transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 2 days.
- Reheating: Heat individual portions in the microwave in 15 to 30-second intervals until warm. You can bake the whole dish at 350ºF (177ºC) until the top is crisp and the filling is warm.
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