Live a Little, and Put More Topping on Your Crisp

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 7 2013 9:02 AM

You're Doing It Wrong: Crisp

Crisp

Photo by Anne Reifenberg.

Of all the members of the baked fruit dessert family, the crisp is easily the healthiest. Getting much of its bulk from minimally processed oats and wholesome nuts, crisp topping is practically indistinguishable from granola. Granted, granola, as previously discussed, isn’t quite nutritious enough to warrant its reputation as health food—but what’s indulgent at the breakfast table seems downright virtuous for dessert.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

Crisp has such an unimpeachable aura, in fact, that you have quite a bit of leeway when it comes to making it taste good. Too many crisp recipes go too far in the direction of asceticism and minimize the ratio of topping to fruit. What you end up with is a fruit stew that swallows up the thin scattering of streusel resting atop it. Making this well-intentioned mistake deprives you of the delightful experience of alternating sweet-tart, nectarous, fruit-heavy bites with buttery, crumbly, topping-heavy bites. In order to achieve such dichotomous bliss, you need about equal amounts of topping and fruit, by volume.

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Just because you’re not shying away from buttery crunch doesn’t mean that healthful aura is a total charade. The lion’s share of your topping will still be whole-grain oats—you need some flour to help the topping cohere, but you certainly don’t want so much flour that your topping becomes shortbread-like. (Fruit bars are a topic for another day.) You’ll incorporate plenty of salubrious fat in the form of almonds and shredded coconut. And your base will be pure and unadulterated fruit—no need for added sugar there when you’ve got summer-ripe cherries on hand.

Cherries are certainly not the only fruit you can use here; any sweet, juicy fruit, from peaches to plums to berries, works well in a midsummer crisp. (Fruit that drips with as much syrup as Regina Spektor’s compositions may require a little extra cornstarch.) It goes without saying that ice cream rarely tastes better than it does melting on top of a crisp, but ice cream defies that healthful aura—unsweetened yogurt is a much better garnish if it’s nutritional respectability you’re after. Incidentally, cold leftover crisp folded into a bowl of yogurt makes a fabulous morning meal. However, what’s virtuous for dessert is rather indulgent at the breakfast table.

Sweet Cherry Crisp
Yield: 9 to 12 servings
Time: 1 to 1¼ hours, largely unattended

2½ pounds sweet cherries, pitted
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
⅓ cup sliced almonds
⅓ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Toss the cherries with the lemon juice and cornstarch in an 8- or 9-inch square pan. 

2. Put the oats, brown sugar, flour, butter, almonds, coconut, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Blend with your fingers or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the oat mixture over the cherries.

3. Bake until the cherries are tender and the topping is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Serve warm. (Store leftover crisp in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days.)

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