I like a big fat crumb topping on just about any dessert. Over the years, I’ve developed the perfect crumb topping recipe (some might call it a streusel topping) that I use on basically any recipe that I want to make even better!
This crumb topping recipe comes together really easily and can be added to the top of your dessert just before putting it into the oven. I do this sometimes with my sweet potato casserole cupcakes, and it’s fantastic.
Place the crumb topping on top of the scone batter just before baking to have crumb topped scones. Here’s the crumb topping on raspberry scones:
For a crumb topped coffee cake, place the crumb topping on the coffee cake batter just before baking like in this sour cream coffee cake:
And, in what may be my absolute favorite variation, here is a cookie made entirely of crumbs. I call it a crumb cookie! I challenge you to find me an easier cookie recipe.
My crumb topping recipe uses oats, which makes it a little different from some of the others that you might find. The oats help give the crumbs more texture and structure and make them extra satisfying! Take a look at my longer, in-depth sweet potato casserole cupcake post for more ideas.
What’s the Difference between a Crumb, Crisp, Crumble, Cobbler, Buckle . . . ?
There are a lot of words out there where I kind of know what they mean—I can use them in a sentence, I can nod knowingly when someone says them to me, etc.—but if I had to actually rattle off a definition, all that would come out are a few unhelpful words and then an embarrassing silence. For most people (myself included until I did some research for this post) these dessert terms are like that.
Because of this, terms like “cobbler,” “crisp,” and even more obscure ones like “grunt,” “slump,” “sonker,” and “brown Betty” get thrown around pretty fast and loose. One person’s crumble is another person’s crisp. In one part of the country a cobbler has to have a crumb crust, and in another part of the country, they would look at you like you were an idiot if you called it that and then handed them anything without a dough topping.
So please understand that when I start to define these terms, I am not saying that there is only one way to use them.
A Crust by Any Other Name
Traditionally, a “crumble” is what you get when you put a crumb crust on top of a bunch of sweetened fruit of some kind. The recipe we use in America for the crumbs is basically a German streusel, with a little more butter and flour. For some people, adding oats to the mix (like I do for mine) means that you should call it a “crisp.” But for most Americans, “crisp” and “crumble” are essentially interchangeable.
The term “cobbler” is used throughout America to refer to what I call here a “crumble,” but historically the word always meant sweetened fruit with a batter of some kind spooned on top. The spooned dough gives the topping the appearance of being “cobbled together,” hence the name.
And last but not least you have the “buckle,” which has been having a renaissance of sorts in the last few years. (I found a delicious-looking berry buckle recipe in the New York Times’s food section just the other day—but you might need to join the site.) A buckle is made by adding fresh berries to what is essentially a cake batter and cooking in a cast-iron pan, with the result that the dough “buckles up” in the middle while cooking. To make it more confusing, a lot of people add a crumb crust to the top, as well.
Make a Lot and Freeze It for Later
The great thing about this crumb topping is that it cooks so easily and stores so well. If you want to make enough for one coffee cake, it’s no trouble to whip up enough for one dish. But if you really love it (like I do) and know that you are going to want to use it every now and again, you can quadruple the recipe and freeze it until you need it.
If you’ve got too much fruit and you need to find something to do with it, throw on some crumb topping. If you’ve got a cupcake or muffin that needs a little jazz, but either you don’t want to bother with frosting or you think it would be too much, just reach into the freezer and sprinkle a little crumb topping before you throw them in the oven.
Where Can I Use This Crumb Crust?
No matter how you choose to use this crumb topping recipe, you can’t go wrong. Of course, you can throw it on top of your favorite fruit for a crumble or crisp (or maybe even a cobbler!). But it is just as much at home on top of a coffee cake, a muffin, or a loaf of quick bread. And I would be hard pressed to think of a pie recipe that wouldn’t taste just great with this on top.
Please share pictures of your crumb-topped desserts on Instagram with the hashtag #cupcakeproject so I can see them all!
If you've tried this recipe, please RATE THE RECIPE and leave a comment below!
How to Make Perfect Crumb Topping
A perfect crumb topping that can be added to the top of your choice of dessert just before baking.
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter melted
- 5/8 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons rolled oats
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl until large crumbs form. I suggest doing this with your hands. Stop as soon as you have the crumbs. Do not overmix.
Top your favorite dessert with the crumbs just before baking.
Bake according to the recipe's instructions.
Adding crumbs may cause the bake time of your recipes to change. Be sure to check your dessert for doneness before removing it from the oven.