A crisp is a pie without the fuss of a crust.

This humble cousin of upper-crust pies and tarts melds tree-ripened fruit and a few pantry staples into a sweet-tart old-fashioned dessert that’s hard to resist.

The British call it a crumble. Americans call it a crisp. We call it downright delicious.

All those hot fruit juices bubble up into the buttery, sugary topping as it bakes to create sophisticated flavors that are mouth-watering and good.

Crisps are so easy to assemble. Mix fruit, sugar, lemon juice and tapioca and pour into a deep baking dish.

Sprinkle on a crumbly topping to create a one-of-a-kind dessert. Change up the fruit, using whatever is on hand. Mix apricot and pineapple or pineapple juice to lighten up an otherwise heavy filling. A mix of fresh cherries and canned cherry pie filling produces excellent results. Firm pears are an unexpected surprise. Add a few tablespoons of apricot jam to deepen their flavor.

Use whatever thickener you have on hand. Flour will do in a pinch. Even better is arrowroot, cornstarch or potato starch. Quick-cook tapioca, though, is my standby. It produces a clear filling that lets the fruit flavors shout and the brightly colored fillings shine. Swap brown sugar for white sugar or use a mix of both in the topping or the filling. Sprinkle in a little cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves into the topping. A ¼teaspoon of each are all you’ll need. Add a dash of spice to the filling. Or don’t. This rustic dessert takes kindly to improvisation and is kind to the hostess because it comes together effortlessly. And if at first bite it’s a little too tart, make room for ice cream. A tart crisp and vanilla ice cream are heaven in a bite.

Change up the topping: Try oatmeal or ground nuts; just butter, sugar and flour work great; and finely chopped nuts in a butter-flour-sugar topping are wonderful because they toast during baking and provide flavor and texture.

Pop it in the oven for a bit. When those delicious fruit juices bubble up over the filling, you know it’s done. There’s no guesswork here, like with a pie filling under a crust.

Resist the urge to eat it hot out of the oven — the juices need to thicken and set. And if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, you’ll be rewarded with flavors that are even better the second day.

Nut Topping

Makes about 2 ½ cups, enough for a 10-inch pie or 1½ to 2½-quart baking dish.


⅔ cup granulated sugar

7 tablespoons butter, room temperature

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds

½ teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg Instructions:

Combine all ingredients and crumble with your fingertips. Spread mixture over prepared fruit in buttered baking dish and bake as directed.

This recipe is from “Easy as Pie,” by Susan G. Purdy (Collier Books, 1984).

Oatmeal Topping


¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1½ cups rolled oats

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, softened


Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix. Add butter and mix by hand until butter is incorporated. Spread over fruit. Bake until top is golden, 40 to 45 minutes.

For the filling, Lauren combines 3 cups blueberries, 2 tablespoons sugar and the juice of 1 lemon as the base for this crisp. She bakes it in a 9-inch square baking dish. She also doesn’t use a thickener.

Change up the topping by reducing sugar and oatmeal by half and flour to ⅓ cup. Add ¼ cup toasted wheat germ.

This recipe is from “The Hamptons: Food, Family and History,” by Ricky Lauren (Wiley, $40).

Ground Nut Topping

Serves 9


¾ cup sugar

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup almond meal

¾ cup butter, softened

6 tablespoons sliced almonds, divided use


Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, except 3 tablespoons of the sliced almonds.

Add the butter and rub with your hands until the mixture turns crumbly. Sprinkle topping on fruit and scatter the remaining sliced almonds on top.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 40 minutes or until fruit is bubbly and the topping browned.

Henry uses no thickener in her fruit filling: 1 ⅓ pounds apricots, quartered and pitted; 3 peaches, pitted and sliced; 1 pound blackberries; zest of half lemon and juice of entire lemon; and 3 tablespoons sugar.

This recipe is from “Plenty: Good Uncomplicated Food for the Sustainable Kitchen,” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99).

Peach Filling

Use this recipe as a starting point for the fruit filling in crisps, just adjust the sugar to suit the sweetness of the fruit.


5 to 6 cups peaches

Juice of 1 lemon

½ to ¾ cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, increase if fruit is especially juicy Instructions:

Combine filling ingredients. Sprinkle with a crumb topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.

Blueberry-Peach Crisp

Serves 6


5 cups frozen blueberries

⅔ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup plus ⅔ cup water

¼ cup cornstarch

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 medium ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large saucepan, combine the blueberries, granulated sugar and ¼ cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Whisk together the cornstarch and remaining ⅔ cup water in a small bowl until smooth. Stir in the cornstarch mixture into the hot berries. Gently stir in the lemon zest and peaches, being careful not to mash the peaches.

Reduce the heat to low and continue simmering the fruit, gently stirring, until the juices have thickened and the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and scoop mixture into 2½-quart baking dish.

Bake the crisp until the topping is nicely browned, 30 to 40 minutes.

The suggested topping for this crisp combines ¾cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats, ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon nutmeg and ¼ cup nonhydrogenated margarine (stick with butter, though, its flavor can’t be beat). The ingredients are combined and sprinkled on the fruit.

This recipe is from “The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook: A Treasury of Timeless, Delicious Recipes” (Oxmoor House, $24.95).

Blackberry Crisp

Serves 6


4 cups frozen blackberries

1½ to 1 ⅔ cups granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon cider vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca


In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine berries, sugar, cornstarch, vinegar and 2 tablespoons water. Mash the fruit slightly. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, just until mixture nears the boiling point. Remove from heat. Stir in tapioca. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. The cider vinegar softens the seeds.

Alternately, mix blackberries when they’re in season with the sugar and 3 to 4 tablespoons tapioca. Omit the cornstarch, cider vinegar and water. Freeze until ready to bake. Thaw slightly, add crumble topping and bake until bubbly. Freezing also soften the seeds.

This recipe is also from “Easy as Pie,” by Susan G. Purdy.

©2012 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

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