Crisp Topping Recipe

Crisp Topping

There’s something about a warm fruit crisp with a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream melting alongside that most people are unable to resist. And who doesn’t love pulling that heavy baking dish, fragrant with the aroma of sweet seasonal fruit, out of the oven, with the rich fruit juices bubbling, with the heavenly smell of the buttery, nutty topping?

Really, what’s not to like?

Well…the dart-in-the-butt is that if you let it sit for any length of time, what you’re left with is a baking dish of fruit topped with solidified mush. And that, my friends, is what’s not to like.

So I came up with a plan—To put the crisp back in crisp topping.

Ever since I came up with this recipe, it’s become the only one I use and is a summertime staple around chez David. Even though there’s perhaps nothing easier to prepare in a moment’s notice, I like to keep a batch in the freezer for an impromptu fresh-fruit crisp, so you can easily double the recipe and freeze Part deux for the next time.

I use the coarsest polenta available, although you can use stone-ground cornmeal or even ‘instant’ polenta which is the mostly commonly available in Paris.

This Polenta Crisp Topping is enough to cover a 2-quart (2 liter) baking dish of fruit filled with about 8 cups (2 kg) of sliced and sweetened fruit. Some favorite combinations are peaches and nectarines with berries or big-‘ole Bing cherries, tangy fresh apricots tossed with sour cherries, Gravenstein apple slices heaped with blackberries, and rhubarb with raspberries, which I like in place of the usual strawberries.

Making the recipe is pretty straightforward and is easily whizzed up in your blender or food processor. If you don’t have either, you can chops the nuts by hand and use your fingers or a pastry blender to make the crisp topping. And although I often recommend toasting the nuts in advance, sometimes I don’t feel like firing up the oven and just add them as is. Since they’re getting toasted again, that might be a bit redundant.

Polenta Crisp Topping

  • 3/4 cup (105 g) flour
  • 2/3 cup (90 g) coarse polenta
  • 3/4 cup (80 g) almonds or walnuts
  • 1/2 cup (90 g) packed light or dark brown sugar (or cassonade)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • nice pinch of salt
  • 4 ounces (1 stick, 115 g) unsalted butter, well-chilled

In a blender or food processor, pulse the flour, polenta, nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt until the nuts are in smaller pieces.

Cut the butter into chunks and pulse in the machine until the butter is finely broken up and the mixture no longer looks sandy and is starting to stick and clump together.

Distribute crisp topping over prepared fruit and bake until fruit is bubbling and cooked underneath, and the topping is deep-golden brown. (Plunge a sharp paring knife in the fruit to feel if it’s cooked through.)

Note: You can store the mixture in a zip-top freezer bag for a month or two, or refrigerate it for up to one week.

Related Recipes:

White Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats with Candied Peanuts

Pain d’épices

Upside Down Cake

Baked Nectarines and Cherries

Easy Jam Tart

35 comments

  • Polenta! How interesting. Ever since I learned how to make delicious apple crisp (this was just ahem, last year) I’ve made it at least once a month. Thanks for the tip!

  • So this is the American cousin of the good old crumble? But polenta, even the Tipiak one, if I understand what you mean by mediocre polenta, is a great idea!

  • I don’t recall a problem with the oat one, but have to admit leftovers weren’t often left. I’ll try this one, though, because it’s you and because polenta is more available than oats.

  • That sounds wonderful!.

    I’m getting very ready for a peach cobbler. It’s almost time for peaches! (Well, good peaches anyway. There are peaches in the stores already, but those aren’t the good ones.)

  • Nothing redundant about polenta crisp topping! This is brilliant. Mine gets a bit soggy after a while too, though I wish I could say that stopped the gluttonous rabble in our house…

  • Well I did miss it the first time, so thanks for the rerun. What a smart idea.

  • David, the New York Times, page 2, woohoo! Loved reading it and love more making me some perfect scoops!

  • This sounds great- my family loves crisps and crumbles because they make such good breakfast the next day (if they last that long). And now they’ll still be crisp.

  • Off topic: Where in Paris can I get a great Poire Belle Helene?

  • Oh yes, Davey, I remember those delicious warm crisps-olalaberries especially. But maybe, just maybe, Lindsey’s almond tarte wins in the longevity category. For years before you arrived there were basically two choices–the admittedly delicious almond tarte or berries with creme anglaise. You opened up the dessert world at Chez Panisse, thank the stars!

  • I guess I’m a weirdo in the crisp world as I really prefer what would be more appropriately called a “sog”. I love the gummy fruit/topping bits and always make sure there’s a corner where the topping is mixed in, just for me!

  • Mazel Tov on the Perfect Scoop mention in The NY Times today. I’m kvelling over here!

  • Genius! I love the idea of the polenta in there. We’ve got loads of rhubarb around here, and the strawberries are just starting to come in. I feel a crisp coming on…

    P.S. Congrats on the shout-out in the NY Times!

  • Yum! Can’t wait to try it.
    My favorite combo: rhubarb and raspberry.

  • David,
    I use oatmeal in my topping and it stays fairly crisp. And I also keep a bag of topping in the freezer which eliminates a dirty dish and makes fixing a crisp a three or four minute job.

  • What a great idea. Next to bread pudding, an apple crisp is my all-time favorite dessert. What a great idea to make up a batch of topping and freeze it. I love those kinds of ideas. So do you have any ideas on how to keep bread pudding gooey if its been sitting awhile?

  • like kevin, i also use oatmeal, the rolled oatmeal variety. adds chew and crisp well enough. hmm… if i ever get my hand on some polenta, i’ll give it a go.

  • Can’t wait to try it! Hey, David, if you have time can you post an article on how you make the great half sharp half fuzzy photos of food at markets (natural light?) and of your wonderful cooking results? What kind of camera and lens? Thanks…

  • Kevin and Kayenne: Interesting about the oatmeal since I think Cook’s Illustrated did a thing about crisp topping a while back and named oatmeal as the soggy culprit. Still, I love the taste of oatmeal, no matter where it is!

    Nancy: Perhaps a dousing with cold creme anglaise would do the trick.

    Ginger: If you don’t have one, a digital SLR is the way to go.

    I use a Canon Rebel and love it. They’re pretty reasonable for a SLR and I went the extra mile and bought a 50mm lens, which was a great investment for around $70. The 50mm with the 1.8 allows you much more depth of field and it’s downright cheap and easy to carry around. Highly recommended!

    Tim: I love the Chez Panisse almond tart, but I think it got banished forever a while back. I made one last year and it was really, really good.
    Better than I remember.

    and…
    Thanks everyone for the nice words about the article mention in the NYTimes this week.

    Am so glad they liked my new book so much!

  • Thank you since I missed the first entry! In the middle of winter I went a little overboard buying polenta that might easily have gone bad in the muggy months ahead. Other than the amazing buttermilk-soaked cornbread from *The Bread Baker’s Apprentice*, I was plum out of inspiration. (If you’re able to rewrite the narrative on texture, leftover soggy crisp is great reheated in the oven, served with plain yogurt for breakfast.)

  • I, too, am glad you included this recipe again, because I totally missed it the first time around! And I’m used to hearing these called crumbles as I’ve only started cooking since I’ve been in France, and people seem to talk quite a lot about “crumbles” around here. I love to use salted butter on my apple crumble, but now I’m dying to try it with some nuts as well as polenta — what kind of polenta do you recommend exactly, David, and where is the best place to buy it in Paris? Thanks so much!

  • Alice: I had a very hard time finding coarse polenta in Paris. You can check the Arab markets and you might be interested in a comprehensive post I did: American Baking in Paris which tell you where to get what around here.

  • David,
    Oddly enough, my recipe is an adaptation of a Cooks Illustrated recipe using oatmeal. I think the recipe was published 10 or 12 years ago.

  • When I found this recipe last year I’d never baked a thing in my life and now I’m known in my family as the crisp-man. Seriously. It’s easy and tasty (plus versatile-different fruits depending on time of year). My success with it gave me confidence to try other recipes. I use oatmeal a lot of the time, like it both ways. So major thanks!

    PS: I know this is sacrilige but it also works well with earth balance buttery sticks as a replacement for butter. My son can’t eat dairy…

  • I’m a crisp roboton. I make them weekly or more depending on the time of year. I started with Lindsey’s recipe in CP Desserts and have made my own version of topping over the years.

    I lived in Rome as a grad student and realized that alpen birchermuesli worked well for a recipe hack. Recently I have started to use granola rejects of TH’s.

    However, cornmeal is something I’ll try this weekend!

    nm

  • Excellent! I’m one of those people who will always choose the warm apple dessert (though I prefer it with cinnamon ice cream), over the chocolate dessert and over the creme brulee. And now that we’re in “crisp” season, with all the fresh berries coming soon, I can’t wait to try it. Thanks!

  • Just curious: the polenta doesn’t add even a HINT of corn to the flavor?

  • I prepared this Crisp Topping today and put it over very ripe peaches. The taste was delicious but the polenta was way to crispy for my taste and felt weird in the mounth. Do I have to precook the polenta-grain before using it?

  • Great post. Thanks for revealing your secret. Love all the fruit combo suggestions, too. I recently combined apples and blueberries for the first time (in a bar cookie thing), but never thought about apples and blackberries. Yum. I’m hoping we’re going to get a decent wild blackberry crop this year. Can you say PIE? : )

    Freezing the topping is a great idea but would never work for me. I’d undoubtedly fish it out and eat it frozen straight from the bag during some sugar craving crisis.

    Have you seen coarse polenta for sale in the bulk sections in the U.S. or should I be looking for it in a package?

    Loved the Portugal post, too. And the OMG one. And. . . oh hell, you know I love them all.

  • Hi Daivd,

    I just had to write to you after the most incredible discovery in your crisp recipe… I have Coeliac Disease and so am always looking for great, simple, natural gluten free recipes, and Apple Crumble (my most favourite pudding as a child) has been high on my list, until now…. Your crisp recipe made replacing your flour with slightly less of a GF version was a miracle, so just wanted to thank you!!! I will be sharing it on my GF blog and all credit to you!

    Keep it up
    Kim

  • I just made the topping and have nectarines and saskatoon berries. At what temp do you cook the crisp? Guess I’ll try 350.

  • Elizabeth: I bake mine at 375ºF although each individual oven is different. The exact temperature isn’t all that important; just bake it until the fruit is cooked through and the topping is crisp.

  • Found a recipe on the Kitchen Parade site for crisp made with graham crackers. Haven’t tried it yet but sounds fab. Will have to substitute digestive biscuits as I am in the UK.

  • Is there any substitution for the nuts? I’m allergic.

  • Maria: You could try peanuts or pumpkin seeds if those are allowable by your diet (check with your physician or health care provider regarding your allergy); I am sure they would work. Perhaps Grape Nuts, although I haven’t tried them.

    (More at Baking Ingredients and Substitutions)