A bowl of homemade Apple Crisp is one of my favorite fall treats! This easy-to-make recipe is filled with warm spices, a crunchy oat topping, and a splash of bourbon.
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What is Apple Crisp?
Apple Crisp is a classic dessert, where sliced or diced apples are baked with a buttery oat streusel topping. Today, the terms crisp and crumble are often used interchangeably, but a crumble’s topping traditionally does not contain oats.
Both Apple Crisp and Crumble are one of my favorite ways to use my haul of apples after a trip to the orchard in the fall. It’s a rustic, cozy, and nostalgic.
Recipes for Apple Crisp vary; some don’t add sugar or thickening agents to the apple filling, while others are more reminiscent of a Dutch Apple Pie (sans bottom crust).
My favorite Apple Crisp has a self-saucing filling with brown sugar, warm spices, and a splash of bourbon. It’s topped with a plentiful oat topping that just begs to mingle with the sauce from the filling and a scoop of ice cream. So good.
What You’ll Need
My Apple Crisp recipe is lightly spiced with a balanced sweetness. You’ll need:
- Apples. More on the variety, below.
- Sugar. Both granulated and brown (I use dark brown, but light is fine).
- Oats. We love for our crisp topping to have a rustic texture, so I use rolled/old fashioned oats. For a less rustic topping, you can use quick cooking oats, but I don’t recommend using instant.
- All-purpose flour. Note that I have not tested this recipe with whole wheat flour or gluten free flour alternatives.
- Unsalted butter, softened to room temperature.
- Baking powder
- Lemon Juice
- Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Kosher Salt
- Bourbon – the secret ingredient. This apple crisp doesn’t taste “boozy,” but the bourbon gives the filling a warm, round flavor that complements the apples and spices beautifully.
For baking this crisp, you’ll need a 9-inch square baking dish, at least 2-1/4 inches deep. The pan shown in this post is one of my favorites; the Staub Ceramics Square Covered Baking Dish.
What Kind of Apples Should I Use for Crisp?
I like to go with varieties that are balanced between sweetness and tartness, and that hold their shape when cooked. There’s nothing worse than apple crisp with the texture of applesauce!
My favorite variety, pictured here, is Honeycrisp. (From my visit to Terhune Orchards in Princeton, New Jersey!) They have a subtle tartness that works well with the sweet and crunchy topping. They also bake to tender without turning mushy.
Over the years, I’ve also used Fuji apples, Jonagold, and Golden Delicious with good results. Honestly, just about any baking apple can be used for crisp, and you can adjust the sugar quantity to suit the sweetness of the fruit and your family’s preferences.
For instance, if you’re using a very sweet apple variety, you might want to reduce the total sugar you add to the filling (not the topping) to 1/4 cup. If you’re using tart Granny Smith and like a sweet crisp, you can increase the total sugar to 2/3 cup.
Want to learn more about the types of apples you’ll find at the market and orchard? Check out this Apple Varieties guide from the Washington Apple Commission.
Making Apple Crisp
The Oat Topping
I always start my apple crisp by making the topping. After whisking together the dry ingredients, work in softened butter until it creates a crumbly texture that clumps when you press it together.
Some crisp recipes call for using melted butter, but I’ve found the topping a little too crunchy and on the tough side when I’ve done so. Softened butter yields a crumb that’s crisp, but still tender.
You can work the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork, a pastry blender, or your clean fingertips. I usually start out with a pastry blender, and then switch to my fingers so I can feel that the streusel is holding together correctly.
The Apple Filling
When making Apple Crisp, the peeled, cored apples should be sliced to a fairly uniform size and thickness. (That said, it’s a rustic dessert, and you don’t have to be totally precise here.) 1/4-inch thick slices are my preference to ensure that the apples cook down without losing their shape.
Once you have the apples prepped, just toss them with the lemon juice, sugar, bourbon, flour, and spices, and you’re ready to top and bake.
Tips for Baking the Crisp
For the best texture and sauce, the Apple Crisp needs to bake until the filling is bubbling not only in the corners of the pan, but in the center as well. Test the apples with a fork or the tip of a paring knife as they cook. They should be tender, but not mushy.
Depending on your pan and oven, the crisp topping might start to brown before the apples are ready. I start keeping an eye on the topping around the 30-minute mark.
If the topping is browning faster than the apples are cooking, loosely cover the baking dish with a piece of foil. I like to remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of baking so the topping is perfectly crisp.
For easy cleanup, place the baking dish on a foil-lined pan in case any of the filling bubbles over in the oven.
Serving Apple Crisp
As difficult as it is to wait, Apple Crisp needs some time to settle after it comes out of the oven. If you serve it piping hot, the sauce will be runny.
I typically let mine cool at least 20-25 minutes. It’ll still be quite warm and the juices will have had a chance to thicken up.
As is classic, we love to serve Apple Crisp with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. If you love extra sweetness, a drizzle of caramel sauce (such as my Apple Cider Caramel) is a great finish.
While this recipe’s leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated the next day, I never find it quite as good as it is on Day 1. I recommend enjoying this crisp fresh!
More Apple Desserts
Bourbon Apple Crisp
- 1 cup all-purpose flour 126 g, measured using a spoon and level method
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark), lightly-packed
- 2/3 cup old fashioned (rolled) oats
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter , cubed and softened (plus additional for greasing the pan)
- 2-1/2 pounds Honeycrisp apples *
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons bourbon
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- pinch kosher salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar , lightly-packed
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9×9 inch baking dish with at least 2-1/4 inch sides. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Make the Crisp Topping
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, and oats. Using a fork, pastry blender, work the butter into the dry ingredients until a crumbly mixture forms. The topping should hold together in clumps when pressed. Set aside while you prepare the filling.
Prep the Filling
- Peel, core, and slice apples 1/4-inch thick. In a large bowl, toss apple slices with lemon juice, bourbon, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until evenly coated.
Assemble and Bake the Crisp
- Evenly spread the apples into the prepared baking dish. Top with the oat streusel. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until apples are tender, the topping is browned, and the filling is bubbling both in the corners and the center of the pan. (Baking time will depend on the apples you used, the pan, and your oven.)
- Watch the crisp while it's baking to ensure that the topping isn't browning faster than the apples are cooking. I like to start checking around the 30-minute mark. If you see that the topping is browning quickly, loosely cover the pan with a piece of foil, uncovering during the last 5-8 minutes of baking.
- Let the crisp cool for at least 20-25 minutes before serving so the juices thicken. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, and a drizzle of caramel sauce, if desired.