Mastering the Basics: Let’s Get Ready to Crumble

Humble crumble, one of the baker’s quickest and most versatile toppings for many different kinds of muffins, cakes, and pies. Yet like anything else in the baking world, sometimes the simplest steps can go disappointingly awry. A buttery crumb topping can easily melt into a cake when it hits the heat of an oven, and instead of a crunchy top layer the result is a compromised or soggy texture in the final product. The solution is to freeze the crumble, and use it right from the freezer, so that the crumbs have time to bake and form structure before the butter melts. It is the same concept that helps sugar cookies and pie crusts hold their shape during baking: freeze that butter.

Basic crumble is a simple combination of flour, sugar, salt, and butter. To keep it interesting, spices may be added, most often cinnamon because of its versatility, as well as ground nuts or oats.

There are various means of incorporating the butter into the flour/sugar blend when making crumble. Some methods include working in cold cubed butter, stirring in melted butter, and even creaming the butter and sugar together first before adding a measure of flour. In our experience, the quickest and crunchiest crumb results from melted butter and the help of a freezer. Plus, you have the choice of browning the butter beforehand for additional flavour and bonus chef points.

Follow this recipe for perfect, crunchy crumble every time.

Baker’s Note: If you decide use brown butter you will need to begin with at least 5 ½ ounces, as the butter will reduce by roughly 25% during the browning process. Measure out 1/2 cup of the liquid brown butter and continue with the recipe as directed.

1 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour (188g)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
4 oz unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Whisk together the flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Use your fingers to break up any large chunks of brown sugar.
  2. Melt the butter, whisk in the vanilla extract and let cool slightly.
  3. Stir the butter into the flour mixture one tablespoon at a time to disperse evenly. Pour the butter over dry spots in the bowl and use a fork to toss, until all the liquid is absorbed and you have a nice blend of large and small clumps.
  4. Spread out on a large tray to avoid clumping, and freeze for at least 30 minutes. Spoon the frozen crumble into a large plastic freezer bag and store until ready to use.

This recipe makes enough topping to easily cover a dozen muffins or a large pie, with some left over for another use. We scattered the crumble atop a giant butternut squash coffee cake, which was fudgy, flavourful, and almost ready to be unveiled.

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