Warm apples, buttery spiced streusel, and a scoop of drippy ice cream melting over the top – this foolproof gluten free apple crisp makes a cozy dessert on chilly fall and winter nights. Use dairy-free butter and ice cream to make it vegan, or swap in peaches or berries during the summer.
Crisp is the dessert I’m almost always craving (along with ice cream and chocolate anything). It’s easy to whip up, can involve nearly any fruit, and when topped with a big scoop of melty ice cream, becomes dessert nirvana. This gluten free apple crisp recipe is as easy as it is versatile. It takes little hands-on time, makes enough for 4 servings, and is easily doubled or tripled for a crowd. Plus it works as well with peaches as it does with any baking apple (pink or otherwise!)
I adapted this gluten free apple crisp recipe from a hazelnut cranberry pear crisp that I developed for GFF: Gluten Free Forever Magazine last fall (the issue is available here for download). I loved the way the nutty streusel stood up to the baked fruit, so this year when I found pretty pink pearl apples at the co-op, I made an almond flour version of the topping. I drizzled some butterscotch sauce on top because why not? It was love at first bite.
Anatomy of a Fruit Crisp
I’m highly opinionated about crisps. First and foremost, the topping should live up to its name, holding its own in the oven rather than sogging into the juicy fruit. There should be a good fruit-to-crisp ratio so that you get a little bit of each in every bite. The fruit should have good acidity to contrast with the sweet streusel topping. And the topping should smack of butter and brown sugar, with chunky elements from oats and nuts, and a whiff of spice. There should be enough sugar and butter in the topping that it melts ever so slightly into the fruit as it bakes. A few key techniques and ingredients make this crisp shine.
Gluten Free Flours FTW
Gluten free crisp topping can be tricky since many gluten free flours tend to become soggy when met with bubbling, juicy fruit. But this one holds up beautifully thanks to a trio of flours – almond flour, oat flour, and tapioca flour. Together with butter and brown sugar, they make a pebbly topping that tastes like crisp oatmeal cookie. Rolled oats and pecans or walnuts add chunky texture, while brown sugar and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg add fall spice that contrasts bright apple filling. Just mix the dry ingredients together and stir in melted butter or vegan butter until the topping clumps together.
What are the best varieties of apple to use in an apple crisp?
Choose apples that have good acidity and hold their shape when baked. Pink pearl apples, used here, don’t just look pretty, they also make a bright, flavorful filling. Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Fuji, Cortland, and Gala and heirloom varieties such as Winesap, Belle de Boskoop, and Northern Spy all bake into nice, tangy crisps. You can also use a mix of the firmer apples mentioned above, plus some softer apples such as Gravensteins or Macintosh.
Prebaking the apples is essential when making apple crisp and serves three purposes. First, it draws out the juices from the fruit ensuring a gooey bottom layer. Secondly, stirring the warm fruit before adding the topping ensures even baking. And third, it releases steam from the fruit, helping the topping stay crisp.
What’s the difference between a crisp and a crumble?
Crisp vs. crumble is a hotly debated topic with different answers depending on who you ask. I wrote about this in a post from several years back, which I cheekily titled “gluten free apple crisple” (SEO be damned! Also, if you’re lacking the gluten free flours called for here, that recipe creates a similar topping from rolled oats and nuts whizzed in a food processor.)
Some sources say the the difference between crisp and crumble is regional. Others insist that crisp toppings contain just butter, flour, and sugar whereas crumbles use bigger, chunkier ingredients such as oats and nuts. Some recipes use leavening such as baking powder for a lighter topping. And still others assert that the two terms are now used interchangeably: crisp = crumble and vice versa. For me, I’m never one to quibble over a crumble or a crisp as long as there’s a rustic fruit dessert in my face!
All the Crisps and Crumbles
Are you as crazy for crisp as I am? Here are some of my favorite versions.
- Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
- Apple Crisple
- Blackberry Pear Ginger Crisp
- Apple Cranberry Pomegranate Crisps with Brown Sugar Teff Streusel (from Alternative Baker)
- Blackberry Buckwheat Crisps (from Alternative Baker)
- Summer Stone Fruit and Marzipan Crumble (from Alternative Baker)
- Sweet Cherry Cacao Nib Crisp (from Alternative Baker)
- Blackberry Crisp Frozen Yogurt (from Alternative Baker)
- Maple Teff Apple Pie with Walnut Crumble (from Alternative Baker)
- Plum Rhubarb Raspberry Cardamom Crisp
- Persimmon Cranberry Crisp
- Brown Butter Peach Crisp with Maple and Bourbon
- Bourbon Apple Crisp Ice Cream
- Blackberry Balsamic Crisps
- Apple Rhubarb Crisp with Maple and Ginger
- Strawberry Rhubarb Creme Fraiche Crumble Pie
- Cranberry Apple Crumble Pie
- Ginger Plum Crumble
- Berry Crumble Pie
- Plum Cardamom Crumble Bars
- Huckleberry Fig Crumble Tart
- Rhubarb Crumb Bars
And if you’re still hungry for fruit desserts, pick up a copy of Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours. It has over 100 recipes for gluten-free, whole-grain, fruit-forward desserts including a whole chapter dedicated to crisps, cobblers, and pandowdies.
*Bojon appétit! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest, purchase my gluten-free cookbook Alternative Baker, or subscribe to receive new posts via email. And if you make this gluten free apple crisp, I’d love to see. Tag your Instagram snaps @The_Bojon_Gourmet and #bojongourmet.*
- 1.5 pounds (680 g) tart baking apples, peeled, cut off the core, and cut into ½-inch thick wedges
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) strained lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) GF whiskey, bourbon, brandy, dark rum, or apple juice
- 2 tablespoons (25 g) organic granulated or light brown sugar (more if you prefer a sweeter filling)
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch or tapioca flour
- Pinch salt
- ¼ cup (25 g) almond flour
- ¼ cup (25 g) GF old-fashioned rolled oats
- ¼ cup (25 g) coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
- 2 tablespoons (10 g) oat flour
- 1 tablespoon (5 g) tapioca flour
- ¼ cup (55 g) packed light brown sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons (45 g) unsalted dairy or vegan butter (such as Miyoko’s), melted
- Dairy or non-dairy vanilla ice cream, for serving
- Butterscotch Sauce, for serving (optional)
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF.
- In a large bowl, toss the apple wedges with the lemon, whiskey, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Place the apples in an 8-inch round baking dish, pie plate, or ovenproof skillet (or a 9 by 7-inch oval baking dish, or another baking dish that the apples fill). Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake until the apples are juicy, 20-25 minutes. Gently stir the apples to redistribute.
- To make the topping, combine the almond flour, oats, nuts, oat flour, tapioca flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl (you can reuse the apple bowl if you scraped it clean enough). Stir in the melted butter until the mixture forms large clumps.
- When the apples have baked, sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Return to the oven and bake until deep golden and bubbling furiously, 20-30 more minutes. Let cool for a few minutes or to room temperature, then spoon into bowls and serve with ice cream and a drizzle of butterscotch sauce, if using.
- The crisp is best when freshly baked but leftovers keep, covered and chilled, for up to 3 days. Enjoy cold or warm.