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The quickest way to make a fruit dessert is by making a crisp. Nothing reminds me more of growing up than going outside for a big bunch of rhubarb to help Mom make a crisp. I love the sweet, almost sour flavor of rhubarb mixed with a crunchy oat streusel on top.
Often, we made one with a thickened sugar syrup that was poured over the top of the rhubarb. I loved it, but now realize the overabundance of sugar actually took away a lot of the flavor. To allow the rhubarb to shine through, I changed the method and made rhubarb the stand-out ingredient. Now, it’s just as irresistible, but so much better!
What is a fruit crisp?
A fruit crisp is a deep-dish baked dessert with fruit on the bottom and a streusel topping made from oats, sugar, and flour. This is different from a cobbler since a cobbler has pastry dough or biscuits on top instead of streusel. Crisp recipes can be made with pretty much any fruit. When done correctly, the result is a slightly thickened fruit filling and a toasted streusel topping.
Traditionally, rhubarb was always seen as too sour so old recipes used large amounts of sugar to sweeten it. Unfortunately, sugar has a way of removing flavor and only allowing taste buds to detect sweetness.
Well, that doesn’t work for me! In my crisp recipe, I reduce the sugar and allow the rhubarb to retain some of its tangy sour flavor. This wakes up the taste buds and really brings out the flavor.
How does the fruit become thick?
Whether making a pie or a crisp, thickening the filling can truly be an art form. Too much thickness and it’s gloppy. Too little and it’s thin and runny. Neither of those works for me.
I use an older method employing minute tapioca, which has many benefits. The word “minute” means that the tapioca is broken down into smaller pieces and thickens faster. Flour and cornstarch, which are common thickeners, both need to fully cool after baking to actually thicken the fruit. Minute tapioca, on the other hand, is thick straight out of the oven. Plus, cornstarch can lose some of its power when mixed with citrus, but tapioca maintains it perfectly.
All around, minute tapioca is just the right amount of thickness to complement the rhubarb.
Watch how to make this rhubarb crisp
- 5 cups chopped rhubarb
- ¾ cup granulated white sugar
- 2 tbsp + 1 tsp instant tapioca
- ⅓ cup orange juice
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- ¾ cup flour
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ cup butter
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×9 baking dish and set it aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb, white granulated sugar, instant tapioca, and orange juice. Stir to combine and pour into the prepared baking dish.
- In the same large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Stir to combine and add the butter. Using hands or a pastry cutter, rub the butter pieces into the mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal with pieces of butter the size of a pea or smaller.
- Pour the streusel mixture over the rhubarb and spread it to an even layer. Bake in the preheated oven until bubbling throughout, 40-55 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 10-15 minutes before serving.