Crumb Topping

Back when my book PIE first came out, a review appeared in which the writer commented on the number of pies in the collection with crumb toppings. He was a clever writer and he crafted the comment in such a way that it started out as a compliment and then ended up as a dig.

It was like when someone says, Hey…I like your sweater. I had one like it back in 1995.

Anyway, this guy clearly believed that crumb toppings were the second class citizens of the pie world, not to be discussed in the same breath as the venerable top crust.

At first I was a little upset by his comment. But by the end of the day – as I stood there admiring the way two dozen eggs added some much needed pizazz to the paint job of his jet black BMW – I felt a whole lot better.

The No-More-Tears Pie Pastry Course

Truth of the matter is I DO love crumb toppings, unapologetically. Not to the exclusion of top crusts, mind you; there’s no reason to be exclusive. It’s just a bias that waxes and wanes depending on my mood, the season, and what’s in the pantry.

If you haven’t given crumb toppings their due, perhaps it’s time. They have a lot going for them that you’d appreciate: they’re easy to prepare, and a cinch to customize with ingredients like coconut and chopped pecans.

People often ask me what my favorite crumb topping recipe is. That’s it, below, and it’s so easy you can make it in your sleep. (Watch the video above if you don’t believe me.)

Ken Haedrich

Crumb Topping
Recipe type: Dessert
If I had to choose one crumb topping for the rest of my life, this would be it. You can't go wrong with this classic combination of oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter.
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
  • ⅔ cup finely packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼" pieces
  1. Put the flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times, to mix.
  2. Remove the lid and scatter the butter pieces over the dry mixture. Pulse the machine again, repeatedly, until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
  3. Empty the crumbs into a large bowl and rub them gently between your fingers until they're evenly textured and buttery. Refrigerate until using.
Depending on the size of your pie and how much coverage you like, you may have more crumbs here than you need. Transfer leftovers to a plastic bag, freeze, then use the leftovers on muffins, crumb cakes, fruit crisps and other baked goods.