As we approach the end of summer, our desserts sway from light and chilled to warm and comforting. Soon we’ll be stewing fruits, baking pies, and igniting all things cozy. As you prepare your late-summer fruits for the baking season, you may ask yourself: What’s the difference between a cobbler, a crisp, and a crumble? Find out which is which right here.
Think of the fruit cobbler as the pot pie of the baked dessert world. It’s a deep-dish pie that, unlike traditional pie, never has a crust bottom. Instead, the bottom is stewed fruit, and it’s topped with a biscuit batter. The cobbler has its origins in Britain, where it’s said to have gotten its name: A finished cobbler has the appearance of old cobbled streets, due to the irregularity of the biscuit topping which bakes into a bumpy surface over the fruits.
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The biscuit topping used in a cobbler is typically on the dryer, less sweet side—as is common in British biscuits—so the stewed fruit filling may be prepared with more sugar to provide the dish’s sweetness. The biscuit topping may either be rolled out and placed atop the fruit filling much like a regular pie crust would be, or it can be shaped into smaller individual biscuits and dropped in several places over the top of the filling.
Fruit crisps are a more common fruit dessert in America—the beloved apple crisp is a familiar household treat for almost anyone growing up in the Midwest or near a farm. Unlike the cobbler, a crisp isn’t topped with a biscuit; instead, it has a loose mixture scattered over the top.
Similar to a streusel, a crisp topping is typically made of flour, sugar, butter, and oats. This crumbly mixture is sprinkled freely over the fruit filling, and the resulting dish has a crisped, lightly browned topping—hence the name “crisp.” Crisp toppings are usually made to be quite sweet, so the fruit fillings are usually unsweetened or prepared with tart fruits like apples, cherries, and plums.
Almost identical to the crisp, the crumble is typically regarded as the more British version of the same dish. In this version, however, the streusel topping usually doesn’t have oats inside it. A recipe for Apple Crumble on BBC Food features a characteristic formula for a homemade fruit cobbler—it’s worth a read if you’d like to see the British cobbler in completion.