apple cranberry crisp

It has been over a year since I sounded-off about my mild irritation with Michael Chirello–salient takeaways included that I found him fussy and often in excessive use of needlessly pretentious ingredients–and I’ve spent most of it feeling bad about it. I mean, he cooks honestly; he uses as good ingredients as he gets his hands on and he’s not afraid of adapting old stand-bys to make them more feasible for entertaining. These are all good things. I will not now nor ever abide throwing fistfuls of carefully cultivated gray salt into boiling pots of pasta water, but I’d rather pay attention to someone who cares enough about the nuance in flavor that they create than someone who acts like it doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, we’ve had another setback. A significant one, one so bad I have had to something that crushes my spirits and raises my shackles and throw the entire dish in the garbage. And the error was so easily avoidable, I just… can’t let it go. I hate throwing away food.

apple-cranberry crisp

This apple-cranberry crisp with polenta streusel is aggressively, inedibly and teeth-achingly sweet. When I saw the amount of sugar required, my eyebrow arched, but I remembered how much sugar is needed to make even a tart cranberry sauce and forged ahead with Chiarello’s instructions. Oh, how I wish I could hit the “do over” button now, because the flavor of this crisp is stupendous–lemon, orange, cinnamon and the slightest edge of pepper nestle against apples and cranberries in a dish that would be welcome at any winter dinner party. But I’d use a heck of a lot less sugar next time.

apple-cranberry crisp

I’ve been pondering for a few days now whether the sugar needs to be halved or just two-third-ed, and well, I can’t tell you with any authority because I haven’t remade it yet. When I do, I will halve it first, but I’d rather have too little sugar than any memory of too much. But if you’re nervous, and are willing to risk a little extra sweetness, try knocking down the sugar by just 1/3 of a cup. Whatever you do, I’d love it if you can report back to us. It will likely be weeks or months before I get to this again, and wouldn’t want others to miss out on your helpful input. It’s a good recipe, it just needs a major adjustment of one ingredient.

apple-cranberry crisp

Oh, and why, pray tell, am I weeks away from getting back to this recipe? Because I’m leaving this town–with the sleet sliding down the windows and the ankle-deep slush just waiting for my defiantly stilettoed feet to mistake it for solid ground–and I’m taking Alex with me. We’re going to Aruba, baby, and we’re not going to be back for a week. But what is this? Do not be sad! Because I am such a doting and dedicate food blogger, I have been furtively stashing cookie recipes for weeks that I could share with you in my absence. Four, in fact. So, never mind the fact that I’ll be wasting away in Margaritaville while you’re searching for your long-lost layer of Gore-Tex. I leave you with four of my favorite cookie efforts to date, just in time for your holiday bake-fest. I might be a little absent from answering questions in the comments after Saturday, but I’ll make every effort to get to all of them when I return a week later.

One year ago: Soupe a l’Oignon [Onion Soup]

Apple-Cranberry Crisp with Polenta Streusel Topping
Adapted from Michael Chiarello via Bon Appetit, December 2007

1 teaspoon aniseed
1 1/2 cups pastry flour
3/4 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg, beaten to blend

2 cups fresh cranberries
White sugar–original recipe calls for 2/3 cup, I’d suggest 1/3 cup or omitting it entirely
2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Vanilla gelato or ice cream

For topping: Toast aniseed in small skillet over medium heat until slightly darker in color, about 3 minutes. Place seeds in processor. Add next 5 ingredients; blend 5 seconds. Add butter; blend, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Drizzle egg over and stir until ingredients are evenly moistened.

For filling: Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; stir to blend. Add apples and lemon juice; toss to blend. Transfer filling to 11x7x2- inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 2-quart baking dish).

Crumble topping finely over filling. Bake dessert until apples are tender, juices bubble thickly, and topping is crisp and golden, about 1 hour. Cool 15 minutes. Serve crisp warm with gelato.

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74 comments on apple cranberry crisp

  1. I don’t even want to think about how nice it must be to take off for Aruba. Much better here in Cleveland — with sleet, wind and frostbites. Sigh … I’ll comfort myself with your yummy-looking apple-cranberry crisp. Looks delicious!

  2. Have fun – it is indeed a disgusting day here in lovely NYC.

    The crisp sounds interesting and good. But funny that it was too sweet. The Times had a cranberry tart in a cornmeal crust before Thanksgiving, and I found that to be too sweet. Cut from similar cloth?

  3. Mona

    Hmmm, can’t wait for the cookie recipes! I know they will be wonderful…..and I also guess that I am not “too” jealous as hubby and I are going on our Very First Real Vacation ever (other than long weekends, etc…) and taking a cruise to the Western Caribbean for 1 week in January. Ahhhhh. Michigan weather in January is, I am guessing, almost as bad if not worse, than NYC in January.

    Have fun on your trip!

  4. deb

    Hey guys — I’ve got four posts lined up while I am away–lots and lots of cookies–so you won’t have to miss me at all. I don’t think I’ll be thinking much about the internet while on the beach, or at least I hope not!

  5. RA

    Aruba! (swoon) No wonder you needed some reading material! I look forward to seeing pictures!

    (Sorry about the exclamation point overload…it cannot be helped in this case.)

  6. Oh, I just love the slush and the snow, give it to me how ever it comes, just make it white and Wintery outside! Let me cook stews and curries and hot, cinnamony puddings and sit in front of the fire with gluwine or hot apple cider. Well, okay. I’m a teensy bit jealous. But only the tiniest bit of teensy… Have fun and come back cookin’.

  7. blithe

    I’ll be pedantic and point out that the phrase is “raise my hackles” as in the hairs along the back of a dog which rise when it is angry or alarmed.

    I do look forward to the cookie recipes. The oatmeal chocolate chip pecan ones were a big hit here even though I made them without pecans and with half the what seemed to me to be an enormous amount of chocolate substituted with white raisins (or what we call sultanas). I also added an extra cup of oatmeal to make up for leaving out the pecans and just because I really like oatmeal.

    On the subject of sugar, I often find American cookie recipes are too sweet and have had success with decreasing the amount of sugar by about a quarter. Mark Bittman’s recipes seem about right on the sugar and chocolate levels though.

  8. Kim

    FWIW, I cut the sugar in half in most (many) desserts. If it calls for one cup, very often a half cup to maybe 3/4 c. is often sufficient.

    And the cornmeal & some other elements are also sweet tasting, so it makes sense to cut the sugar back even more. I’ll try this recipe out on my family for Christmas. ;)

  9. At Thanksgiving we made an apple cranberry crumble (also with 2 cups cranberries). I was a bit shocked by the amount of sugar in the filling of the original recipe, which was 1 1/2 cups, so I reduced it to 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons. It ended up being just right, but definitely had a tart bite to it, and I would not have reduced the sugar to anything less than a cup, fyi.

    Have fun on vacation!

  10. I used to think cranberries required a lot of sugar (and work) which is why I did not make cranberry sauce from scratch, until this Thanksgiving. Actually, one of my brothers-in-law, with direction from me, prepared a delicious cranberry-ginger-tangerine chutney, from a SF Chronicle recipe (here:
    I prepared the chutney on my own and it was delicious, again. Both times we used 2/3 of a cup of brown sugar to 12 ounces of fresh cranberries. The best part, it was completed in less than 30 minutes in one saucepan!

  11. Irene

    I thought my husband and I were the only people who cringed at MC’s ridiculous use of grey salt for pasta boiling water. Glad to see we’re not the only curmudgeons :) Love your site and have fun in Aruba!

  12. tricia

    When I saw that first photo, my first thought was, “wow, that’s beautiful” and then, “wow, that’s a lot of sugar”. I’d definitely like to give this a try with less sugar – it looks like it has so much potential. Do you think the topping has too much sugar as well, or is it just the filling? If I do try, I’ll let you know how it turns out. Thanks!

  13. To me that doesn’t seem like it would be too much sugar. As I recall, west coast cranberries are a lot more tart than their east coast brethren, though. It may just be that you have sweeter berries than the one’s he’s using.

    have fun in Aruba!

  14. Cris

    While I’m thrilled about the cookie recipes, I am sad not to have your blog sitter back. I enjoyed the posts last time and also discovered the dried garlic pieces to sprinkle on things through her post on how to eat a NY pizza.

    Have fun in the sun!

  15. I’m so glad to hear someone else finds Michael Chiarello a little annoying (but in the best way possible) – one of my friends and I have a running joke about how he just nips out back to his orchard of Meyer lemons when there are quite a few of us who have never even seen one, let alone had one on hand for a recipe! ;)

    Have a great time in Aruba!

  16. Monique

    I made this dish and as recommended reduced the sugar in the filling to just the brown sugar, no white. I feel it could even lose more! Additionally, my topping looks nothing like yours but does look like the photo on the epicurious website link. Overall, the dish is good and I will make it in the future but with additional tweaking.

  17. Everybody seems to be afraid of a little tartness in their tarts, which is downright odd! I don’t know if this one’s Michael’s fault … but having watched his show a few times, I’m going to say that it probably is.

  18. laceflower

    I’m delurking, was just looking for an opportunity because it’s just rude of me to enjoy so many of your recipes and not say Thank You. My DH and I have been enjoying at least one of your recipes a week since April 2007 when I found your Blog. The Apple Cranberry Crisp looked like a good candidate for a fruit filled breadfast dish on workday mornings or mid morning snack for those rushing out the door. I eliminated all the white sugar in the fruit mixture and we still found it too sweet. I’d cut the brown sugar down to 1/2 or 1/3 cup as the total amount. It’s hard to tell how tart those little cranbabies are going to be!
    Have a wonderful, warm vacation and thank you for sharing your cooking life with us.
    Laceflower in the Canadian Pacific Northwest, the WetCoast.

  19. I made this last night with the reduced white sugar. It was delicious, and I especially liked the anise flavor, but I do think it could’ve done with less sugar. Next time! Also, like Monique, mine looked more like the photo on epicurious.

  20. Anna

    I’m de-lurking after more than a year for this! :)

    I omitted the white sugar from the filling entirely. It’s perfect. (My co-workers are making happy noises, anyway.)

    I did, however, have WAY too much topping — and I like extra topping on my crisp. (I put about half in the freezer until I can make another one.) What gives?

  21. Tintex

    I make apple cranberry crisp that’s derived from the apple crisp recipe in Joy of Cooking. The filling is nothing but apples and cranberries (have to try the black pepper — sounds wonderful) and I replace the white sugar in the topping with brown. The topping as I make it is flour, brown sugar, butter and nutmeg. It’s just sweet enough for me. I like desserts that have complex flavors and some depth.

  22. erin

    i used 1/4 cup white sugar in the filling and it was a bit too sweet, i will leave it out completely next time. i also had a lot of left over topping! i prefer a dusting as opposed to a crust, so that might explain it.

  23. maggie

    @blithe: Maybe it really did raise her “shackles” rather than her hackles … Perhaps she’s chained to the radiator in her apartment!

  24. Sengkelat

    I made this for a dinner party last night. I was worried that the pepper would be a bit weird, but it was perfect. The dessert was a hit. I was going to leave out the white sugar, but got nervous at the last minute and added 1/8 cup.
    One of the guests even said that he liked that it wasn’t too sweet; he called it a dessert for adults.

  25. Catherine

    I made this last night and it is pretty good, but I’d make a couple of adjustments.

    –I left out all the white sugar and I think it’s a little tart. At first I thought if I made it again I’d add a little white sugar back in, but then I thought–

    –instead I might follow my normal crisp practice and use sweeter apples instead of the granny smiths. I was so worried about the sugar levels that I used the GSes instead of the normal mix of farmers’ market apples that I generally use in plain apple crisps, and I think it was a mistake. GSes are kind of boring and flavorless, so I felt that the cranberries kind of dominated–more apple-y apples would add more sugar and also more apple flavor to the end result.

    –finally, I agree with the above commentor that there’s way too much topping. I used an 8×8 2 qt pyrex dish, so a little less surface area than the recipe calls for, but still, next I think next time I’ll either halve the recipe, or freeze half.

  26. KQ

    hmmm…. I wonder if there is a missing “OR” in the recipe? As in, 2/3 cup granulated OR 2/3 cup light brown? Just a thought…
    Hey, I got here by way of your “surprise me!” feature. I love that!
    Thanks for all the wonderful recipes, and for the cute cute baby pics too!

  27. Sam

    I’m making this tonight but i could not find cranberries. weird…so i’m subbing with fresh Maine blueberries and possibly doing an 1/8 cup of sugar or just omitting it completely. I’ll let you know how it goes! :)

  28. Sam

    the crisp came out nicely. i omitted the sugar from the filling completely and it was sweet enough. the orange and cinnamon and blueberry combo was a bit odd for me. next time i would leave out the orange probably. Pretty good though. :)

  29. Jen

    Having leftover unused fresh cranberries, I made this recipe this weekend, and with several tweaks, I loved it! Used a mix of different apple varieties still leftover from my last orchard visit, omitted all of the white sugar & black pepper, and swapped in a double amount of the topping from your breakfast apricot crisp. Served cold with some lowfat greek yogurt, and it is a yummy breakfast (and dessert, as I’m having some more tonight)!

  30. Natalie

    Hi Deb! I don’t know if you’re still checking old pages like this, but I was wondering if you ever got that “recipe do-over,” and what the best amount of sugar would be here? Thanks!

  31. On the advice of several other posters I omitted the white sugar entirely. It went over really well with my tart flavor loving family but I’m a bit of a sugar fiend and felt like it could have been a little sweeter. Had we ice cream or something, I think that would have balanced it out.

    No ice cream in our family Thanksgiving because my sister is vegan. I substituted margarine for butter and flax for egg. If anyone else is wondering how to do that, 1 tablespoon of flax meal and 3 tablespoons of water, simmered until egg-like consistency (constantly stirring, about 4 min) and then cooled will stand for a small egg. Make two if you need a large egg and three if you need two eggs.

  32. Sasha

    I made this for Thanksgiving and a dinner party a few days later. For both events the crisp topping turned out like a crumble topping, and I even altered the recipe the second time by cutting out some of the flour and adding some egg to make it more moist before I put it in the oven. I checked and rechecked the recipe for any missing ingredients, but I simply cannot get the topping to look like yours! have you any idea what’s going wrong?

  33. EastWestCoast

    Made the crisp for a dinner party at the neighbors. The filling was good with 1/3 cup sugar but sweet is my middle name. I subbed fennel for anise in the crust and it was a great touch. The crust overwhelmed the dish, however. I’d cut that back by about 1/3 to 1/2. Also, the toping texture was quite dry. I’ll incorporate the fennel in the future but the cornmeal as an ingredient didn’t fly.

  34. Kate

    Made this two nights ago. DELICIOUS. In the fruit part, I used only 2/3 cup brown sugar total and found the overall dish (because, let’s be honest, this has seen as much breakfast action as dessert!) to be sweet but not overwhelmingly so. I was pleasantly surprised by how I love, love, love the coarse cornmeal in the topping, and really like the fruit:topping ratio. Oh: and I used extra-virgin coconut oil instead of butter, which worked beautifully.

    Deb, I think you’ll really like this recipe of yours when you remake it :0)

  35. Janine

    Just want to say that i wish you would put up a recipe for cranberries that uses no sugar I usually cut up about a pound of raw sweet potato, unpeeled, add about 1 cups of frozen, unsweetened cranberries, core but leave unpeeled about 6 to 8 largish apples, and add 1 to 2 cups of raisins and just put it all in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for around 15 minutes or half an hour, til the apples are nice and soft, which partly depends on how small you cut them. For flavor you can add sliced or chopped raw ginger, cinammon, honey, even rum or other liquor. You may need some liquid at the beginning, on fact you probably will. I know this is a very approximate recipe but if you see this, Deb, it might inspire you to develop a real recipe and post it. And by the way, you can also do it without the sweer potatoes, just the cranberries, apples, and raisins. It turns pink then, and is not only addictive but pretty. Rereading this below, i see several typos but unfortunately ipad or is it the site won’t let me get back to correct them, sorry.

  36. Sidney

    Hey I just made this dish this past thanksgiving weekend and it was absolutely amazing!!! I used your suggested 1/2-2/3 of dark brown sugar in the apples and it turned out great thank you! I love how I can always trust your recipes

  37. Jan

    I was searching your archives for an apple recipe, and settled on this. I cut down the white sugar in the filling to 2 tablespoons, and replaced the anise with fennel seed (its what I had). The result was amazing! I will definitely be making this again (and I will stick with the fennel — I loved the subtle flavor). Thanks for another winner Deb!

  38. EL

    To put in my two sense, at this late date: I never use the amount of sugar in my cranberry sauce that is recommended. I can’t even imagine doing it (I believe that the recipe on the package asks one to put in a cup of sugar, but it might be more). It seems to me that we are being asked to put more and more sugar in things. I also use less sugar with rhubarb. I looked at this recipe and I would put in only 1/3 cup of sugar (either white or brown) and leave it at that, but it would also depend on how sweet the apples are. I never put any sugar in applesauce and it is plenty sweet.

  39. kmacd6951

    Made this for Thanksgiving and it was a hit! I was a little worried because there weren’t any recent comments on this one, but I’ve never gone wrong with a Deb recipe.
    I did maybe 1/4 cup of white sugar in the filling (maybe just under). Followed rest of recipe as is. It was plenty sweet. Great hints of citrus too. Loved the crunchy topping.

  40. Susan

    I made this last night and it was a huge hit with our guests and kids. However, I wasn’t able to find any aniseed and was told by my local health food store that it can’t be found in the UK, not sure why. Thanks, Deb, for another flawless recipe.

  41. A. H.

    so the combination of flavors — anise and pepper with the sweet apples and berries — is fabulous. Even my husband, who dislikes most fruit desserts, loves it. I’m making it for the second time this week. However, I had to tweak this recipe a lot. First, 2 lbs apples is about 3 cups more than a 17″ pan can hold (hence the second batch I’m making now). Second, it took four eggs to moisten the topping dough, and lastly, it took more than an hour and a half to bake (perhaps because I stacked my 17-inch pan to the max. I did follow your recommendation to cut the white sugar in the filling, which worked out just fine.

  42. I have been looking for a good apple/cranberry crisp recipe (a fall favourite for me). I am particularly curious about the added black pepper in this one. Can’t wait to try it!.

  43. Linda

    Made this for Thanksgiving and it was a miss. It was about 50-60% topping (too much) which was a coarse inedible mess, mostly scraped that away to eat the filling, which I did with only 1 T of the white sugar per the suggestion. Filling was sweet-tart like a rhubarb pie. Left out the anise because I hate it, so left out the pepper too since that seemed to be there to compliment the anise. A traditional flour crumb topping without the polenta would have been much better, and about half the volume of it.

  44. Matthias Hess

    I have to say, the cornmeal is a little weird. I would use oats instead next time. And I would replace the aniseed with a touch of vanilla. I consider the ideal crisp to be simply flour, oats, butter, salt and sugar.

  45. Linda

    I was put off by the thought of egg in crisp topping, so I left it out and added more butter until the mixture held together when squeezed by hand. Then I did my usual crisp topping thing of freezing the clumps of dough for 10 minutes so I could break it up onto the top of the crisp in smaller clumps. I like crunchy clumps…

  46. Joanna

    I just discovered this recipe and tried it for (Canadian) Thanksgiving, with some alterations. I cut out the white sugar completely and I made a regular crisp topping (brown sugar, butter, flour, oats) instead of the polenta topping. This dessert was a hit! It was the perfect balance of sweet and tart.

    Next time, I might add a touch of flour to the filling as it was a bit runny despite sitting for a while after baking.

  47. Louise G

    It has been many years since this recipe was first posted and I made it today. I made a few modifications. I used 1/3 cup of brown sugar in the filling. I didn’t add any peel. For the topping I used 1 cup of rolled oats and 1 cup almond flour. I bought almond flour that I want to start to use. And I do like oats in fruit toppings. I added about 1/3 cup of stevia for the sugar in the topping. It tastes great with these modifications.