Crisp or crumble? Baked summer desserts defined

Photo by Jen Yu

It’s not yet July and my dessert track record for the past month has been something like this: cobbler, crisp, crisp, fresh fruit cake, cobbler, and crumble.

There’s no question that as soon as the seasonal fresh fruit of summer arrives at the market, I’m waiting to pounce on it and turn it into a casual yet utterly delicious dessert. Begone, heavy winter baking featuring caramel, chocolate, nuts, and more nuts; I’m ready for something tart that makes my taste buds sing!

Simple summer desserts tug on our heartstrings. They’re old-fashioned, such as a peach cobbler or a strawberry-rhubarb crisp, and they conjure up memories of ‘down-home’ baking with Grandma.

Far from spiffy modern desserts, these baked treats aren’t much to look at, but make up for their rustic appearance with their heartwarming flavours. Simple to prepare, they are outstanding desserts that anyone can make, and they require only a handful of basic baking ingredients and no fancy kitchen tools.

Summer desserts are ideal for the novice baker or the mom with many ‘helpers.’ They come together quickly with minimal fuss, making them ideal for summer entertaining. After all, who wants to spend hours in the kitchen perfecting a layer cake when the beach is calling?

Confused between a cobbler and a crisp? How about a crumble? I’ll define what sets these desserts apart, and provide links to a few tantalizing recipes of each.


Photo by Aimee

The deep-dish cobbler is my favorite of all baked summer desserts. Thick slices of stone fruits or berries stew gently under a blanket of puffy biscuit-like topping that has been sprinkled with raw brown sugar. Serve it warm with a dollop of whipped cream and you may find yourself turning down marriage proposals! Fruit and berry fillings are interchangeable–peaches probably being the most popular–while the topping ranges from traditional baking powder biscuits to a fluffy cake batter that is poured over the top. Spices and other flavourings such as lemon zest can be added to the topping for extra flavour.


Photo by Jen Yu

As far as I can tell, the only thing that separates these two desserts is on which side of the pond they are served! Britain is credited for bringing us the delightful crumble, stewed fresh fruit topped with a streusel-like combination of flour, butter and sugar, while the American version is essentially the same but is referred to as a ‘crisp.’ A crisp often has oats added to the topping and has made a name for itself, thanks to the well-known, much-loved apple crisp.

A crisp (or crumble, whichever you prefer) is handy because the topping can be made in advance. As long at it is refrigerated, it can keep for a few days while you wait for those pears to ripen or to get berry picking. There’s nothing better than mounding fruit, still warm from the sun in a baking dish, scattered with a buttery topping and baked to bubbling, juicy perfection.

Fresh Fruit Cakes

Photo by Aimee

These are purely no-fuss cakes, but by no means are they plain Jane. Assembled in a matter of minutes, they consist merely of a simple cake batter and a few handfuls of fruit. As easy as they are to put together, don’t underestimate the sophistication of a fresh fruit cake. A sprinkling of icing sugar or a few fresh berries added to a serving can transform it into quite an elegant dessert.

The batter is usually a classic white or fluffy buttermilk cake, and the fruit can be sprinkled on top, layered between the batters, or placed in the pan first for an ‘upside-down’ cake. In this case, the pan is lined with parchment paper and as soon as the cake is removed from the oven, it is inverted onto a serving platter and the parchment peeled off. Voilà.

You may notice that the quintessential comfort food, pie, is not included in this post. Wait! Hold those over-ripe plums that you are getting ready to throw at me. I wanted to compile a selection of desserts any amateur cook could put together. Mastering the perfect pie crust is a technique that takes time and is not a skill that comes naturally to most people.

Also, I find that truly ripe fruit contains so much water, pie just isn’t the best idea; the crust will get soggy and you’ll miss out on the best part of a piece of pie: the contrast of a crisp crust and soft cooked filling. Try a cobbler for those ripe fruits–the juicier, the better.

Now that summer is in full swing, it’s hard to ignore the bounty of summer fruits that crowd the stands at local farmers markets and produce stores. Whether you are tempted by a brilliant berry or a soft-skinned plum, these old-fashioned desserts are the best way to showcase your favourite fruit.

Try your own combinations, using the fruit that is freshest in your area. Swap out stone fruits and use berries interchangeably–you may like your own interpretation best of all.

Got a simple summer dessert you just can’t live with out? Share it in the comments; I’d love to hear about it.

Aimée Wimbush-Bourque

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she traded her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters, cloth diapers and a laptop, serving as editor at Simple Bites.

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  1. Wednesday is always “Baking Day” for me and my three little ones – so I think an Apple Crumble might need to be on the cards today! Thanks!


    steadymom´s last blog post…The One-Time Rule

  2. I have a soft spot for crisp – not the desert but the crisp itself. I like to eat spoonfuls while I am making it and nothing is better that the crispy crisp when it comes out. I could leave the rest and just eat the crisp. An awful admission I know!

  3. We make crumbles here, but I always assumed crisp was something all together different.

    I feel some baking calling my name 🙂

    Thanks for the recipe links.

    Janmary, N Ireland´s last blog post…Lessons Learned – Feel free!

  4. Summer fruit desserts are the best! It’s so easy to think of them as virtuous, too. Maybe a little too easy….

    I’ve started keeping crisp topping in the freezer in individual batches for any and all ripe fruit “emergencies” that may require intervention.

    Carolyn´s last blog post…Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

  5. My favorite fruit dessert is rhubarb with icecream. You just cook the rhubarb a few minutes in melted sugar adn add a little bit cinnamon. So you habe the warm rhubarb sauce, which taste very good to the cold jogurth-icecream.

  6. MMM These all sound amazing! I want to try them all!

    <3 Lindsay

  7. Hahahaha!! I actually _did_ turn down a marriage proposal because of my cobbler once! I was working for a humanitarian organization in Baghdad and had made friends with the American soldiers in charge of the neighborhood where I was working. I occasionally brought them cookies, cobblers, and such (including the occasional Thanksgiving dinner) and one time their translator had some of one of my cobblers. He immediately asked if I’d marry him. Since I’d be wife #2 behind a 16-yr-old cousin of his (as well as for other reasons), I wasn’t interested, but it was still funny to have you mention turning down proposals because of cobblers!

    Princess Leia´s last blog post…Beginning My "Jesus" Year

  8. I love the crumble. We have some blueberries and peaches just waiting to be cooked. Thanks for the new recipes.

    Rana´s last blog post…Wordless Wednesday…

  9. I do believe this is my all-time favorite post from this blog…I’m such a foodie & a sucker for desserts!!

    Vicki´s last blog post…53 Days

  10. These look so yummy! I love making homemade cobbler! Fresh fruit with cobbler is even better.

    Danielle´s last blog post…Wordless Wednesday: Baby Birds

  11. It all sounds like pie to me!! ; ) And to us, pie = good.

    My husband and I skipped the traditional wedding cake, and we served pie a la mode, instead. To this day, it’s the most-remembered thing about our wedding. LOL

  12. Oh my! I am feeling inspired! What a great overview of scrumptious summer desserts!

    Jennifer @ Clutching to the Vine´s last blog post…Country Garden

  13. Nothing is better in the summer than fresh rhubarb from the garden thrown into a crisp WITH crumble. My mouth is watering already!

    Toni´s last blog post…piggy paint for little piggy toes

  14. Nice post, I have always wondered what the difference was. I call them crisps myself!

    Katerina´s last blog post…Watermelon and Basil Smoothie Recipe

  15. Okay, I’m pulling my fresh fruit out of the fridge and whipping up a crumble – crisp 🙂

  16. Aimee, I am now craving a crumble. They are my absolute favorite dessert, and despite their rustic appearance – which I find rather appealing, I have to admit – I’ve yet to present one to a dinner host who doesn’t ask to keep the leftovers. And then the recipe. Great post!

    Amy´s last blog post…Random Edibles from the Garden: Nasturtium Leaves

  17. Looks tasty, great for right now when berries are on sale.

  18. Fantastic post!

    Jessica´s last blog post…4th of July Recipes Week: Jennifer Perillo of In Jennie’s Kitchen

  19. Yum! I love all things fruit related:)

    Nutmeg Nanny´s last blog post…Happy Birthday Baby Boy

  20. My favorite thing about summer are cobblers and fresh fruit…

  21. I’ve always called these crisps yet my grandmother called them crumbles. Either way, they taste yummy. To keep them healthy, I use a homemade granola topping without added sugars, flours, or fats. The fruit is always the star in my crisps. 🙂

    Squawkfox´s last blog post…Dessert Recipes: Fresh Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Apples

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