Cherry rhubarb crisp packs sweet, tart, and butter-y all into one perfect springtime dessert. Sweet cherries, lots of rhubarb, and a spiced oatmeal crisp topping make this easy rhubarb crisp recipe something special. A scoop of vanilla ice cream for serving is a must!
Strawberry rhubarb has the distinction of being my husband’s favorite type of pie, which is quite a feat given how much he likes pie. I think most days he would choose it over chocolate cake, and that’s saying something.
The thing is…I’m not much of a pie maker. At all. The closest I get on the blog here is this (mostly) slow cooker apple pie, which doesn’t count at all because it’s essentially just the filling. I cheat at pie.
My mother-in-law is excellent at pies, and I was eager to learn under her pie tutelage during their last visit. We planned to make a blueberry pie since rhubarb tends to be elusive down here in the southeast U.S. but, lo and behold, we found one lone package of fresh rhubarb nestled in next to the berries.
Strawberry rhubarb pie it was, and man was it delicious.
After reading all that you might be wondering why you’re not looking at a recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie.
Well for starters, I need a lot more pie practice before I attempt to show others how to make it. Secondly, after that one magical day rhubarb disappeared for weeks at all three of my local grocery stores. Poof! No one knew when they’d get more, or even if they’d get more.
Fast forward a few weeks when I spot a few rhubarb packages back on the shelf from across the produce section. There’s a good chance I looked like I was on Supermarket Sweep with how quickly I wheeled over there and loaded them all into my cart.
So! With a fridge and freezer full of rhubarb I can say with confidence that with practice, one day I’ll share a strawberry rhubarb pie I can be proud of.
Today is not that day. Today we’re right smack in the middle of my dessert comfort zone – easy and “rustic” looking – with a cherry rhubarb crisp.
How to make cherry rhubarb crisp
Sweet from the cherries and tart from the rhubarb, this is a fruit crisp that has the best of both worlds. The method of prep also couldn’t be easier! Cherries and sliced rhubarb are added to a large mixing bowl, then tossed with granulated sugar, cornstarch, a splash of orange juice, and a little bit of vanilla extract. Pour everything out into a large baking dish, then preheat the oven.
Next up is the oatmeal topping, which consists of flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and butter. Add everything but the butter to a bowl and cut in the chilled butter pieces using a pastry blender or two forks. Scatter the topping over the fruit and then bake until the juices are bubbling and the topping is golden-brown.
Let the cherry rhubarb crisp cool for a little bit, and then serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (highly recommended). Talk about a perfect pairing.
We’re in that lucky time of year when cherries and rhubarb can be found fresh, though I know that’s not the case for the majority of the year. That said you can certainly use frozen cherries and/or rhubarb if it’s more convenient.
If using frozen cherries, let them thaw and then strain away any excess liquid so the mixture doesn’t become too soupy. They also come pitted, which is a big time saver. Just be sure to use sweet cherries and not sour. Rhubarb is tart enough on its own!
Frozen rhubarb can also be thawed and used in place of fresh. Just like with the cherries, blot it to remove excess moisture before adding to the recipe. You may also wish to bump up the cornstarch to two tablespoons (or more, if you like) to counteract excess moisture from the frozen fruit.
- You can use fresh or frozen cherries and rhubarb. See note above on tips to prevent excess moisture.
- Be sure to use sweet cherries and not sour.
- You can use water in place of the orange juice if you don’t have any or don’t want to crack into an orange for a few teaspoons.
- Don’t underestimate the size of the baking dish you’ll need. This cherry rhubarb crisp filling bubbles as it cooks and you do NOT want to risk a spillover in the oven. Been there, done that. This (affiliate link) is the dish I have. Super hefty and can handle fridge to oven temperature changes.
- If you’re feeling seasonal fruit crisps, this spiced peach crisp with crumb cake crumbs as a topping (!) is always a favorite.
Cherry Rhubarb Crisp
For the fruit:
- 1 1/2 lbs sweet cherries, pitted (a little over 4 cups)
- 1 1/2 lbs rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 1/2 cups)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp orange juice
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
For the topping:
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 8 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Add pitted cherries, sliced rhubarb, granulated sugar, cornstarch, orange juice, and vanilla extract to a large bowl and gently toss to combine and coat the fruit evenly.
- Pour out filling into a large pan (mine is 10.5" x 7.5" x 2.88") and pat into an even layer.
- Add flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt to a mixing bowl and stir to combine evenly. Cut in the chilled butter pieces with a pastry blender until it is in small clumps. It will not be smooth.
- Scatter the topping over the fruit in the pan evenly.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the crisp topping is golden-brown and the fruit filling is well-heated and bubbly. You should easily be able to pierce the center of a slice of rhubarb with a fork. Let the crisp cool off some, then serve warm in bowls (with a scoop of vanilla ice cream as a recommend topping!).
Oatmeal crisp topping adapted from the fruit dessert section of The Art & Soul of Baking by Sur La Table/Cindy Mushet (affiliate link), one of the pillars of my cookbook collection. While they use a stand mixer to incorporate the butter into the other topping ingredients, I find using a handheld pastry blender helps prevent over-mixing and over-softening the butter so that’s the method I include above.