Learn how to make crumb topping with this easy, four-ingredient recipe. These crumb cake crumbs aren't just for crumb cake - they make a perfect topping for all kinds of quick breads, cakes, and fruit desserts. Top with powdered sugar for a classic touch.
One dessert (or occasional brunch sweet treat) that's hard for me to resist is crumb cake. Where I'm from, crumb cake is more crumb than cake, with a moderately-sized bottom layer of simple vanilla cake topped with a huge layer of crumbs. Sweet and buttery crumb cake crumbs.
It's all about the crumb topping. The cake layer is almost an afterthought.
While there are a million and one crumb cake recipes out there, equally deserving is a post dedicated to the crumb topping itself. Besides gracing traditional crumb cake, it's an incredibly versatile recipe to have on hand for whenever you're making quick breads, snack cakes, fruit crisps, etc.
Crumb topping banana bread? Spiced peach crisp with crumb topping? Yes and yes, please.
If you've ever wondered how to make crumb topping, you'll need four ingredients: brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and flour. First the brown sugar and cinnamon and combined together in a bowl. You won't need a huge mixing bowl or anything. I used a cereal bowl (the white one in the photos here) and it was the perfect fit for this batch of crumb topping.
And don't worry about the cinnamon adding too much of a spiced flavor here. One half teaspoon adds just the right amount of flavor without being the center of attention.
Once the brown sugar and cinnamon are combined, you'll mix in melted, unsalted butter. It'll look preeeeetty liquid-y and not much like crumb topping at all at this point, but it will solidify perfectly once the flour is added.
I tend to use all-purpose flour, but sometimes I'll switch it up and use white whole wheat flour. In my experience it tastes and behaves just the same as all-purpose. To note, I haven't experimented with gluten-free flours in this recipe, so I'm unsure if it would turn out the same.
Two-thirds cup plus one tablespoon of flour seems like a pretty finicky measurement, but it's the perfect amount that I've found to produce a crumb topping that's, well, crumbly while not being too dry. Your goal is to have a crumb topping with a texture that can hold its shape when scattered over a dessert, yet isn't too dry that larger crumbs disintegrate into sand.
As far as servings go, this batch of crumb topping covers an 8" x 8" baking dish completely, seen in the first photo in this post. However keep in mind that it may be best to double this recipe if you'd like a topping closer to the crumbs on a traditional crumb cake. This recipe as written below won't get you quite that layer of crumbs on its own.
- Curious to see the process of how to make crumb topping in action? Head on over to this spiced peach crisp with crumb topping recipe and scroll down to watch a quick recipe video!
- To measure flour, I first stir the flour up in its canister or bag. Then with a large soup spoon I spoon it into the measuring cup, taking care not to pack it in. Once the measuring cup has a heap of flour in it, I'll place it over top of the flour canister opening and using a straight edge (usually the handle of the spoon so as not to dirty another utensil), level off the flour with the excess falling back into the container. This way prevents too much flour from being added to a recipe from being packed into the measuring cup, leading to dry baked goods.
See how to make crumb topping in this video below:
How to Make Crumb Topping
- ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- ⅔ cup plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
- Pour in melted butter and stir in.
- Add flour and stir until evenly combined. The mixture should be forming crumbs and hold together when pinched.
- Scatter over top of cakes, breads, and fruit desserts before baking. Top with powdered sugar for serving.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer
Gary Balkam says
I'm considering adding 1.25ml walnut flavoring (my flavorings are very strong) to use in place of walnuts on brownies. (For people with dentures)
Hi Gary, I don't have experience adding flavorings or extracts to this recipe but the flavor combination sounds good to me. That small amount of liquid shouldn't throw off the consistency, but if you feel it needs an extra sprinkle of flour then that wouldn't be a bad idea. Please let me know if you give it a try!
Teresa Bergquist says
I used room temperature butter, mine was actually whipped and does have the salt in it. I had to add more butter to the original recipe as I could not get it moist enough it was very dry, I am attributing that to having whipped butter. Once I added more butter it came to life and it looks and smells fantastic.
Glad you liked it, Teresa! Thanks for letting me know your experience with it. 🙂
I must be doing something wrong because I tried it twice and it came up syrupy and nothing like crumbs.
Without being there I don't know for sure, but don't discard it! If it's too wet, add more flour a little bit at a time until it clumps up.
Ellie Turner says
This sounds silly, but are you sure you're adding the flour? And the correct amount? Reason being is that syrupy is a great way to describe this mixture before the flour goes in.
If your apple pie is already cooked can you still use this recipe
Hi Rebecca, I have baked these crumbs by themselves before (not on top of a dessert). I scattered them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and baked them for 10-15 minutes at 350°F, or until the crumbs have crisped up. They'll crisp up even more as they cool down. If you are on Instagram, I have a highlight bubble called "crumbs" where I showed how I did this. My username is @ mysequinedlife - I hope this helps!
Donna Abel says
This recipe stinks. I almost threw the whole mess out, something I almost never do. Topping was more like sand than crumbs and didn’t hold together at all. After researching a bit to see what I did wrong I realize it’s this recipe that was the problem not me! Butter should never be melted if you want the crumbs to hold together, cold butter cut into pieces should be worked into the flour mixture. So after reading this I stuck the bowl in the fridge a bit to solidify the butter a bit which worked. Using my fingers i then pinched pieces of the mixture together to create my own crumbs. I also think that using regular rather than unsalted butter would have enhanced the flavor.
I'm sorry you weren't a fan of this recipe, Donna. You say it resembled sand: are you sure you used the correct quantities of ingredients? I have made this recipe countless times as written, with melted butter, and have never experienced what you are describing. Yes some crumble toppings are made with cut-in butter, but this is the way I have always made it.
Recipe is great I use the same one minus the cinnamon I do use only softened/room temp butter
I didn't have brown sugar. I used regular sugar and Maple syrup to make a moist sugar. Very good on my apple slab pie.
I'm so happy you could tweak it, Ellen! That pie sounds delicious.
Tasted amazing on my banana bread
So glad you liked it, Christine!
Didn't like this. I doubled this, cause it looked lite. Wasn't enough for my 9" pie and wouldn't crumble. Tasted good though.