Apple Brown Betty

Apple Brown Betty

Apple brown Betty is a baked fruit dessert with a sweetened crumb crust. This classic rustic layered dessert—similar to an apple crisp or crumble—can be whipped up quickly, making it an excellent alternative to a more time-consuming apple pie or cake. There’s no need to fuss with a pie crust or batter; you only need a simple sweetened and spiced buttery crumb mixture and sliced fresh apples.

Apple brown Betty is a fabulous dessert for a family meal or holiday feast, and it’s portable enough to wrap and take along to a neighborhood cookout or potluck. If you’re looking for an autumn dessert that’s sure to please everyone, you can’t go wrong with apple brown Betty.

Apple Brown Betty History

The dessert has been around for well over 150 years, the title first appearing in print in an 1864 issue of "Yale Literary Magazine." The recipe creator is unknown, but it is assumed her name was Betty.

How To Make Apple Brown Betty

Apple brown Betty is made with layers of apples and crumbs. Early recipes traditionally used breadcrumbs, but this version is made with a streusel crumb made with flour, butter, sugar, and warm spices. I have made it with breadcrumbs as well, and I prefer the streusel mixture for its flavor and texture.

The apples are peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices before being tossed with lemon juice, which adds a bit more tartness and prevents browning. If the apples are sliced too thinly, they can become mushy, and if they are too thick, they could take longer to cook. 

For the crumbs, cut the butter into small cubes and combine the flour, brown and granulated sugars, and spices in a food processor. Pulse the butter into the flour and sugar mixture until crumbs form. If you don’t have a food processor, you can combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl and cut the butter pieces into the mixture by hand with a pastry cutter or even just your fingers. 

Layering the apple brown Betty is easy. Half of the apples are added to the baking dish, followed by half of the crumbs, the remaining apples, then the remaining crumbs. If the apples are mounded and the baking dish seems over-filled, remember that they will settle as they bake. You can place a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch drips if you feel it's necessary.

Begin checking the apple brown Betty for doneness after 40 to 45 minutes. When done, the topping will be browned and the apples will be fork-tender but retain their shape.

Top servings of warm apple brown Betty with scoops of vanilla ice cream or dollops of fresh sweetened whipped cream. For an extra-special presentation, add a drizzle of homemade caramel sauce.

What Is the Difference Between Apple Crisp and Apple Brown Betty?

Apple crisp and apple brown Betty are similar in many ways, but there are a few differences. Apple crisp is a baked apple dessert topped with a crumb mixture that typically contains nuts and/or oats. Apple brown Betty is a layered baked apple dessert with a sweetened spiced crumb or breadcrumb mixture.

Can I Use Other Fruits In This Recipe?

Absolutely! But be aware that you may need to reduce the sugar amount for sweeter fruits or berries. But otherwise, this recipe can be adapted for all sorts of fruits, from plums to pears.

Tips for Making Apple Brown Betty

  • Choose the right apple—A crisp, tart apple works well in this recipe. Honeycrisp and Granny Smith are good choices—they have excellent flavor and keep their shape when baked. Some other good baking apples include Fuji, Crispin, Cortland, Pink Lady, and Jonathan. 
  • Use chilled butter—Well-blended chilled butter helps bind the ingredients together and cook evenly into a crunchy topping.
  • Avoid over-seasoning—Warm spices are inviting and comforting, but if you add too much you run the risk of overwhelming the flavor of the apples.

Make Ahead

You can prepare the crumb mixture a day or two in advance. Store the crumbs in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to layer them with the apples.

“Apple brown Betty is a recipe that has stood the test of time for a reason. It’s simple to make and simply delicious. Apples and warming spices combine with butter, sugar, and flour to create a dessert that will make an apple lover out of anyone. Add a scoop of ice cream for absolute perfection.” —Joan Velush

Apple Brown Betty/Tester Image A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, more for greasing the pan

  • 4 to 6 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (6 to 8 cups)

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 3/4 cup (99 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup (165 grams) brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1 pinch ground cloves

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish or pan.

    Ingredients to make apple brown betty

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Toss 4 to 6 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (6 to 8 cups) in a bowl with 2 tablespoons lemon juice and set aside.

    A bowl of thinly sliced apples in a glass bowl, tossed with lemon juice

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  3. Combine 3/4 cup (99 grams) all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup (165 grams) brown sugar, 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 pinch ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon fine salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. 

    A food processor with flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  4. With the food processor running, add 1/2 cup (113 grams) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, a few pieces at a time, and continue processing until the mixture is well blended and crumbs form.

    Alternatively, cut the butter into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers until well blended and crumbs form.

    A food processor with coarse crumbs made from butter and the flour-brown sugar mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  5. Arrange half of the apple slices in the prepared baking dish and top with half of the crumb mixture. Repeat with the remaining apples and crumb mixture.

    A baking dish lined with sliced apples and seasoned butter-crumb mixture, with a top layer of crumbs

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  6. Bake until the topping is browned and the apples are tender, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving. 

    An apple brown betty in a baking dish

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

How To Store and Reheat

  • Cover and refrigerate leftover apple brown Betty and enjoy it within 5 days.
  • To freeze baked apple brown Betty, cover it tightly with foil and label it with the name and date. Freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost the apple brown Betty in the fridge overnight.
  • Reheat apple brown Betty in a 350 F oven until warm, 20 to 25 minutes. 

Feeling Adventurous? Try This:

  • Gluten-free apple brown Betty—Replace the wheat flour with an equal amount of gluten-free flour, the “one-to-one” kind with xanthan gum.
  • Apple brown Betty with breadcrumbs—Replace the flour with 2 cups of plain breadcrumbs, using only 6 tablespoons of butter. Melt the butter and toss with the breadcrumbs. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and spices, and follow the recipe instructions for layering and baking.
  • Change up the spices—Replace the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves with 1 1/2 teaspoons of apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice.

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