Deborah Olson’s Amazing Cherry Crisp

Sunday May 11, 2014
photo courtesy taste of home

photo courtesy taste of home made in an emile henry baking dish

Wow! You can’t imagine how FAST, EASY, and DELICIOUS this crisp is! Use a cherry pitter or small paring knife to remove the pits.  Be sure to wear an apron or pit the cherries with your hands inside a gallon plastic bag to deter the inevitable splattering. Serve warm or cold and top it off with vanilla ice cream.  It is great for a crowd ( you can double, triple, whatever, just use a larger pan). Deborah Olson’s family owned the last cherry orchard in the Santa Clara Valley and are famous for their cherries and cherry honey. Deborah still markets her cherries by mail.

  • Serves 6


  • 6 to 8 cups (approximately 2 l/2 pounds) fresh dark, sweet cherries, pitted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • l/2 cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mixture
  • 4 l/2 tablespoons cold or frozen unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • l/8 teaspoon almond extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350º (325º if using Pyrex).  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking dish and set aside.
  2. Place the sugar and flour in a bowl.  Cut in the butter pieces with your fingers, a pastry blender, or pulse in a food processor until the mixture just holds together and looks crumbly.  Set aside or refrigerate in a covered container.  Can be made the day ahead.
  3. Pour the pitted cherries in the baking dish and sprinkle with the almond extract; toss to coat.  Sprinkle the fruit evenly with all of the topping.
  4. Bake in the center of the oven until lightly browned and the fruit is bubbling and tender, 50 to 60 minutes.  Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Special Technique: Cutting In Butter for a Streusel Topping

Crumb tops have been around for a long time and they have a special name. Streusel. As a baker, this is one of the most basic and delicious preparations in dessert making.

Streusel (translating to sprinkle or “strew”) is an old German bakery term for a mixture of a solid fat, flour, and sugar that is combined to form loose crumbs.  Simple but flavorful, streusel is rubbed to combine rather than mixed or beaten.  It is probably one of the most beloved components to the baker, used liberally as a topping on all manner of pastries, coffee cakes, cookies, and pies to make a top layer that bakes into a type of rustic crust.  Clump it together and you have the classic crust for cheesecakes that you pat into the pan. Add liquid and you have the base for short pastry pie doughs, biscuits, and shortcakes.

sprinkling the surface with streusel crumbs

The technique is for a cold solid fat (not oil) to be combined with dry ingredients until the mixture is the consistency of small pieces.  The fat must be well chilled, even frozen, to hold its shape and worked quickly so it will not melt but stay in clumps and shards.

To accomplish this there is a wide range of tools from which to choose. Fingers work great; just quickly rub the mixture between the tips of your fingers.  The next best is an old-fashioned pastry blender or a fork, pressing the butter pieces against the bottom of the mixing bowl.  The mixture is transformed in a very short time, a few minutes really, to one where the chunks of butter become the size of peas.  Starting baking I always used the pastry blender but then moved to the stand mixer. Then the food processor, came into my kitchen, I started using them instead (all you need are a few pulses or a few minutes on low speed, otherwise you can end up with a soft block instead of a crumbly mixture).  Now in my more mature years, I find I am enjoying the old pastry blender again, taking a few minutes more with the preparation and connecting experientially with my creation.  I save the mixer and food processor for large quantities though, or when I am in a hurry.

If the butter is soft or melted, you will end up soaking the sugar and flour instead of distributing bits of butter; you will never get crumbs this way. The result is more a loose to tight ball than crumbs.  If this happens, not to worry. Place the mass in a bowl and refrigerate or freeze until firm. Break off bits with your fingers and lay on top of the fruit. It will have more of a cobbled effect and bake up more firm than the crumbs, but will still taste good.

Beth Recommends

The 9-inch square pan is mostly recognizable in Pyrex glass. But ceramic is gorgeous. Anything from Emile Henry or the all-white Apilco-both imported from France. Emile Henry makes beautiful ceramic serviceable, all-purpose ovenware and bowls crafted from Burgundian clay.

Emily Henry gratin dish by John H

Once you start baking in these dishes, they will become one of your most used dishes. This is some of the best bake ware on the market; it is as beautiful as it is functional. There are all sizes souffle dishes, ramekins, a 9-inch deep dish pie plate, covered casseroles, rectangular and oval baking dishes that are perfect for roasting vegetables, and making lasagna and fruit desserts. They come in a range of lush earthy colors, too, like forest green, cherry red, sable, cobalt blue, saffron yellow, and a creamy ivory. It has the most fabulous interior ceramic glaze that is virtually nonstick and cleans perfect every time. The entire line is microwavable, freezer, dishwasher-safe, and oven-proof, which is incredible for ceramic. $8 to $60.

individual crisps in ceramic mini quiche pans

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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