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Streusel is not crumble - or is it?

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

"In a perfect world, streusel would be sprinkled on top of everything"

Emily Fleischaker - Buzzfeed

On the left is a scan of a very old Robert Carrier Cookery Card recipe for what he calls Apple Streusel. The apple slice decoration on top is very dated is it not? On the right is a rather more modern photograph of essentially the same dish. Tomorrow is my next cooking lesson with my granddaughters and between us we have chosen to cook the Robert Carrier dish. We have all eaten it many times, because it's one of my favourite recipes and it's very simple as well as a good teaching lesson, because it's basically very versatile. Here is the recipe in case you would like to try it. And do because it is far more delicious than it looks here.

Ingredients: 6 tart eating apples, juice of 1 lemon,1 unbaked pastry shell, 2 ounces sugar, ½ level teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ level teaspoon nutmeg or allspice

Streusel topping: 3 ounces brown sugar, 3 ounces plain flour, sifted, grated rind of 1 lemon, 6 tablespoons softened butter


Peel and core apples, cut into eighths and toss in lemon juice. Arrange prepared apples in unbaked pastry shell. Combine sugar and spices, and sprinkle over apples. Streusel topping Combine brown sugar, flour and grated lemon rind, and cut softened butter into mixture until crumbly, with a pastry blender or 2 knives. Sprinkle mixture over apples and bake in a hot oven (230℃) for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 180℃ and bake for 30 minutes.

There are lots of other recipes out there for apple streusel tart, including this one from West of the loop which puts the streusel mixture underneath the apples rather than on top, which sort of defeats the purpose you would think - well unless you like your streusel gooey rather than crispy. The author did it because she said it prevented the juices from the cooking apples running into the pastry and making it soggy. She has a point, and I have a feeling that sometimes I blind cook the pastry case first, but tomorrow I shall follow Robert Carrier's instructions and use a non-cooked pastry case. I think he solves the problem by putting it into a very hot oven for the first 15 minutes of cooking which probably hardens the pastry.

Anyway I thought I would look into streusel a little bit to see what I could learn or what else I could find.

First of all though is it the same as crumble? Well yes and no I think. At it's most basic it is a mixture of flour, butter and sugar, often with the addition of some kind of spice. I think the difference though is that the proportion of butter and sugar is higher in streusel than it is in a crumble, and a crumble tends to be a rather thicker and sandier topping as well, although that said some of the photos I saw of streusel things had a pretty thick topping. Crumble can also have things like oats and nuts in it but not usually in streusel - sometimes the nuts but not usually extra grains like oats - or heaven forbid - quinoa. Different spices though - I saw quite a few recipes that had cardamom in the mix. Streusel is fundamentally German and Crumble is British.

Indeed the name streusel is obviously German and means scattered or sprinkled from the verb streuen meaning to scatter or sprinkle. Because that is what you do with it - you sprinkle it on top so that you get a gloriously sweet and crunchy topping to whatever you are cooking. It's much easier to make than a pastry topping for a pie, and much tastier too. I mean it's the perfect combination of all those bad things isn't it? Sugar, fat and carbohydrate. So don't eat a lot of it. Just every now and then. I wonder when somebody first got the idea of doing this kind of thing? A long time ago I bet.

But back to the Germans. Their most usual use of streusel is in cake - Streuselkuchen to be exact. I believe it's classically a yeast cake with a crumbly streusel topping - quite thin and with a sort of half and half mix of cake and topping. The version shown here is from a blog called DIY Mommy - so obviously American - but I think, in this case, with German ancestors. And as a complete aside, why do the Americans say, or at least write, mommy rather than mummy? And is it just me that feels marginally irritated by this? It just doesn't seem right somehow, and emphasises that Folksy American thing that I fundamentally find so weirdly creepy .

So cake. Years and years ago now I made a most delicious yoghurt cake, which I think had a streusel kind of topping. I think it was a recipe from a women's magazine. I did not keep it, although I thought I had, and I had hoped that somehow today I would find a recipe for something similar. But no. What I did find though were people offering advice on how to prevent the streusel topping sinking into the cake. Somebody suggested lightening it with egg whites I seem to remember and although it didn't sink I think their taste test came out in favour of the sunk version.

I did find a recipe for what the writer (Southern Grace) called Cratered coffee cake and I reckon that fundamentally this is what I should try. She made muffin sized cakes, and she called them cratered because the filling sank down into the muffin, creating a gooey hole in the top, so that:

"In addition to that sweet surprise, the muffin itself was quite lovely - light, moist, and spicy, full of nutty crunches and fruity chews."

So I might have another go some time at that - find a recipe for a yoghurt cake and put a really tasty and heavy topping on the top.

There are lots of beautiful looking cake recipes out there but I'm giving you just two:

Raspberry almond streusel cake from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Nigella Lawson's Strawberry sour cream streusel cake which I have tried and which was quite delicious. Well they both look gorgeous. There are lots of fans for Nigella's cake out there.

Whilst I was looking for an online version of my original recipe I saw a reference to Apple streusel bread implying that it was a Robert Carrier recipe. But try as I might I cannot find this recipe in any of my Robert Carrier books, and I think I have them all now, so maybe the conjunction with his name was just accidental. I did find a recipe for something from a blog called A Family Feast, which the author named Apple streusel bread but really I think it's more of a cake, and there was no mention of Robert Carrier. It's just that it is in a loaf form. There is a layer of the streusel which includes walnuts in this case, in the middle. But you probably could make a sweet loaf with yeast and also with streusel. After all the original Streuselkuchen is made with yeast. And I gather the Russian/Jewish speciality Babka also has a sort of streusel topping.

But it's not just cake and tarts that use streusel. I found a few more ideas - three from Buzzfeed, which has a collection of 33 ways to fill your life with streusel. I chose three - Pumpkin cinnamon streusel pancakes, Caramel apple cheesecake bars with a streusel topping, and streusel plums. Then I also found Strawberry and rhubarb streusel ice cream on a website called Hint of Vanilla, although there are lots of other ice cream recipes too, ranging from those that just sprinkle a bit on top when your ice cream is served to ones like this one that incorporate the streusel into the ice cream itself.

And somehow or other the idea of streusel has crossed to Korea where they have a dish called Soboro ppang - Koren streusel bread, although this version from James Strange looks more like rolls than bread. The streusel contains peanut butter, but basically it's still the same old streusel.

I'm looking forward to the apple streusel tomorrow. We don't usually have dessert in the middle of the week - well not much at all really, so it will probably undo all the good that my fasting yesterday has done. I'm sure it will be worth it though.


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