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Cobblers, Crisps, and Crumbles: What’s the Difference?

Do you know the difference between cobblers, crisps, and crumbles? If not, don’t worry – you’re not alone! These dessert recipes are often confused with each other, but they do have some key differences. Let’s take a look at their differences and also what they have in common.

Cobblers, Crisps, & Crumbles: What's the Difference?

Cobblers, Crisps, Crumbles, and Other Fruit Desserts

Everyone loves a freshly baked fruit dessert. I’m sure we all can get pretty excited about a bowl full of fresh-from-the oven dessert with a big scoop of ice cream.

But do you know the difference between cobblers, crisps, and crumbles? And that there are many more closely related desserts as well? Most people use these terms interchangeably, but they actually have slightly different meanings.

What They Have in Common

Let’s start with the one thing all of these desserts share in common. Cobblers, crisps, and crumbles all start simply with fruit. Berries, stone fruits, and pome fruits are the most popular choices, and you can even use a combination of favorites.

In addition to the baked fruit, all three desserts also have a topping. That’s where the similarities end, though! The toppings for each dessert are what give them their unique textures and flavors.

sliced peaches in a white baking dish

What is a Cobbler?

A cobbler is made by placing fruit into a baking pan. Then, biscuit dough is dropped onto the top of the fruit, and the dessert is baked in the oven. Some versions of cobblers use more of a cake-like topping instead of biscuit dough.

After the cobbler is baked, some of the fruit mixture is usually visible through the topping. The pattern of the individual biscuits resembles a cobblestone street, giving this dessert its name.

Cobblers can be made with most any type of fruit, from berries to peaches to apples. Try my Ginger Pecan Peach Cobbler (pictured below), Autumn Spice Pear Cobbler, and Strawberry Cobbler recipes.

overhead view of peach cobbler in a white baking dish

What is a Crisp?

A crisp is similar to a cobbler, but it has a streusel topping instead of biscuit dough. The streusel topping for a crisp is made with flour, sugar (often brown sugar), butter, and oats. The topping can also have nuts and spices like cinnamon. This mixture is crumbled on top of the fruit before baking and becomes crisp as it bakes.

A crisp is usually made with berries or stone fruits, but can be made with any type of fruit. Try my Peach Crisp and Summer Fruit Crisp (pictured below).

overhead view of fruit crisp in a baking pan

What is a Crumble?

A crumble is also similar to a cobbler, but it has a streusel topping like a crisp. The difference is the absence of oats. The streusel topping for a crumble is made with flour, sugar, butter, and sometimes nuts. This mixture is crumbled on top of the fruit before baking.

A crumble can be made with any type of fruit, although apples are a traditional choice. Try my Pear and Plum Crumble and Cherry Berry Crumble (pictured below).

Cherry Berry Crumble in square baking dish with spoon

Other Fruit Desserts

While we’re all likely most familiar with cobblers, crisps, and crumbles, there are other fruit desserts made in a similar fashion with their own twist on the topping.

Grunt – A grunt looks much like a cobbler. The difference is that it is covered and cooked on the stovetop instead of baked in the oven. This method cooks the biscuits by steaming them instead of baking them. The name is thought to have originated from the sound of the steam escaping from the fruit through the spaces between the biscuits.

Slump – A slump is also similar to a cobbler, but it’s cooked on the stove and usually has dumplings instead of biscuits as the topping. The name came about perhaps because of the way it slumps when it’s served onto a plate.

Sonker – A sonker is a cobbler-like dessert that has a thicker, juicier filling than most cobblers. Regionally, it’s most common in North Carolina and surrounding areas. Depending on whom you ask, it has a biscuit, pie, batter, or breadcrumb topping. They’re made with fruits but are also often made with sweet potatoes.

Buckle – A buckle is more cake-like than these other types of desserts. One of the most notable differences between a buckle and other fruit desserts is that the fruit is on top. The bottom layer is a cake-like mixture, and the fruit is placed on top of that layer. There may also be a crumb topping placed on top of the fruit. As the buckle bakes in the oven, the cake rises around the fruit while the fruit sinks into the cake. This causes the finished dessert to appear to have buckled. See my Skillet Cranberry Buckle and Peach and Nectarine Buckle.

Betty – A betty (or brown betty) is similar to a crisp or crumble, but includes buttered bread crumbs for the topping. The assembly of the brown Betty varies as well, as the crumb is sometimes made with multiple alternating layers of crumb and fruit. There are a few different stories as to how betties got their name, from simply being named for its inventor to being a deviation of “bread pudding.”

Pandowdy – A pandowdy (or pan dowdy) is also similar to a cobbler, crisp, or crumble. The difference is in how the topping is made and how it’s served. A pandowdy has a pie crust topping that is placed on top of the fruit before baking. This crust is then broken up and pushed down into the fruit as it bakes. The finished pandowdy is served with the crust still broken up and pushed down into the fruit. The name comes from the word “dowdy,” meaning shapeless or dull.

Does the Name Matter?

These desserts all feature warm fruit and a topping, whether it be crust, biscuits, or streusel. Each one, however, has something that makes it unique.

While these desserts technically have differences, it’s not uncommon for recipes to use some of these names interchangeably, despite those subtle differences. Don’t be surprised if your crumble recipe has oats or your crisp recipe is lacking oats. When it comes to names, I don’t often fret over the distinction between them. In particular, I often use crisp and crumble to describe the same type of dessert. Regardless of the name, these desserts are a wonderfully delicious way to make the most of baking with fresh fruit.

While these warm fruit desserts are delicious all on their own, they are made even more delectable by topping individual servings with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

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