Gluten-Free Apple Crisp: A slight fall away from tradition

When summer fades gracefully into autumn rhythms and we start pulling out the long-sleeved wool, packing lunchboxes, and harvesting our gardens, there’s a quiet reverence that transports me to my childhood.

I always enjoyed the first weeks of school, seeing the crisp frost on the ground as I walked down my long driveway to catch the bus, and picking that first ripe apple from the tree at our neighboring orchard.

I love seeing my children experience the same joys of the fall season and hope they, too, will long hold fond memories.

I took my tiny guy apple-picking last week. He had a long journey climbing up through branches and leaves…

…to get to the reddest, most hard-to-reach apple he could find (had his eye on it from the ground when he started). It’s a good thing he was wearing his very special apple-picking gloves!

He’s the best and silliest little harvester in the Upper Valley and I think the smile hiding behind the fruit is not just from being smitten with himself for finding the perfect apple.

For a 4-year-old, he is unusually aware of making healthy choices, which comes from much more than our family’s Waldorf schooling background, or the fact that we live in the “buy local” mecca of New England. He knows things taste better the harder you work to get them. (OK, with one exception – apple crisp!)

My family is particularly fond of apple crisp – in my opinion, the quickest throw-together dessert on the planet. For the breed of bakers out there who cringe at the thought of tackling homemade pie crust, this one is always a relief.

I hadn’t thought of using a bread crumb topping for a crisp until it was suggested to me by Susan Reid, our Baking Sheet newsletter editor, as we were strategically plotting how to create a gluten-free topping without the gritty mouth-feel.

The idea of drenching bread crumbs, brown sugar, oats, and spices in butter to toast on the top of tart, juicy, cinnamon-spiked apples was not only unique and appealing, it also eliminated my crumble topping dilemma. Hopefully this apple tradition, taking a slight left, will appeal to even the most loyal fruit crisp fans.

Start by pulsing gluten-free bread in your food processor and setting 3 1/2 cups of the crumbs aside for the topping. About half a regular-sized loaf should do.

Peel, core, and slice about 5 or 6 apples – the variety is your choice. I used a mixture of Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies.

Combine 2 tablespoons boiled cider and the juice from 1 orange, and toss with the apples.

Whisk 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg,  1/4 cup granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt (if you’re wanting to thicken the juice of the apples, you can add 1 tablespoon gluten-free tapioca starch). I tested the crisp both with and without a thickener and I personally prefer it without one. The juices will slightly thicken naturally as the crisp cools.

Toss the apples together with the sugar/spice mixture to coat.

Spread evenly in an 8″ square pan.

Combine 3 cups of the bread crumbs, 1 cup gluten-free oats, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Pour 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) melted butter over the mixture and stir.

Press the bread crumb topping evenly over the apples and bake the crisp and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the apple filling is bubbly.

Dig in while it’s warm, or cool to room temperature before serving… and for Pete’s sake, don’t let me hear about you forgetting the ice cream! Either vanilla or ginger are the perfect complements.

If you have the chance, please post your favorite fall dessert traditions for me to read. I’d love to hear from you!

Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Gluten-Free Apple Crisp.

Print just the recipe.

Amy Trage

Amy Trage is a native of Vermont where she spent much of her childhood skiing and training for the equestrian event circuit. With a strong desire to pursue food writing, Amy took her English degree from Saint Anselm College to the New England Culinary Institute ...


  1. Mozzarellis

    Forget changing leaves and cooler temps. You want to know the real telltale sign that fall is here? Apple crisp! This healthier version (naturally sweetened with honey) is an easy, no-muss, no-fuss dessert that’s always a crowd pleaser. Use a mixture of apple varieties for maximum flavor — I used cortland, empire, and honey crisp.

  2. catieartist

    Dear Amy,
    Love to get emails from KAF with wheat-less recipes!
    I made a triple batch of cherry crisp last weekend, and froze 2/3 of it…I think the pan weighed 8 pounds. And frozen, ready to warm and eat treats are always good to have on hand when family or friends come by at the last minute (if I am in the mood to share 😉 ! )
    I have played around with several different types of ‘crisp’ toppings as it has always been a favorite of mine. It is more nutritious than pie crust with whole grains, and nuts ( I like nuts for protein and texture in my crisp top). Fast as you say, and versatile, as one can toss nearly anything when the spirit moves them, like caramels with the apples, or a leftover bag of cinnamon pecans, chopped, in the crisp.
    Before I begin, I had two questions….
    I wanted to ask about the OJ you put in with the apples. I have not done that as I tried it once and the OJ taste was too much, although it wasn’t any more than the amount you mentioned. Perhaps my apples were not strong flavored enough on their own, or the OJ was strong and acidic, I never did solve it, but just moved on. Is it the boiled cider that balances the OJ in this recipe that keeps the juice from taking over in flavor?
    Do you prefer any certain type of GF bread? I always get whole grain bread and it greatly differs in grains and flavor, one brand to another. I have always used a combo of whole grain flours. I am going to try this with the breadcrumbs. How much of a difference in texture, crispness, and blend of flavors do you find between the traditional topping (flour and oats base) with a breadcrumb base?
    I made a Bourbon Pecan Apple Deep Dish Pie at Christmas. I think I will also try that filling with a crisp topping. Healthier, but great with ice cream too!
    Before I get baking, I better order some boiled cider and other items as my pantry is bare.
    Thanks for all your great ideas Amy,
    Take Care,
    Catherine B
    Thank you, Catherine! You can always use apple juice in place of the orange juice if the flavor is not right for you. There are no rules, except for you to have fun always! Yes, the concentrated flavor/sweetness of the boiled cider does seem to balance things nicely, I feel. I think the textures of the two toppings are quite different- hard to compare them, really. Try to imagine a bread crumb topping on a macaroni and cheese casserole, but with lots of butter added! I think using a whole grain GF bread is just fine. Thank you for your enthusiasm! ~Amy

  3. "Paul from Ohio"

    Dear Amy! Glorious to see your little one. Happy climber with the rosiest cheeks to match his apple! Apple of your eye I’ll bet too! Apple Crisp is an all time childhood favorite – AND dear bakers, please please get KAF’s Boiled Cider – you will decidedly be overwhelmed how much FLAVOR (and yes I’m shouting!!) it adds!!! You’ll know you have an APPLE crisp or pie. Good to “see” you here Amy.


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