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What’s the Difference Between a Cobbler, Crisp, Crumble, Buckle, Betty, Pandowdy?

There are nearly a dozen words for these fruit-based desserts, and yes, there are differences 

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A cobbler in a skillet, a bowl of apple crisp, and a bowl of fruit crumble

This post originally appeared in an edition of What’s the Difference?, a weekly newsletter for the curious and confused by New York City writer Brette Warshaw. Eater will be publishing all editions that parse food-related differences, though those hardly scratch the surface of the world’s (and the newsletter’s) curiosities: Sign up to get What’s the Difference? in your inbox or catch up on the full archive.


What’s the difference between...

A Cobbler, Crisp, Crumble, Buckle, Betty, Pandowdy, Etc.?

There are a lot of ways to get cute with this topic — lots of fun food-history tidbits to dredge up, lots of delightfully retro and oddly worded recipes to photocopy from my extensive collection of old-fashioned community cookbooks and brand-marketing ephemera — but let’s get down to business. We all like fruit desserts, and we all like being right. So here is your reference to refer to while cooking, consuming, and conversing about the cobblered, crisped, and crumbled cooked-fruit casseroles we love.

Cobbler

A mess of fruit topped — or “cobbled” — with biscuit dough, pie dough, or cake batter and then baked in an oven. Some old-fashioned variations of cobbler are inverted before serving, so the biscuit-y stuff ends up on the bottom.

Crumble

A deep-dish fruit dessert topped with a streusel made of butter, flour, oats, and sometimes nuts.

Crisp

A crumble but with NO OATS in the streusel.

Betty

A casserole made with layers of fruit and buttered bread crumbs and baked.

Buckle

A fruit-studded coffee cake with a streusel topping. According to my research, this streusel can be made either WITH OATS or WITHOUT OATS.

Boy bait

A buckle but without a streusel topping.

Grunt

A biscuit, pie, or cake-topped fruit dessert that’s cooked in a covered Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet on the stove. Grunts are very similar to cobblers, but they are STEAMED instead of BAKED.

Slump

The New England name for a cobbler.

Pandowdy

Similar to a cobbler, but the biscuit or pie dough is rolled out and placed on top of the fruit. During the baking process, the topping is broken up with a knife or spoon and pushed into the fruit, causing the fruit to bubble over it.

Sonker

Essentially the same thing as a cobbler? But worth checking out Kim Severson’s article in the New York Times for the full context.

Schlumpf

The only time I’ve heard of a schlumpf is through food professional and dear friend Marian Bull, who has a delicious Blueberry Schlumpf recipe on Food52. It looks like it’s technically a crisp (NO OATS!), but let this serve as a reminder that you can essentially make up any name for any of these types of desserts and it’ll sound about right.

BONUS ENTRY:

Shortcake

A combination of lightly sweetened biscuits, whipped cream, and fresh fruit, prepared separately and layered together for serving. Its components are similar to that of a cobbler (fruit + biscuit), but the fruit is not cooked and the biscuits are prepared on their own, rather than dolloped on top of the fruit mixture before baking. (Since the shortcake uses fresh fruit instead of cooked fruit, it’s in its own category.)

And in case this was too many words and you enjoy gazing at Excel spreadsheets devoted to your favorite desserts, I present you with a handy table summarizing all of the above:

What’s the Difference Between a Cobbler, Crisp, Crumble, Buckle, Betty, Pandowdy, etc.? [wtd]

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