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An Apple Crisp Bends the Recipe and Health Rules

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A recipe, at the end of the day, is a set of guidelines. It's up to you to follow or stray from them.  (Urmila Ramakrishnan / KQED)

In light of the shelter-in-place order, many of us have resorted to cooking at home, revisiting old recipes and getting creative with our pantries. Instead of our usual Flavors Worth Finding column with recommendations from restaurants, KQED staffers are sharing the meals they’ve been making at home to find some comfort and grounding during uncertain times.

The beauty of a recipe is understanding when and where you can break it. Recipes, as helpful as they are, aren’t rules but guidelines—steps so you don’t lose your way. It’s up to you to follow or stray from them. Where are the swaps? What can be added? The trick is knowing when and how to do that without the potential of ruining whatever food you’re making. This is much easier to do with cooking than with baking, but it has never stopped me from trying, sometimes with great successes and sometimes with abysmal failures.

An apple crisp was my latest foray into recipe dalliance. With an ever-present sweet tooth and a sudden urge to eat a little bit healthier, I settled on cleaning out the pantry with an oat apple crisp that was sweet, a little salty and had the feeling of being a better option than cake (even if it wasn’t). I went searching for a recipe that would be less fatty and sugar-rich, use ingredients I already had on hand and wasn’t fussy.

One recipe was super healthy, but I didn't have half of the ingredients. Another was simple, but didn't use oats. Yet another used raisins and was way too fussy (I don't have time or patience to make pastry dough, thank you).

After looking through at least a dozen apple crisp variations, I took this one from The Clean Eating Couple and ran with it. But, perhaps in defiance, I didn't peel the apples, added a little butter instead of coconut oil and seasoned the apples with nutmeg, allspice and a little chili. For the crisp topping, I swapped pecans for mixed nuts I had on hand, used ghee instead of coconut oil and added smoked maple syrup and a little jaggery for the topping.


The result was a personalized version of the original. At what point does a recipe transform into something else? As long as it’s still an apple crisp, does it matter? I portioned it off for the week and thoroughly enjoyed.

Healthy Apple Crisp recipe:

  • 4 medium sized apples, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon all spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper or mild paprika or mild chili powder
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • jaggery or brown sugar, to taste

Crisp Topping

  • 1 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon all spice
  • 1/3 cup mixed nuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee
  • 1 tablespoon smoked maple syrup OR 1 tablespoon maple syrup + 1 teaspoon smoked paprika


Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease a 9x11 baking sheet with cooking spray or a little oil. Toss apples, butter, spices, lime juice and sugar together in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine crisp topping ingredients and mix well. Place apple mixture evenly on the baking sheet and follow with the topping. If you want to add sweetness, drizzle with maple syrup. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10-20 minutes, until the apples are fork-tender and the oats are golden brown. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and a light drizzle of maple syrup.

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