The apple Brown Betty is a classic American dessert, pleasing families around the dinner table since the Colonial era. Try making this brown Betty recipe at home with some peeled Granny Smith apples, fresh lemon and orange zest, and plenty of warm cinnamon.
Is it a crisp, a cobbler, or is it a crumble? Although an apple brown betty bears plenty of resemblances to these three popular desserts, it's none of the above.
The brown betty earns a category all its own – sliced fresh fruit topped with breadcrumbs, sugar, and butter makes this dessert a quick favorite that almost everyone will love.
We used tart Granny Smith apples because they're inexpensive, in-season, and just plain delicious! Their texture holds up beautifully in baking, and the tartness balances the sugary sweetness of this brown betty dessert nicely.
Brioche or challah bread crumbs add some extra buttery richness to the betty, though you could easily swap these crumbs out for another type of breadcrumb if need be.
Follow our simple recipe below to make apple brown betty with brioche crumbs, fresh lemon, and orange zest.
How to Make Apple Brown Betty
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 40 mins
Total Time: 50 mins
Makes: 6 servings
- 6 c. cubed brioche or challah bread
- 1 1/2 c. white sugar
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated
- 1 tsp orange zest, finely grated
- Pinch of salt
- 4 lbs of Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1/2 c. apple cider
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp fresh orange juice
- 3 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter
- Vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped chantilly cream, to serve
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Spread the cubed brioche or challah bread on a baking sheet and toast until dry, around 8 mins. Remove the baking sheet from your oven, let the bread cool, and then place the bread cubes into a high-powered food processor. Process until the bread becomes coarse crumbs.
- Grease a 9 x 13-inch with coconut oil or butter, then place ⅓ of the bread crumbs in an evenly spread layer along the bottom of the dish. Set aside.
- In a small-sized mixing bowl, place the white sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, lemon zest, orange zest, and salt. Stir the mixture until well-combined. Peel, core, and thinly slice your Granny Smith apples, then spread half of the apple slices over the breadcrumbs in the baking dish. Top the apples with half of the sugar and cinnamon mixture.
- In another small-sized mixing bowl, add the cider, lemon juice, and orange juice. Whisk together and drizzle in the baking dish over the apples.
- Cover with another ⅓ of the breadcrumbs, the remaining apple slices, and the rest of the sugar mixture. Top the dish with the remaining ⅓ of the breadcrumbs.
- Use a sharp knife to carefully shave your cold butter as thinly as possible, sprinkling the butter shavings evenly across the top of the baking dish.
- Place the apple brown betty pie in the center of the oven and bake for ~ 1 hr, or until the apples are tender and juices bubble. At the 45 min mark, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, then return to the oven for the last 15 mins. This will prevent the breadcrumbs on top from overcooking and burning.
- Remove the apple brown betty recipe from the oven and let cool for 30 mins before serving.
- Serve your brown Betty topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.
Apple Brown Betty Recipe - FAQ
What is Brown Betty?
In America, the first printed record of apple brown Betty was in the Yale Literary Magazine, way back in 1864. This classic American dessert was the favorite of former President Reagan and his First Lady. It even has its own national holiday – mark your calendars because October 5 is National Apple Betty Day.
What does Brown Betty mean?
The brown Betty always starts with a fruit base; usually sliced apples line the brown apple Betty, but often pears or berries instead. Sweetened breadcrumbs top the fruit in layers, followed by butter, and the whole thing bakes to perfection in the oven.
What's the main difference between an apple crisp and apple brown betty?
Apple crisp and apple brown seem relatively similar at first glance, as they both contain baked fruit with a crisp, buttery crumb topping. The main difference between a fruit crisp and a Betty is oats – apple crisp contains oats in its crumb, while the apple brown Betty has breadcrumbs instead.
In apple crisp, there tends to be a fruit layer, then a crispy top. In recipes for apple brown Betty, the fruit and crumbs are in two or three thinner layers through the baking dish.
What are the best apples to use for apple Brown Betty?
We used Granny Smith apples for our apple brown betty dessert, but there are plenty of other great apple options to choose from and use instead.
The best-tasting apples in apple brown betty and other baked dishes are generally "baking apples," which tend to have much firmer flesh that holds up to the heat of the oven without turning to mush.
Try one of these apple varieties in your brown betty recipe:
- Granny Smiths, for a tart and acidic flavor with juicy flesh
- Cortland, for a sweet, slightly tart taste with juicy flesh
- Honeycrisp, for a sweet flavor with crispy flesh
- Braeburn, for a sweet taste with crisp flesh
- Gala, for a sweet flavor with crispy flesh
- Fuji, for a sweet and mildly tart taste with crispy flesh
- Rome Beauty, for a sweet flavor with a crisp, dense flesh
- Johnathan, for a sweet and mildly acidic taste with a juicy flesh
- Pink Lady, for a sweet and highly tart flavor with a crisp flesh
Do I need to use lemon or lime juice on the apple slices?
It's unnecessary to coat the apple slices in lemon or lime, but it prevents your apple from drying out and slows down the browning process once peeled. If you're peeling and coring your apples before you make your apple brown betty, toss them in a little lemon or lime juice.
In place of lemon or lime juice, you can also use lemon-lime soda instead. You don't need to prevent the fruit from browning, but it can make your apples look pretty unappealing.
How thick should I slice my apples?
After you core and peel your apples with an apple peeler, you'll want to cut the apples into slices.
You'll want to keep the slices on the thicker side, so they maintain a bit of their firm texture as they bake. Keep the pieces at least ¼-inch thick for the best results.
What are brioche and challah bread?
Brioche is a rich bread made with some extra ingredients beyond the standard bread formula, like eggs, milk, and butter. Challah is also a rich, typically braided bread that contains eggs.
If you're looking to avoid eggs or don't have access to these types of bread, swap out for a loaf of soft white bread instead.
Can I make this Brown Betty gluten-free?
You sure can! Though brown Betty recipes tend to contain breadcrumbs, you can swap out the brioche or challah for a gluten-free breadcrumb option instead.
You can keep your baked apple brown Betty covered in the fridge for up to 3 days or in your freezer for as long as 6 months.
To freeze your brown Betty before baking, freeze the breadcrumbs and the apples separately, combining shortly before baking. Baked apple brown betty can also remain frozen for up to 6 months. Allow the brown Betty to fully thaw and reheat it at a low temperature in the oven until warm.
Final Notes: Apple Brown Betty
This sweet dessert can be adjusted as you see fit – switch up the apples, cut down the sugar, use different breadcrumbs. It's pretty difficult to mess this brown Betty recipe up completely, so feel free to experiment with ingredients you have on hand.
Enjoy your apple Brown Betty with some vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or all on its own!