An apple pie may be the traditional standard for comfort-food desserts, but apple crisps and crumbles are just as good and a lot less fussy to make. As an added bonus, they're a lot less complicated to freeze and thaw than pies because you won't have to worry about babying your crust to keep it from turning to mush. You can freeze your apple crumble either baked or unbaked – whichever suits your workflow and your situation.
Anatomy of Apple Crumble (or Crisp)
Apple crumble, or apple crisp, is a pretty simple dessert. The lower layer is made of apples, lightly sweetened and spiced and often tossed with a small amount of flour or starch to help absorb the fruit juices as they cook out. You'll get the best flavor with a mixture of sweet and tart apples – the more kinds the better.
The topping consists of crumbs made with flour, sugar, butter and spices and sometimes rolled oats as well. Traditionally, your recipe is a "crumble" if it lacks oats and a "crisp" if it has them, though the terms are now used interchangeably. The topping will be crisp enough to offer a pleasant textural contrast to the tender fruit, but if you freeze after baking, you'll lose a bit of that texture.
Freezing Baked Apple Crumble
The best time to freeze your apple crumble is as soon as it has cooled. It's not because of food safety – apples are acidic enough to resist spoilage for a little while – but because that's when flavor and texture are at their best. If you're deliberately baking for the freezer as opposed to tucking away leftovers for another day, you can underbake slightly to allow for reheating later.
Divide your crumble carefully among portion-sized containers, doing your best to keep the crumble topping on the top. Seal the containers and freeze them immediately. If you plan to store your crumble for a month or two, press a piece of plastic wrap firmly against the surface to minimize contact with the air.
If you hope to store it for longer than that, carefully remove the frozen portions from their containers and bag them airtight in freezer bags. Vacuum sealing works best, but regular zip-top bags with most of the air squeezed out will work fine.
Reheating Apple Crumble
How you reheat your apple crumble determines whether you'll recreate that just-baked texture. You could simply let it thaw and then eat it at room temperature or warm it for a few moments in the microwave, but the crumble topping won't regain its texture that way. Instead, reheat gently in a low oven at 200 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit until the apples are warmed through, and the surface of the crumble topping has regained its texture.
Freezing Unbaked Apple Crumble: Option 1
If you're preparing a crumble to bake later, you have two options. One is to make it ready to bake in a pan that can go from the freezer to the oven. This includes metal, disposable foil and some ceramic baking dishes. Glass pans are riskier even if they're designed for freezer-to-oven use because time and usage erode their ability to cope with thermal shock.
If you go this route, prepare your crumble as usual in the pan and then press a layer of plastic wrap over the topping to keep out as much air as possible. Stretch a second layer of wrap over the pan to hold the contents or use the lid if it has one. Freeze immediately, taking care to place it in a spot where it's level and won't tip.
Freezing Unbaked Apple Crumble: Option 2
The second option is to freeze your apples and topping separately and combine them when you're ready to bake. This makes more efficient use of your freezer space and allows for longer-term storage. Peel, core and cut your apples and dip them in lemon water to slow browning. Freeze them on a parchment-lined sheet pan and then pack them airtight in a bag for long-term storage.
If you wish, you can toss them with flour, sugar and spices first so they're ready to use. Then, assemble your crumb topping in a separate bag, squeeze out as much air as possible and freeze.
Baking Frozen Apple Crumble
Baking a fully assembled apple crumble couldn't be easier. Just heat the oven as directed in your recipe, remove the coverings (don't forget that first layer of plastic wrap) and pop it in the oven. It will need to bake for longer than usual because the apples are frozen, so you might need to cover it loosely with foil at the end of your baking time to keep the crumbs from overbrowning.
If you've frozen the components separately, mix the apples with sugar, spices and flour (if you haven't already) and fill the pan with them. Then, pour crumb topping over the apples and bake as usual.