What is Brown Betty?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Brown Betty is a baked fruit dessert which resembles a cobbler or crisp. It is made with fresh fruit, buttered bread crumbs, and an assortment of spices of choice, typically including cinnamon and nutmeg. It is popular year-round, and it can be served plain or dressed with an assortment of toppings. Typically, Brown Betty is served warm out of the pan from the oven, or it can be baked in individual ramekins for a more elegant presentation. The classic fruit used in Brown Betty is apples, although other fruits can be used as well.

Chopped fruit, like peaches, are included in a Brown Betty.
Chopped fruit, like peaches, are included in a Brown Betty.

The origins of Brown Betty can be found in Europe, where medieval cooks made a number of dishes with fruit, spices, and sugar. Pies evolved during this period, as did an assortment of other baked in pan crisps and cobblers. A variant on Brown Betty was probably brought over to the United States from England with early colonists, and the dish became an enduring favorite. The dish is closely related to a number of other popular American desserts like buckle, crisp, crumble, and grunt.

Cinnamon is often used to season various types of Brown Bety.
Cinnamon is often used to season various types of Brown Bety.

The core of Brown Betty is high quality fruit. Crisp pie apples such as Granny Smiths or Gravensteins are classic inclusions. Cooks also make rhubarb Brown Betty, which may also include strawberries. Softer fruits like berries and peaches can also be used. The fruit is complemented with a small amount of sugar, which is intended to bring out the natural sweetness in the fruits. Typically, Brown Betty is dressed with melted butter before it is baked, creating a crispy crust.

Many people like to use tart Granny Smith apples in a Brown Betty.
Many people like to use tart Granny Smith apples in a Brown Betty.

To make Brown Betty, toss one cup of bread crumbs with ½ cup sugar and half to full teaspoons of spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, lemon zest, or nutmeg. You may also need to adjust the sugar level of the Brown Betty, depending on what type of fruit is being used. Add three tablespoons of butter to the bread crumb mixture, mixing well to coat the bread crumbs lightly in butter.

Cloves are one of the spices usually used in Brown Betty.
Cloves are one of the spices usually used in Brown Betty.

Layer half of the bread crumbs into a buttered baking dish, and cover with chopped fruit such as apples, strawberries, peaches, pears, or fresh berries. Distribute the remaining bread crumbs on top, and drizzle with melted butter if you want a more crispy Brown Betty. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius) for 45 minutes. You can serve the Brown Betty hot with hard sauce, whipped cream, ice cream, or other sauces of choice.

Pears may be used in a brown betty.
Pears may be used in a brown betty.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I'm guessing that a lady named Betty living in England perhaps, put together the dessert called Brown Betty. It is intriguing that a dish that was popular in the middle ages is still popular today and the basic recipe hasn't changed that much.

I'm a little surprised that gravenstein and granny smith apples are recommended because they are very tart and not very much sugar is added. I would think the dish might be too tart. But if you eat it with ice cream, it would probably be fine.

I've made lots of fruit desserts like cobblers, crisps, pies, and buckles, but have never made Brown Betty with the bread crumbs. It sounds delicious.


I have never had brown betty before, and I have a major sweet tooth, so I am ready to try it right now! It sounds so delicious, yet so easy and affordable too! Sounds like a win-win-win situation! And it is great to have a dessert that not only taste good, but is also partially good for you. I was curious to know what brown betty was because I have heard those lyrics in a song, and I was always wondering what that meant, so I am glad to finally know the most common use of the words.

It is great that you can not go wrong, no matter what fruit you use. You can even put a combination of any fruits together, which sounds a bit daring, yet tasty too. I would love to include brown betty into my dessert menu, especially if it is as easy to make and as tasty as everyone thus far have commented. I have had a couple fruit cobblers before, but not one made with bread crumbs, so I am intrigued to try this. It sounds very tasty and a dessert that can be made for just any dessert, or a special dessert at a dinner party or family get-together for a holiday, like Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.


It is hard to beat a warm Brown Betty dessert with some vanilla ice cream. I don't think you can go wrong in the type of fruit you use either.

I have made this with a large variety of fruit. It usually depends on which fresh fruit is in season at the time.

In the early spring, when the rhubarb is ready I have even used this as the fruit - as long as it is mixed with enough sugar and cinnamon. A combination of strawberries and rhubarb is good too.

If I don't want something quite as tart as rhubarb, one of my favorite mixtures if half pears and half apples. This has a light, sweet taste that makes a wonderful tasting dessert.


I have dozens of the best blackberry bushes surrounding my property, so I use these berries in just about every way I can imagine. I see no need to purchase other fruit for recipes I could use the free berries to make. Brown Betty just happens to be delicious when made with fresh blackberries.

While some blackberries are far too tart or even bitter at times, these berries are the sweetest I have ever tasted. They are huge as well, so it doesn’t take that many to make a dessert.

The crispy, buttered crust combines with the flavor of the blackberries and creates a blissful taste. After having eaten Brown Betty with this fruit, I don’t think I could eat it any other way.


Since my mother can’t eat chocolate due to her tendency for getting migraine headaches, Brown Betty is her dessert of choice. I remember eating apple Brown Betty two or three times a week growing up.

When I moved out, I took her recipe with me. I used strawberries instead of apples, and it tasted even better to me.

Since I have no issue with headaches, I drizzled chocolate sauce over the crisp crust after removing it from the oven. It made an already awesome dish perfect.


I used to teach at a private school in the Deep South that had its own in-house food service, which is unusual these days. A little old lady named Miss Dot did all the meal planning and ran the place. Two days a week were "plate lunches" - pork chops, fried chicken, meatloaf, etc. Twice a year we had the very popular fish plate (fried fish, baked beans, and grits). Miss Dot would never dream of preparing vegetables without putting ham or bacon in to flavor them, so vegetarians had to brown bag it!

But my very favorite thing she made was the apple Brown Betty. Now, I'd had apple crisp before, but her Brown Betty was just a thing of beauty. The topping is richer and butterier than you get with a traditional crisp.

Sadly, Miss Dot retired last year and the school went to an institutional food service like everyone else. I had moved on by then, but I was still sad for the school - the end of an era.


@burcinc-- Brown Betty is awesome! It's is so simple to make but tastes so good. Just make sure to get sweet apples. The sweeter the apples, the more flavorful it comes out. I also put less sugar when I have very sweet apples, so it's healthier.

I love that I can make Brown Betty with ingredients I already have at home. I don't even buy breadcrumbs for it, I use left-over white bread and it works great! It's probably one of the most affordable desserts out there. I gave the recipe to my sister who's just starting college because I know she's going to be on a tight budget.

By the way, if you have toddlers and small kids, they are going to love Brown Betty! My one and a half year old son does. He generally doesn't like applesauce, but he loved Brown Betty, which is a surprise!


There is actually a bakery in Philadelphia called "Brown Betty." I believe Betty Brown, who came up with the Brown Betty recipe was the grandmother of this bakery's owners. So they've been baking for a long time!

I don't know if they actually sell Brown Betty in their bakeries. I think they have several around Philadelphia, so maybe they do sell it in one of the other ones.

I've only been to their cupcake bakery though and they do make really good cupcakes. The cupcakes are also very personalized, the several I've tried were actually named after different family members. So I guess, after naming Brown Betty, they've continued the tradition with cupcakes.


I love apple and peach cobbler. It was served all the time at my university's cafeteria and I really got used to having them there. I love it when it's still warm. The soft and sweet fruit and the crunchy crust is just divine!

I haven't had any since I graduated because I feel like it's too hard to make. Brown Betty sounds so simple though and I think it will turn out just as good, if not better than cobbler. I already have all the ingredients at home, so I'm going to give it a try right away.

If it turns out really good, I can make it every week for dessert!

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