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.
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.
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.
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.
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.