Betty: The Nostalgic Dessert That Combines Fruit And Breadcrumbs

Despite the familiar phrase "As American as apple pie," neither apples nor pie originated in America. However, the Betty is a baked fruit pudding born on American soil that represents American ingenuity and resourcefulness. Betty, originally called brown Betty, originated during the mid-19th century as a sort of deconstructed version of apple pie.

According to historians, Betty was the first name of the dessert's African American inventor, to which the era's racist conventions and marketing ploys added the term "brown" as both a racial epithet and catchy alliteration. The original Betty recipe consists of a baked apple filling layered with bread or cake crumbs. Perhaps the Betty came out of the need to salvage stale, burnt, or otherwise ruined cake. Still, it became popular as a delicious, versatile, and easy dessert that welcomes any type of crumbs and saves you the trouble of making a pastry topping or pie crust from scratch.

Unlike the biscuit or pastry-topped fruit cobbler, another American dessert that gained favor during the colonial era, a Betty is assembled by layering cake crumbs and apple filling in the baking dish. The result is a more even ratio of crumb to fruit. The juicy fruit filling rehydrates the crumbs and infuses them with a sweet, fruity flavor, bestowing a bread pudding-like texture.

Betty recipes use the same baking spice, sugar, lemon, and fruit combination as fruit pie filling and are likewise often topped with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Modern twists on classic apple Betty

The beauty of the Betty is that it adapts to any type of crumb you want to add, opening up the opportunity for numerous flavor combinations. Similarly, while apples are the standard fruit filling in Bettys, you can use any type of fruit you'd like, including a mixture of two or more fruits.

Since there are so many cake flavors, you can choose from a world of fruit and cake combinations. For example, you could blend chocolate cake crumbs with cherry or blueberry filling. Lemon cake pairs wonderfully with raspberry or peach filling. The classic apple filling works well with vanilla or a cinnamon-infused coffee cake. If you don't wish to use cake crumbs, try anything from graham crackers to stale bread to panko bread crumbs. Croissants would make an especially delicious buttery alternative to cake crumbs. You can also add chopped nuts for a crunchy contrast.

Fresh fruit is ideal for the freshest taste but you can go with frozen fruit in a pinch; ensure you thaw and drain frozen fruit of excess water before mixing in spices and lemon juice. If you want to add frozen fruit without thawing it, toss it with a bit of flour to soak up the excess water as the filling cooks.