Vegan streusel topping will add crisp texture, sweetness, and a hint of cinnamon to the tops of your muffins, cakes, and pies. My go-to recipe takes only five minutes to prepare, and it results in nice, BIG crumbs! The right proportion of flour, sugar, and melted (not solid) vegan butter is key for achieving that texture, and in this post, I’ll share why.
I’ve been on a streusel kick this month.
It all started over the summer, when I made a batch of my vegan blueberry crumb muffins.
I love that recipe so much. But I’ve noticed each time I make it that the crumb topping tends to melt a bit in the oven.
In the end, the muffins are covered with more of a melted crumb glaze than the big, sugary, buttery crumbs that I dream of.
One thing I’ve learned in years of recipe development is that no recipe is ever really done. We can decide that we love a recipe so much that we’d rather not mess with it. But recipes are like people: they always have a capacity to evolve.
I started tinkering with my streusel, or crumb, topping.
As I started working on a coffee cake recipe (to be published soon!) I had more time to figure out what makes a vegan streusel topping work out the way I like it to—which is to say, big, distinctive, buttery crumbs.
Today, I’ll share what I learned.
What is a streusel topping?
First and foremost: what exactly is a streusel topping?
Very simply, streusel is a crumbly, buttery topping that’s often used on the tops of muffins, cake, pie, or loaves.
Streusel is almost always made with a mixture of flour, butter—in this case, vegan butter—and sugar.
Some streusel recipes call for the addition of nuts, rolled oats, or other elements for added texture.
Are streusel topping and crumb topping the same thing?
As I did my deep dive into vegan streusel, I found myself curious about whether streusel and crumb topping are the same.
They tend to be used interchangeably in recipes, and much information that I found suggested that there wasn’t a real difference.
There is a difference, though that difference may be subtle at times, and it’s probably open to some interpretation.
Streusel has less sugar than crumb topping.
As a result of having more sugar, crumb topping is crispier and more crumbly than streusel.
Food writer Jennifer McGavin, who’s an expert on German cooking, describes streusel as “shortbread balls, for lack of a better description.”
She goes on to say, “It is crunchy and cookie-like on top and soft on the bottom where it meets the cake or fruit.”
McGavin describes crumb topping, on the other hand, as “sandy-like” or as having a “crispy, lacy effect,” depending on how much sugar is used.
According to McGavin, traditional German streusel is made with a 1:1:2 ratio of sugar to butter to flour, whereas crumb topping is typically a 3:1:2 or 3:3:1 ratio. These technical differences can have a big effect on texture.
After I read McGavin’s article, I asked myself whether the vegan streusel topping that I’m sharing today is appropriately named.
It doesn’t quite match any of the ratios described above. My intent was for it to have big, sizable crumbs, so it’s definitely not lacy or sandy. It is crispy, however, thanks to the proportion of sugar.
In the end, I decided to call it streusel topping, but I’m disclaiming to you that it could probably go by either name: streusel topping or crumb topping.
Practically, you can use this recipe for any baked good in which a sugary, buttery, crumb top will be pleasant.
The challenges of making a vegan streusel
Part of the reason that my vegan streusel doesn’t follow classic ingredient ratios is that it’s made with vegan butter.
And vegan butter, I realized as I tested many streusel batches, has a lower melting point than dairy butter.
Vegan butter is made with blends of vegetable oils. Most vegetable oils are composed of mostly unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature.
Butter contains milk solids and saturated fats, which help it to stay solid at room temperature.
One vegan butter brand, ForA:Butter, is designed to have the same melting point as regular butter, which is why it’s good for pastry and laminated dough.
So far as I know, ForA is only available in bulk orders and primarily sold to food service operations. I tried it a few years ago when I tested a bunch of butter brands in an effort to make perfect vegan croissants, and it was indeed functionally similar to butter.
But unless you’re willing to purchase a 12 or even 30-pound order, ForA isn’t a realistic option.
There are many other vegan butters to choose from, but they’ll melt in the oven before regular butter would.
This is the reason that so many of my past efforts to make streusel with traditional sugar:butter:flour ratios resulted in crispy, caramelized, melted top layers, rather than crumbs.
In order to make the recipe work, I needed to tinker with the amounts of butter, sugar, and flour that I used.
Melted butter = bigger crumbs
The other big realization I had was that, for vegan streusel in particular, it’s better to use melted butter rather than cutting cold butter into the dry ingredients.
I know that this is a departure from the process for making traditional streusel. But it’s an adjustment that works really well for a plant-based adaptation
Using melted butter in the streusel will allow you to see exactly what kind of crumbs you’re going to have in the finished baked good, before your batch enters the oven.
As an added bonus, it’s quicker than using solid butter.
Does the type of vegan butter that I use matter?
Clearly, vegan butter is a key ingredient in this recipe. You may be wondering whether a certain brand is best.
So far, I’ve tried the vegan streusel with a few different butter options. Specifically:
- Earth Balance
- Miyoko’s Creamery
- Country Crock (the version with avocado oil)
- OmSweet Home Non-Dairy Butter Alternative (a local-to-me brand that I really love)
All four of these have worked. I’ll keep updating the recipe as I test more, but I think the upshot is that you can use your favorite butter, the one that you keep at home.
If you love making your own vegan butter—I know that there are numerous recipes online—then great! If a variety of brands have worked for me, each with different oil blends and bases, then I’d imagine that homemade vegan butter will also be successful in the recipe.
Could I substitute oil for butter?
What if you don’t have vegan butter at home? Or you’d prefer to use oil in the recipe instead?
That’s OK. Oil can be a perfectly workable fat source for streusel, with a few caveats.
The first is flavor: most of us associate streusel with buttery flavor. While vegetable oil will work well technically, resulting in those lovely crumbs, it may not taste buttery in a classic way.
The second caveat is that you may need to use slightly less oil than butter. Usually, this is a rule of thumb for replacing butter (or vegan butter) with oil in recipes.
Why? Because oil is 100% liquid fat, whereas butter is mostly fat with water—about 18% water for regular, dairy butter.
As a result, you don’t need quite as much oil as butter when you’re aiming to add a fat source to a baked good. Reducing the amount of oil by 10-15% usually works well.
If you choose to use oil instead of butter for this vegan streusel topping, I’d suggest five tablespoons instead of six.
Use your intuition, though: if your streusel is looking dry or sandy, you can always add more oil by the teaspoon until the texture looks right (more on that ideal texture below).
What type of oil might work in the recipe?
As for type of oil, my first choice would be refined avocado oil.
This is my go-to, neutral flavored vegetable oil for cooking. It has a high smoke point, so it’s good for cooking at a variety of heat levels, and it’s primarily monounsaturated fat.
Olive oil will also work in the recipe. If you use olive oil, I’d suggest a mild-flavored oil, as very “fruity” tasting oil might impart too much of its own flavor.
You can also use coconut oil for the vegan streusel. The advantage of coconut oil is that it’s solid at cooler temperatures and has a somewhat buttery flavor, so it’s a plausible butter substitute.
The possible downside is that coconut oil has a very high proportion of saturated fat, so it may not be appropriate for those who are being mindful of saturated fats in their diets.
Finally, you could use grapeseed, safflower, sunflower, or canola oils in the recipe. These are all neutral-flavored vegetable oils that perform well in baking.
How to make vegan streusel topping
Let’s talk about how to make the vegan streusel of your dreams.
Step 1: Mix your dry ingredients
Dry ingredients for the recipe are unbleached, all-purpose flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
A word about the sugar: I like to use light brown sugar for my streusel, but you can use dark brown sugar, cane sugar, or coconut sugar as well. They’ll all work well.
Dark brown and coconut sugars will result in a darkly colored streusel, pictured in these images, while light brown sugar and cane sugar will have a more golden color.
Whisk these dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl as the first step in your streusel-making.
Step 2: Add melted butter
You’ll need six tablespoons of melted vegan butter to make your streusel topping. You can melt in a small saucepan on the stove or you can microwave it in short (15-second) intervals in the microwave.
Once the butter is melted, simply pour it into the center of your dry ingredients.
Step 3: Use two forks to mix
If you were making streusel with cold butter, which is traditional, you’d use knives or a pastry cutter to cut the solid butter into the dry ingredients, until you had a mixture that was crumbly.
Here, you can use two forks to disperse the liquid butter into the dry ingredients. Just swirl the forks around in your mixing bowl lightly, using their prongs to mix everything up.
How long to mix for? Well, you’re aiming for the butter to be entirely incorporated into the dry ingredients. You don’t want to see areas of dry, un-moistened flour visible in the bowl.
You’re also aiming for crumbs that are sizable, but not huge.
Usually the cue given for streusel topping is for crumbs to be about the size of peas. (This is also the general cue for cutting butter into flour for scones or pie crust.)
That’s a good rule of thumb for your vegan streusel. However, it’s OK if some of your crumbs are smaller and more crumbly.
It’s also fine if some of your crumbs are bigger—let’s say the size of chickpeas. If you’re like me, then you’ll love the texture of those big crumbs in your finished baked goods.
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Step 4: Use or store
Your vegan streusel can be used right away for any baking project that you have lined up.
The streusel can also be stored for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge, which is convenient if you’re planning cooking for entertaining or a holiday celebration.
If you’d like to get an even bigger head start on your baking, you can transfer the streusel to an airtight container and freeze it for up to six weeks.
This recipe will give you about 1 1/2-2 cups of streusel.
This should be enough to heavily top one of the following:
- An 8-inch / 20cm square cake
- A 9-inch / 25cm round pie or round cake
- One dozen muffins
If you cut the recipe in half, it will be enough to lightly top any of the above.
Can the streusel be made gluten-free?
Sure thing, the streusel can be made gluten-free.
Better still, because this isn’t a cake or a cookie or a more delicate baked good, you have some flexibility in the type of GF flour that you use.
My go-to GF baking flour is the Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour from King Arthur Baking. It’s a reliable, well-crafted blend that can be used in a 1:1 ratio as a substitute for all-purpose flour.
That’s what I recommend for most GF versions of my non-GF baked goods.
For the vegan streusel, however, you could also use oat flour, brown rice flour, or even almond flour. You may get some differences in texture, but you ought to see big, sweet, buttery crumbs with any of those options.
Me, I’m a purist about my streusel. I don’t add anything to the base of flour, sugar, and melted butter.
(As a side note, this is why I tend to prefer crumble, which doesn’t include oats in the topping, to crisp, which does.)
That said, many people love adding texture to their crumb toppings. Here are some mix-ins that you could consider:
- Chopped or sliced nuts
- Hemp hearts
- Rolled oats
- Different spices (for example, nutmeg, allspice, or vanilla powder)
- Cacao nibs
What can I do with my vegan streusel topping?
What a fun question this is to answer!
You can enhance the texture, taste, and overall goodness of so many vegan baked goods with a batch of streusel topping.
Here’s a list of recipes in which I regularly use a crumb topping:
- Vegan blueberry crumb muffins
- Vegan strawberry rhubarb crumble bars
- Vegan blueberry buckle
- Vegan streusel muffins
- Mini sweet potato casseroles
- Sour cream and cherry muffins
- Baked, stuffed apples
And here are some recipes that don’t explicitly call for streusel, but could be even better with a buttery vegan crumb on top:
- Classic vegan pumpkin bread
- Vegan strawberry muffins
- Vegan sweet cherry upside down cake
- Classic vegan banana bread
- Vegan plum galette
- Maple brown sugar baked oatmeal
Once you get into the habit of making and freezing this topping, you may find yourself tempted to add it to anything and everything. That’s how I’m feeling these days.
Here’s the recipe, to get you started.
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour (135g)
- 2/3 cup light or dark brown sugar (130g; you can also use cane sugar or coconut sugar)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
- 6 tablespoons vegan butter (85g)
In a medium large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
Melt the vegan butter in a small saucepan over low heat or microwave it in short (15-second) intervals to melt it.
Pour the melted butter into the center of your dry ingredients. Use two forks to gently mix the butter into the flour mixture, forming pea sized crumbs and some smaller crumbs as you go. Your aim is for there to be no remaining dry flour and for the mixture to be mostly pea-sized crumbs, mixed with some smaller and some larger crumbs.
Store the streusel in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 6 weeks. Alternatively, use it right away.
One of the things I look forward to most at this time of year is all of the festive, fun baking and sharing of treats.
I hope the streusel will add some extra pizazz to any of your home baking projects, and I can’t wait to hear what you use it in and on.
In other news, Happy Monday, friends. I was away this weekend, visiting my oldest friend and her family, so I missed the Sunday post, but this is my chance to wish you a great start to a new week.