What is Streusel?

The word is often confused with “strudel” here in the States, but they’re not even close to the same thing. Strudel is of course a type of layered pastry that hails from Austria. Streusel is a crumb topping that was first popularized in Germany. The word itself means “scattered” or “sprinkled”, or more literally “strewn.” A classic streusel is a mixture of flour, white sugar and soft butter, sometimes with a little cinnamon mixed in. It’s a nice way to add sweetness, richness and texture to a cake. Now me, I like a little more pizazz in a streusel, so I gravitate to recipes that contain nuts and brown sugar. Sorta like this:

3 ounces (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
3 ounces (1/2 cup minus two tablespoons) brown sugar (light or dark)
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) softened butter
3 ounces (3/4 cup) walnuts or pecans
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
a few drops vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor…

…and pulse until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.

I should emphasize that this recipe is really only a rough guide. For my coffeecake I used extra pecans because I wanted to use up the bag. That made the streusel not only a little darker in color but a bit more crumbly. Some people like a little more butter, some less. All I can say is — experiment! Streusel keeps very well at room temperature for a few days or in the fridge for a few weeks.

VARIATION 1: For a lighter streusel, for Danish or kolache or coffee cakes, use this recipe:

2.5 ounces (1/2 cup) flour
3.5 ounces (1/2 cup) packed brown sugar
2 ounces (1/2 stick) soft butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Combine all together in a bowl and work by hand into a crumbly topping.

VARIATION 2: For the lightest possible streusel of use on muffins or coffee cakes, try this:

3 ounces (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
3 ounces (3/4 cup) powdered sugar
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) softened butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

5 thoughts on “What is Streusel?”

  1. Hi, Joe!
    Do you think we can make streusel without butter?
    Why do we add butter anyway?

    1. Hey Jasmine!

      I’ve never thought about streusel without butter. It can probably be omitted, but you’ll need some other sort of fat to serve as binder for the flour and sugar. I would think you could do it with a little oil. Try it and see — then get back to me with the results!

      Cheers and thanks for the note,

      – Joe

  2. At the risk of sounding dumb (guilty as charged), in some of your recipes you call for ‘milk powder’; is this the same as ‘powdered milk’? Thanks.

    1. Not dumb at all, Anne! They are the same. Thanks for the question, because many others are certainly wondering the same thing!


      – Joe

  3. This is handy stuff to have around in the freezer. I had extra after making another recipe here. Tonight I cut up some plums, tossed them with a little brown sugar, Cleargel, and sweet spice, and then topped the whole thing with a generous amount of the light streusel and baked it. Voila, dessert! It is great as a finishing touch on muffins, or as a topping on a fruit tart.

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