How to make rhubarb crumble

Learn how to make classic rhubarb crumble with our simple ste-by-step recipe including an easy to follow video too...

How to make rhubarb crumble
(Image credit: TI Media Limited)

Making rhubarb crumble is much easier than you may think. In this handy guide, we look at how to make rhubarb crumble from scratch using either fresh, tinned, or even frozen rhubarb.

A crumble is a staple of British cuisine and rhubarb crumble is one of the favourite variations. Surprisingly, while it seems it should have been around for hundreds of years, it actually originated during World War II. Because of the need to ration ingredients such as butter and lard, pies were more difficult to make. Therefore, the crumble topping was created. Mostly associated with sweet desserts, crumble can also be found in savoury form too.

Crumble is a pretty simple dish consisting of two parts; a fruit base and a crumble top. There are lots of ways to enhance a crumble top like adding oats or dried fruit for example. And there are different variations when it comes to the base too including apple crumble or plum crumble.

By far the most classic, traditional crumble is made using rhubarb. It's in season for a large part of the year depending on the type you want. Forced rhubarb, which originated in Yorkshire, is usually available from December through to March. As the weather improves, rhubarb can be grown outside in fields. This season is usually from April to September. Yorkshire Forced Rhubard is extremely delicious and famous throughout the world.

How to prepare rhubarb for crumble How to make rhubarb crumble Can you make rhubarb crumble with tinned rhubarb? Can you make rhubarb crumble with frozen rhubarb? Top tips for making rhubarb crumble How to store leftover rhubarb crumble

How to prepare rhubarb for crumble

The great thing about rhubarb is that it's easy to prepare. It’s incredibly important that you discard the leaves because they are poisonous. The stem, however, is completely safe to eat (unless you have an allergy, of course). When cooked, rhubarb has a tendency to break down quite a bit because it has high water content. So, you don’t need to cut it up very small if you want it to keep some of its shape.

Give the rhubarb a good wash after you have removed the leaves. Cut off the top and tail of each stalk and then cut it up into pieces around 5cm in length. Don’t peel it because the skin has a beautiful colour and also helps it keep its shape a little. Because of the amount of time a crumble cooks for, the rhubarb will still break up but the size should allow some texture to remain. There’s no need to cook the rhubarb before you put it in the ovenproof dish.

How to make rhubarb crumble

Follow our simple step-by-step guide below to make classic rhubarb crumble. You can also refer to our how to make rhubarb crumble video featured above. It takes just three steps to make this mouth-watering dessert.


Serves 4-5

  • 500g rhubarb
  • 100g caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange

For the topping:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 100g butter, at room temperature
  • 4 tbsp demerara sugar
  • Custard or cream, to serve

How to make rhubarb crumble: Step 1

Set the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5. Cut the rhubarb into short lengths and place it in a dish. Sprinkle over the sugar and orange zest. Spoon over the orange juice and stir.

How to make rhubarb crumble: Step 2

Tip the topping ingredients into a bowl and use your fingertips to work them together until well mixed.

How to make rhubarb crumble: Step 3

Break the mixture into chunks and scatter over the rhubarb. Put the dish on a baking sheet (in case any juices leak out) and cook in the centre of the oven for about 45 mins, or until the crumble is lightly golden and the fruit softened. Serve hot with custard or cream.

Can you make rhubarb crumble with tinned rhubarb?

You can definitely make rhubarb crumble with tinned rhubarb. There will be a little difference in the taste and texture of the end product but it will still be delicious.

When something is tinned, it goes through the canning process which means that it's heated to a very high temperature in order to kill any micro-organisms. Due to this, the rhubarb will already be cooked and may have lost some of its structure. This will mean the fruity filling for the crumble will be slightly looser than if you used fresh rhubarb.

Depending on the tinned rhubarb that you use, there may also be sugar in with the rhubarb already so you might want to adapt the amount of sugar you put into the rhubarb base. Check the tin and see if it’s in a sugar syrup or light syrup. If so, add a little less sugar so it’s not too sweet.

Can you make rhubarb crumble with frozen rhubarb?

As with tinned rhubarb, it's completely possible to make a rhubarb crumble with frozen rhubarb. It's a little more difficult to get hold of (unless you've got some of your own frozen rhubarb) but it will work just fine for the crumble.

You can thaw it first before using - this will likely affect the structure of the rhubarb as it has a very high water content so it will break down when you defrost it due to the cell wall structure being damaged during freezing when the water crystals expand. 

You can also cook the rhubarb from frozen, you'll need to keep an eye on timings as the rhubarb will need to defrost during the cooking process so you may need to cook a little longer. This means you need to keep a good eye on the crumble topping so that it doesn't burn before the filling is ready.

As the rhubarb defrosts, it will likely release moisture so be careful not to add too much liquid to the base mix. As with the sugar, you might want to reduce the amount you add.

Top tips for making rhubarb crumble

  • When making the crumble topping, make sure the butter is chilled well. This will make it easier for you to rub it into the flour and will help to create a better texture.
  • Try adding some chopped-up stem ginger and a drizzle of its syrup to the rhubarb mixture to give it a twist.
  • Chopped nuts are a great addition to the crumble topping. Try chopped hazelnuts or ground almonds to start.
  • Don't pack your crumble topping on too much. Leave it quite loose so it's more of a crumb than a pastry-like topping.

How to store leftover rhubarb crumble

If you've made too much rhubarb crumble then you can store it in the fridge or freezer. The refrigerator is great if you know you'll be eating it again soon - it'll keep well for around three days. Let it cool to room temperature for no more than 90 minutes, cover it up and then reheat in the oven for about 45mins at 180C, Gas 4, or until it's hot all the way through. Crumble is best served hot so don't eat it straight out the fridge.

You can also freeze rhubarb crumble. t should last for approximately three to six months in the freezer. You'll need to make sure that the dish is freezer proof but something like a Pyrex dish should be fine.

When you're ready to use it, you can either defrost it in the fridge and follow the instructions above for the refrigerated crumble or cook from frozen. Cooking from frozen will mean you need to cook it for longer at a lower temperature. Try 160C for around 1hr to 1hr 30mins. Keep an eye on it to ensure the topping isn't burning. You want the crumble to be piping hot throughout.

If you've swapped out the rhubarb for other fruit, such as apples, just be aware that the colour may change over time as the fruit's flesh has come in contact with oxygen.

Samuel Goldsmith
Freelance food writer

Former Assistant Headteacher, Samuel has a BSc in Food from the University of Birmingham and is also Co-Vice Chair of the Guild of Food Writers and a Trustee of 91 Ways CIC. His work has featured in national and international publications including Waitrose Food, Australian Delicious, and the LAD Bible Group. Samuel has also consulted on a number of best-selling food and drink books, and was a nutritional consultant for BBC’s Eat Well for Less.