Love and Olive Oil
Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping (from Scratch)

Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping (from Scratch)

With a crunchy texture and a bright strawberry flavor from freeze-dried strawberries, this strawberry crunch topping is as versatile and delicious and a cinch to prepare, not to mention entirely scratch-made!

This crunchy strawberry shortcake crumb is made entirely from scratch with no strawberry gelatin mix and no pre-packaged cookies. And yet despite its homemade nature, it comes together in under an hour (and most of that time is chilling and baking).

Glass bowl of Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping on a marble background, with a few crumbs scattered alongside the bowl.

When developing my recipe for a strawberry sheet cake inspired by the classic ice cream treat from my childhood, I set about creating a crunchy strawberry shortcake crumb mixture—entirely from scratch.

A quick search for ‘strawberry crunch’ brings up dozens of recipes for this nostalgic topping, but almost all of them use either strawberry gelatin dessert mix and/or crushed up golden Oreo cookies (or both) to achieve the bright strawberry flavor and crunchy texture. And I really didn’t want to use either of those things.

So I set about creating my own version entirely from scratch.

I started with a milk bar-style shortbread crumb, made with flour, sugar, and melted butter, and some cornstarch and dry milk powder for added tenderness and dairy richness. It took me a few tries to get the balance right, as I wanted something that came out perfectly crunchy but wasn’t dry (my first attempt tasted too much like flour so I had to dial it back a bit).

Adding a bit of baking powder gives the crumb just a tiny bit of rise, resulting in softer shapes and a more cohesive, crunchy yet tender texture (it’s the kind of delicate crunch that almost melts in your mouth as opposed to the hard, tooth-breaking kind.)

Closeup of Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping showing the two colors of crumbs on a marble background.
Overhead, glass bowl filled with red and yellow bits of Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping on a marble background.

Here’s How to Make It:

I find it strange that so many recipes for strawberry crunch call for shortcuts like strawberry jello and oreo cookies, when the reality is you can make it completely from scratch with less than 15 minutes of active time (about an hour overall when you account for a brief chill and a 30 minute bake for maximum crispness).

The dough comes together quickly and easily, much like a soft shortbread or sugar cookie, but because it uses melted butter there is no mixer required.

Overhead view of Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping, arranged in a rough rectangle on a marble background.

How to Use It

Cake – That’s what I intended so obviously this crumb topping works well in cakes. While I used it on a Strawberry Crunch Sheet Cake, you can also use it in a milk bar-style naked cake in between layers of cake, frosting, and even a strawberry fruit curd.

Ice Cream – Obviously, this crunch topping would be perfect over ice cream, like this Strawberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream or even a Dark Chocolate Strawberry Ice Cream. You could also make some Homemade Ice Cream Bars (swap out the raspberries for strawberries), and then dip the bars in the crumb mixture after the chocolate coating.

Ice Cream Sundaes – Sprinkle this on top of scoops of ice cream along with some fresh fruit and a drizzle of old-fashioned chocolate fudge sauce.

Ice Cream Cake/Semifreddo – I think this crumb would be the perfect topping or layer in between an ice cream cake like this Strawberry Funfetti Ice Cream Cake, or in between layers of a homemade semifreddo (maybe a strawberry and a pistachio layer? or strawberry and vanilla bean?) The crunchy texture will serve as the perfect contrast to the creamy ice cream.

Cookies – I think this crumb mixture would work really well as a cookie topping, either pressed into the raw dough balls (basically replace the freeze dried strawberries in this recipe with the crumb mixture, though it will brown slightly in the oven). You could also top a soft sugar cookie with frosting and then press the crumb mixture into that.

Strawberry Shortcake – Ok so hear me out… next time you make strawberry shortcake, sprinkle a little of this on top of your biscuits and/or in between the layers of cream and berries.

Snacking – If we’re being honest, having a bowl of these crumbs sitting out on the counter will disappear faster than you might think. The perfect mix of sweet and salty, buttery and fruity, crunchy and delicious, it’s hard not to eat them by the handful.

Closeup, glass bowl filled with dual-colored Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping on a marble background.

Ingredient Notes

Whole Milk Powder: Whole milk powder adds extra structure, stability, and rich dairy flavor. While I like the added richness of whole milk powder, nonfat dry milk powder will work in a pinch; you can also use buttermilk powder if you want a tangier flavor. Malted milk powder might be ok, although the flavor would be quite a bit different.

The milk powder can be left out if absolutely necessary, it won’t cause the recipe to fail or anything, however I think it adds a lot and would strongly suggest getting ahold of some for this recipe.

Cornstarch: the cornstarch adds tenderness to the crumb (making it more like a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread). If you want you can replace the AP flour with cake flour (use an equal amount by weight, not volume) and skip the cornstarch entirely.

AP Flour: I’ve made this recipe with regular AP and cake flour and either works here (use an equal amount by weight, as cake flour is lighter than AP). I also think it’d work fine with your favorite 1:1 gluten-free flour blend.

Freeze-dried strawberries/strawberry powder: Grind freeze-dried strawberries (NOT dried strawberries which are not the same thing) in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder until you have a fine powder. Add a spoonful of granulated sugar if necessary to help it grind more evenly.

You can also get freeze dried strawberry powder, which is already finely ground and allows you to skip the extra step of grinding. Look for one that contains 100% freeze-dried strawberries and no sweeteners or additives.

If you can’t find freeze-dried strawberries (and aside from other kinds of freeze-dried fruit, there really is no suitable replacement), then just leave it out entirely and embrace the plain shortbread crumbs (which are delicious in their own right).

You could also mix in a little bit of strawberry extract to some or all of the crumb dough if you wanted a little extra strawberry flavor in the topping.

Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping

Strawberry Shortcake Crunch Topping

With a crunchy texture and a bright strawberry flavor from freeze-dried strawberries, this strawberry crunch topping is as versatile and delicious and a cinch to prepare, not to mention entirely scratch-made!
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  • ¾ cup / 95 g all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons / 75 g granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons / 16 g whole milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon / 8 g cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons / 84 g unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons / 21 g freeze dried strawberry powder


  • Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, milk powder, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt until evenly incorporated. Drizzle in melted butter and vanilla and mix until no dry ingredients remain; it should stick together into a crumbly dough.
  • Chill dough for 20 to 30 minutes (this makes it easier to crumble), then use your fingers to crumble dough onto prepared baking sheet, spreading crumbs into a single layer and breaking up any extra large pieces (ideally you want mostly pea-sized pieces).
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until just starting to turn light golden brown (they will crisp up more as they cool). As soon as you remove the baking sheet from the oven, use a spatula to lightly toss and break up the crumbs into smaller pieces where they've stuck together.
  • Separate out about 2/3 of the warm crumb mixture on the pan, and sprinkle this section with 2 tablespoons strawberry powder. Gently toss to coat crumbs evenly with strawberry. Sprinkle with remaining strawberry, and toss once more. Let cool completely, then mix the two colors of crumbs together to blend.
  • Crumbs can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.
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