All photos by April McGreger
I’m bored by chocoholics.
Don’t get me wrong; I very much appreciate good chocolate. But after attending four cookouts in the past month without a fruit-based dessert in sight I have had enough. Had the scent of perfectly ripe peaches somehow escaped my hosts? Are they unaware of the painfully short cherry season–whose end is near?
What about all the bramble berries that line the ditches and roadsides this time of year? What sort of person does not delight in these things? Please, hold the chocolate cupcakes. It’s summer–the season for peach juice dripping down our elbows and blackberry-stained T-shirts.
Perhaps there is something anxiety-producing about preparing fresh fruit desserts. I admit homemade pie crust can be difficult for the uninitiated. But anybody, oh anybody, can make a cobbler, and there is no dessert more rewarding. Because cobblers are spooned into bowls rather than sliced and served up on plates, you can get away with less thickening agent, such as cornstarch or flour. This means more fruit juices and more vibrant flavor.
What could be better than bubbling fruits of summer with golden biscuit topping and just melting vanilla bean-flecked ice cream? Cobblers are as easy as whipping up a pan of brownies, and with a few tips, you’ll be free to do your own experimenting. After all, that is what being inspired by the season’s best is all about. Here’s what you need to know:
Use the best fruit you can find. Use your nose, your eyes, and your mouth to find the best fruit. Peaches should smell like peaches and should be without a trace of green (which means they were picked too early). Berries should be sweet, not just tart. Cherries should look shiny and firm without brown spots.
You can forage your own bramble berries from unpolluted areas for a very thrifty cobbler. Shop farmer’s markets and pick-your-own operations to find the season’s best. Pick-your-own orchards are a great way to get out into the countryside, and offer much more than just the amazing fruit for an amazing price that you’ll take home. I feel like a kid again every time I climb the wooden ladders to pick cherries at my favorite cherry orchard.
• Crisps, crumbles, fruit dumplings, betties, grunts, sonkers, slumps: all are all essentially cobblers with slightly different toppings, assemblies, and cooking methods. Below I’m offering you two recipes, one with vegan options, as a start.
Follow your own inspiration and free yourself from recipes once you’ve learned the basics.
• Plan now for spontaneous cobbler later. Whenever I find perfect fruit, I always buy or pick a lot. Plenty to enjoy now, and some to put by for later. For berries, cherries (pitted), and peaches (sliced first), I spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan and put them directly in the freezer. When they have frozen completely, I transfer them to a freezer bag and date it. Cobbler is a snap to throw together any time, but making double batches of topping and freezing half for later makes the next cobbler even easier, and halves the cleanup time as well. I keep a bag of frozen crisp topping, rolled pie crust, or drop biscuit cobbler topping in the freezer for instant cobbler assembly.
To freeze drop biscuit topping, spoon it out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze it. After it is frozen, transfer it to a freezer bag and label it. You can bake the fruit and the toppings directly from the freezer without defrosting.
• Don’t forget the ice cream. Make your own, or pair your cobbler with Grist’s favorites (both dairy-based and vegan). You can also serve up your cobbler with whipped cream or crème fraiche, or a non-dairy treat.
Cobbling it all together
Use these recipes as a guide for getting started, but let your local fruit options and what’s in your pantry inspire your combinations. I had sour cherries in my freezer and perfectly ripe peaches on my countertop so that’s how I chose this cobbler. Their color combination is stunning and their flavors complement each other well. I like the texture that oat flour adds to biscuits and scones and its flavor goes very well with peaches, as does the cardamom. I love the rustic look of cobblers made in cast iron skillets (I used a 10″), but you can use a 2 1/2 quart casserole or pyrex dish, too.
For biscuit cobblers, the topping is not very sweet so a fair amount of sugar is added to the fruit. Crisps offer a sweeter topping so the fruit is less sweet to balance it out. For the crisp recipe featured below, I combined blackberries and blueberries with a vegan coconut-almond topping. It’s just as beautiful as it is delicious.
Sour Cherry & Peach Cobbler with Oat-Cardamom Biscuit Topping
About 8-10 servings
1 tablespoon butter, softened
4 cups fruit (I used 2 cups pitted cherries, 2 cups unpeeled, sliced peaches)
Pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot
½ cup sugar
Pulp of half of a vanilla bean, or 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract
Drop Biscuit Topping
1 cup unbleached all purpose or pastry flour
1 cup oat flour (rolled oats processed in the food processor or coffee grinder to a coarse meal), or substitute whole wheat pastry flour, cornmeal, buckwheat flour, nut meal, or other flour
2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar, divided
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt, preferably fine sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom, optional (you can also substitute cinnamon)
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) very cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 cup very cold buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 Tablespoon cream to brush the tops of the biscuits
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch cast iron skillet or a 2 ½- to 3-quart casserole or pyrex dish with 1 tablespoon of soft butter.
Prepare the filling. In the buttered pan, combine fruit, sugar, salt, cornstarch, and vanilla. Set aside while you prepare your biscuit topping.
To make the biscuits, whisk together the flours, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder, and salt. Toss in the butter cubes, and using your fingers, a fork, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter in the flour until it is the size of large peas. Quickly, stir in the buttermilk until just combined. Dollop large spoonfuls of the biscuit dough onto the top of your prepared fruit. Leave spaces between the dropped biscuits for the cobbler filling to shine through. Brush the tops of the biscuits with cream and sprinkle with the reserved tablespoon of turbinado sugar.
Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm with ice cream.
Vegan Blackberry-Blueberry Coconut Crisp
1 Tablespoon virgin coconut oil
4 cups or 2 pints mixed blackberries and blueberries
2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
Pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch or arrowroot
1 teaspoon grated lemon or lime zest, optional
Coconut Almond Streusel Topping
3/4 cup all purpose flour, rolled oats, a mixture, or a gluten free baking substitute
½ cup packed brown sugar
Rounded ¼ teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons virgin coconut oil, room temperature
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2/3 cup sliced almonds (about 2 3/4 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet or a 2 ½- to 3-quart casserole dish with the tablespoon of coconut oil. In the prepared pan, prepare the filling. Toss together the blueberries, sugar, salt, cornstarch, and citrus zest. Set aside while you prepare the topping.
To make the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, salt, and spices. Using your fingers, cut in the coconut oil until it is the size of large peas. Stir in the coconut flakes and sliced almonds. Crumble the topping on top of the blueberries. Bake about 45 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.
Some other favorite cobbler combos:
Blackberry-Raspberry Cobbler with Buckwheat Biscuit topping
Plum Pecan Crisp
Blackberry-Blueberry Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuit topping