Recently I have been thinking about...and making...summer fruit cobbler. If you tell someone you are going to make a fruit cobbler, it is entirely likely that they will envision something that is quite different from the cobbler that you are planning to make. I would venture to guess that there is less agreement among cooks and cookbooks on what is meant by this particular dessert than any other classic fruit dessert. Styles of cobbler seem to vary regionally and also seem to be tied to a family's ethnic/culinary origin. I do not come from a particular ethnic cooking tradition. But I do come from several generations of Midwestern cooks. The style of cobbler that I was raised with is mostly typical for my region. It is a big pan of sweetened and lightly thickened fruit baked with biscuits (drop or rolled) scattered over the surface.
This is still the kind of cobbler that I make most often...and it is what I picture when I refer to a "cobbler"...but I have of course encountered many other kinds.
The first cobbler I ever made was a peach cobbler from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook. It consisted of a layer of sweetened and lightly thickened peaches topped with a cake batter. It baked up very much like an upside-down cake—albeit with more fruit and with a more casual and rough appearance. It was not what I had thought a cobbler should be, but it was in the cookbook that I was using to learn how to cook so I went ahead and made it. I remember thinking that it was very good.
Some years later I made another peach cobbler. This one was from a magazine (Midwest or Southern Living, I believe) and was like a deep dish peach pie without the bottom crust. It was also very good. If I am not mistaken, this is also the kind of cobbler that my mother remembers her maternal grandmother making. Recently I discovered that Edna Lewis's idea of cobbler was just like this one...only she included a bottom crust. I guess I'm not quite sure how this differs from a deep dish pie....
I have a good friend (who is also a chef) who champions his grandmother's style of cobbler. He too was raised in the Midwest (which for my purposes is Kansas and Missouri...I realize that the term "Midwest" also means different things to different people, depending on where you were raised), but his grandmother's cobbler seems a bit European to me in that it sounds more like what I would call a kuchen. Her cobbler is made by spreading a thick batter in a thin layer in a pan and then topping it with a generous quantity of juicy fruits and a final sprinkling of sugar (although, when I make a kuchen, I put a streusel on top instead of sugar). My friend remembers the cobblers his grandmother made when he was growing up with great fondness. Unfortunately, like many treasured family recipes, the exact details of her recipe have disappeared. Today, he makes a version that is as close to hers as he has been able to get it. He tells me that every time he makes it he is nearer to getting it right. (He better share some with me when he does.)
I am certain that this short list of cobblers has not exhausted all of the things one might mean by the term cobbler. When I looked up Edna Lewis's recipe, I found that Scott Peacock's family made a cobbler with biscuits, but the biscuits are put in the dish first and a cooked berry juice is poured over the top of them. The baking process produces dumplings in a berry sauce. Peacock calls this "Alabama-style" cobbler. A few years ago I discovered that a friend of mine who was raised in the south (but not in Alabama) means something more like what I would call a crisp when she uses the word cobbler. If I did some actual research, I know I would be able to go on and on.
In any case, the wonderful thing about this great variety of things called cobblers is that all of them sound delicious. I really wish I had the time to bake them all...and compare and contrast. Hopefully someday I will get around to trying one of each kind at least once. Because of my early days learning to cook, I already have a bit of a start. But in reality, since I am a creature of habit, it is most likely I will continue to make the biscuit topped style of cobbler on most occasions when I am in the mood for cobbler.
The only requirements for this type of cobbler are a good biscuit and a generous quantity of ripe fruit that is not overly sweetened or overly thickened. When I eat cobbler, I want to eat lots of juicy fruit garnished with some biscuit...not lots of biscuit with a meager portion of gloppy fruit. You might feel otherwise...which is fine since it is clear that any cake-y or dough-y kind of preparation that includes cooked fruit can probably be called a cobbler.
As far as the biscuit is concerned I just found a recipe that I like very well. While visiting my friend Bonnie we made a variation of the raspberry cobbler that appears in the June issue of Martha Stewart Living. The biscuit in her recipe is a cream-style biscuit (something I am partial to) that baked up sweet and light and with a nice crusty top. Instead of plain raspberries, we made a sort of seasonal mixed fruit cobbler with blueberries and rhubarb in addition to the raspberries.
The resulting cobbler tasted delicious.
If I make it again, I will increase the quantity of fruit a bit. Martha's recipe called for 5 cups of berries. We increased this slightly, but not enough for my taste. I think a cobbler with this quantity of biscuit dough should have 7 or 8 cups of fruit. I also found the finished fruit to be a bit thick—but this was our mistake. We should have decreased the thickener slightly when we went from all berries to part berries and part rhubarb (rhubarb requires less thickener than berries).
When I returned home, I was in the mood still for cobbler. Peach season is just hitting its stride, so I decided to make a Peach and Raspberry cobbler.
I increased the quantity of fruit to about 7 1/2 cups and decreased the cornstarch slightly. I thought this cobbler was about perfect. But in the recipe I have given a range of cornstarch in case you like the juices to be a bit more thickened.
I took my cobbler to a friend's house for dinner and served it with vanilla ice cream. Whipped cream or a dollop of crème fraiche would be good too. Her children seemed to like it very much...and this is one of the nice things about a cobbler—people of all ages and backgrounds seem to enjoy it. The next morning I had just enough left over for breakfast. Served with a big spoonful of plain yogurt, I couldn't believe how good it was. Cream biscuits...yogurt...and a juicy fruit compote....a perfect breakfast....
Peach & Raspberry Cobbler
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200 gr.)
1 3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 c. granulated sugar (50 gr.)
1/4 t. salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick (85 gr.)
2/3 to 3/4 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing
2 lbs. peaches
1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 T. cornstarch (use 2 T. if you prefer a thicker fruit compote)
pinch of salt
12 oz. (3 c.) raspberries
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 375°. Butter a 2 1/4- to 2 1/2-quart baking dish (one that is about 2-inches deep). Set aside.
Make the biscuit topping: Whisk together flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, and salt. Add the butter and using your hands or a pastry blender, rub in the butter until the mixture has the appearance of cornmeal and peas.
Stir the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula while pouring in the cream, continuing to stir until a soft, shaggy dough is formed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead once or twice, gathering loose bits into ball. Pat dough out into a 3/4-inch thick square, rectangle or oval (depending on the style of dish you are using). Chill the dough while you make the filling.
Cut a small slit in the skin on the bottom of each peach. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Remove from the heat and drop the peaches into the pot. Let stand for 30 seconds to loosen the skins; transfer to a towel. When cool enough to handle, peel, halve, pit and slice the peaches 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick. You should have about 4 to 4 1/2 cups sliced peaches.
Place the peaches in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice. Combine the dry ingredients and add to the peaches. Add the raspberries and carefully fold in. Transfer the fruit to the prepared dish.
Remove the slab of dough from the refrigerator and cut into 9 to 12 rough squares. Place the biscuits on top of filling. Brush with cream, and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.
Bake cobbler until the fruit in the center is bubbling and the biscuit topping is golden brown, about 45 minutes to an hour (loosely tent with foil if biscuit topping gets too dark). Depending on the size of your dish, you may want to slide a baking sheet under the cobbler after about 20 minutes in the oven. Let stand at least 30 minutes before serving...preferably longer...so that the juices will have some time to firm up a bit.
(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine, June 2012)