(NYTIMES) - What do you picture when you hear the word cobbler?
Is it a bubbling pan of baked peaches topped with a flaky lattice pie crust? Or syrupy berries covered in fluffy biscuits? Or a slice of butter cake strewn with jammy fruit?
If your first thoughts have to do with cocktails or shoemakers, you’ve obviously not eaten enough cobblers in your life. Read on.
Regardless of the version being served, the common feature of this pastry is plenty of fruit — preferably fresh, dead ripe and picked at the height of the season. It’s this fruit that’s critical to a cobbler’s excellence. No matter whether it’s baked with pie dough, biscuits or cake batter, the fruit needs to release enough juice to boil up, forming all those wonderfully condensed, sticky pockets.
For biscuit cobblers like this one, the simmering juices have another advantage: They keep the biscuit bottoms supple and soft, basically steaming them tender. Then the tops, exposed to the dry heat of the oven, turn golden and crisp. It’s this juxtaposition of the soft, syrup-soaked caky layer crowned with a very crisp surface that makes biscuit cobblers my favourite of the three.
Here, I’ve kept the topping and filling as simple as possible so that the fruit shines.
You can use almost any fruit as long as it’s juicy. Summer fruit works best: berries, peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines, apricots, pears or a combination. Save your apples, figs and bananas for other projects. You’ll want a little more than a cup of cut fruit per person.
Then sweeten the fruit to taste. Tart berries and sour cherries may need more sugar than gentle, low-acid peaches and pears. Start with a few tablespoons and go from there, tasting along the way. Bear in mind that as the juices cook down and the water evaporates, the fruit will become even sweeter.
A little instant tapioca in the filling helps thicken it. Be sure to let the cobbler bake until you see those juices bubble up. This is a sign that they are boiling, a necessary step to activate the gelling power of the tapioca.
Before covering the fruit with the biscuits, you’ll need to chill the dough. This helps the biscuits keep their shape. Twenty minutes will do it, though if it’s more convenient to make the biscuit dough a few hours in advance, you can. Just keep it well chilled until baking.
A little ice cream, whipped cream or a dollop of sour cream on the side is always welcome when serving a cobbler — at least for the majority of its incarnations.
Fruit Cobbler With Any Fruit
YIELD: 8 servings
TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes
220g all-purpose flour
50g granulated sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
⅛ tsp kosher salt
85g cold unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup plus 1 Tbs heavy cream
10 cups mixed fruit, such as peaches, blueberries or blackberries
3 Tbs to ⅔ cup granulated sugar, to taste
3 Tbs minute tapioca
1 Tbs turbinado or raw sugar
1. Place a piece of parchment paper on a small rimmed baking sheet or large plate.
2. In a food processor, pulse together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pulse in butter just until mixture looks like small pebbles. Drizzle in buttermilk and cream, and pulse just to combine.
3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and pat dough together, incorporating any stray or dry pieces. Using a spoon, scoop off 5cm pieces of dough and roll into balls (you should end up with about 10). Transfer dough to baking sheet or plate and flatten balls to 2cm thick; wrap with plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes, and up to 8 hours.
4. Meanwhile, heat oven to 176 degrees Celsius. In a large bowl, toss together fruit, sugar to taste, and tapioca. Let sit for 20 minutes to hydrate tapioca, then scrape into a 2.3l gratin dish or 22-by-33cm baking pan.
5. Top with biscuits, then brush biscuit tops with remaining 1 tablespoon cream. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, and bake until dark golden on top and fruit is bubbling in the middle, about 1 hour, rotating halfway through. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.