Thursday, August 27, 2009

Battle of the Cornmeal Biscuit Cobblers!

This post has been a year in the making as last year I came upon two different recipes for fruit cobblers, one in the Washington Post and the other in Gourmet. Both are delicious and simple, my two main criteria for nearly any recipe I'm willing to try. I like these recipes because they're about technique and because they are both made with a cornmeal biscuit topping, which seems especially appropriate for spring and summer desserts.

Gourmet's cobbler above, Washington Post's below

I say these recipes are about technique because once you decide which type of biscuit topping you prefer--either drop biscuits or cut biscuits--you can put any sort of fruit combination underneath and just keep the proportion of fruit and sugar the same. If cooking stone fruit, I'd recommend the cut biscuit recipe technique as the fruit cooks a bit before you add the biscuit topping. Then add the biscuit topping of your choice and 30 minutes later you're golden. If cooking very ripe fruit, berries, and/or rhubarb, I'd follow the drop biscuit recipe technique and just cook the fruit and the biscuit topping of your choice all at the same time. In either case just make sure that the fruit is cooked and tender--but not overcooked--and the biscuit topping is a nice, golden brown.

Both dishes are impressive and simple, but I must say that the cut biscuit cobbler makes a slightly more attractive presentation than the rustic presentation of the drop biscuit cobbler. So if you want to be a rock star at the next neighborhood picnic, for a marginal additional effort, I would make the Gourmet recipe--as I did last year when I first made this dessert for a family picnic and my aunt couldn't believe that I'd made it! Puh-lease! My partner's family was also impressed this past weekend when we brought out our contribution to his family's picnic (where we also brought a delicious apple and fennel coleslaw with dill, but that's for another post). However, if you want to whip up something quick for surprise dinner guests, the drop biscuit recipe will more than satisfy, even if you use frozen fruit, I promise!

Whenever I make biscuits, I always use buttermilk or yogurt as the liquid component and add a half teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients. The cut biscuit recipe calls for heavy cream, which would doubtless add richness, but you can reduce the calories and still maintain flavor by using buttermilk or yogurt. Vanilla or honey yogurt would even work here. The baking soda reacts immediately with acid in the buttermilk or yogurt, and the baking powder acts in the heat of the oven to aerate the biscuit, muffin, cornbread, etc. So adding baking soda and extra acid makes the leavening "double acting," and who doesn't want their baked goods to rise nicely? Of course baking powder is actually one part baking soda, one part corn starch, and two parts cream of tartar, which acts as the acid.

So I'm going to attempt to show here the two recipes, first the toppings and then the fruit portion and then the instructions. Hopefully it won't be too confusing. Needless to say, fresh whipped cream, creme fraiche, or vanilla ice cream are obvious accompaniments to this delicious dessert!

Fruit Cobbler with Corn Bread Crust

Adapted from Corn Bread-Crusted Strawberry and Rhubarb Cobbler, by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick from The Washington Post, May 7, 2008 and Stone Fruit Cobbler, by Lillian Chou from Gourmet, June 2008.

Drop Biscuit Topping:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder [plus 1/2 teaspoon baking soda]
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup low-fat or regular buttermilk [or yogurt]
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Cut Biscuit Topping:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (not stone-ground)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder [plus 1/2 teaspoon baking soda]
  • Rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, divided [I used 1 cup of yogurt, plus 1 tablespoon half and half]
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
If making the cut biscuit topping, especially with stone fruit that will be pre-cooked without the topping, I would make the biscuits first and refrigerate them on a plate so that the dough can rest and the butter can harden after handling. As the butter melts in the oven, steam will form small pockets that will help the biscuits rise. Otherwise for the drop biscuit recipe, I would cut up the fruit first and add the sugar to get it dissolved and the sugary syrup forming with the fruit.

For both biscuit recipes:
Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, mixing well.

For the cut biscuits:
Blend in the butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 cup of buttermilk [or cream] and stir just until a ball of dough forms. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and lightly dust with flour, then roll out with a floured rolling pin into a 1/2-inch-thick round (about 10 inches in diameter). Cut out biscuits with lightly floured cutter. If necessary, gather scraps and re-roll once, then cut out more biscuits.

For the drop biscuits:
Whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter in a large measuring cup. Add to the cornmeal mixture and stir just until combined to form a thick batter.

Fruit filling for stone fruit such as plums, nectarines, peaches, or apricots [Gourmet doesn't recommend using fuzzy fruit like apricots or peaches because they should be peeled. Of course they don't have to be peeled if you don't want to]:
  • 3/4 to 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 pounds mixed stone fruit, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (8 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • zest of 1 lemon or lime or half an orange
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pint blueberries or blackberries [optional, but especially delicious with peaches or nectarines]
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract [optional]
Fruit filling for very ripe stone fruit, rhubarb, and/or berries (such as strawberries or raspberries):
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of fruit cut into 3/4 inch pieces (about 6 to 8 cups)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is to start with
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • zest of 1 lemon or lime or half an orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract [optional as far as I'm concerned]
  • 1 cup to 1 pint of blueberries or blackberries, frozen if necessary [optional, but I just think that dark berries go perfectly with peaches and nectarines]

For both fruit filling recipes:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss together the filling ingredients in a large bowl. Spread out in a 3 quart glass or ceramic baking dish

For the fruit filling for stone fruit such as plums, nectarines, peaches, or apricots:
Bake until just bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes and then follow either of the instructions below for either cut biscuit or drop biscuit topping.

For the rhubarb, berries, and/or very ripe stone fruit:
For the cut biscuit topping, arrange biscuits 1/2 inch apart over the filling. Brush tops with remaining half and half, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake until topping is golden and fruit is bubbling in center, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool about 30 minutes and serve warm.

For the drop biscuit topping, spoon the topping over the fruit; it should not completely cover the fruit. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the topping begins to brown and fruit juices are bubbling at the edges of the cobbler. Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes and serve warm.

1 comment:

  1. I've made the drop biscuit version of this cobbler twice in the last five days to great success and I'm so pleased with its versatility AND simplicity. The first time I needed a simple dessert recipe to make at my husband's cousin's summer house on Nantucket so it had to impress and it did! I made it in a cast iron skillet and substituted dark rum for the almond extract and used a combo of strawberries, just two peaches, sweet cherries, all from the grocery store. Back at home this weekend, husband and I wanted to recreate a spectacular linguine with Nantucket clams recipe with clams we had dug up ourselves in the Nantucket Harbor. This time in my own kitchen to make the dessert I was sure I could improve on the earlier effort with fruit from the farmers market with peaches, plums, rhubarb, and sour cherries. I also added three star anise pods and used the almond extract. Shockingly as I was mixing the dry ingredients, I realized I had no cornmeal, but I did have corn flour. I also used self-rising flour instead of regular all-purpose since I had great success with it earlier this year making an unusual strawberry shortcake recipe from Food & Wine ( So the second version was way smoother and less rustic than the one I made on Nantucket, and the fruit flavor combo was more complex, but maybe being on summer vacay cooking with family is bound to produce a better result and maybe simple is bound to be better, who knows? I've made the cut version in recent years because I was taking it to a party, and it is also impressive, but now my pendulum for this recipe is swinging back toward the drop version. Such fun to revisit reliable recipes!


Please let me know what you're thinking!