Cobblers and Crisps
Cobblers and crisps made from juicy, impeccably ripe seasonal fruit are among our favorite desserts. They’re often considered “easy,” but anyone who’s ever made one has probably had at least one disappointingly soggy experience.
Typically that wonderfully fresh fruit sheds all its juices in the oven, leaving the filling soupy, the fruit mushy, and the topping anything but crisp. Some recipes load up on starchy thickeners to compensate, but this makes the filling gluey. Other recipes call for drawing out moisture by sprinkling the fruit with sugar and letting it drain in a colander. But loads of flavor drains away with all that juice.
Plopping any old raw topping onto room-temperature fruit may be easy, but it will likely lead to a soggy mess. So instead, cook down juicy fruit to concentrate excess liquid, add just a touch of the right thickener, create a topping that’s sturdy enough to hold its own when placed on top of the hot filling, and bake at a higher- than-expected temperature (400 degrees or higher).
To thicken fruit without losing any flavor, turn to a skillet. For notoriously juicy peaches, sautéing them to release their juices and then cooking off the liquid results in buttery-sweet fruit with concentrated flavor. To keep fresh texture, we add some uncooked peaches to our filling just before baking. A similar approach works with fresh cranberries: Cook off and concentrate some of their abundant liquid before combining them with apples, then add dried cranberries before baking, which hydrate by absorbing some of the remaining juice from the fresh berries.
A modest, balanced amount of the right thickener—cornstarch or tapioca—proves invaluable for great texture. (Flour leaves a starchy taste and texture in cobblers and crisps.)
We typically love buttermilk biscuits as a cobbler topping, but when made using the usual method of cutting up cold butter to blend in, they fall to pieces on the hot filling. Switching to melted butter makes for sturdier biscuits that remain intact and don’t turn gummy when baked on top of the fruit. For a fruit-crisp topping that stays crisp and doesn’t sink, keeping it moist and cohesive (rather than powdery and crumbly) is key, so process the topping ingredients in a food processor and pinch the resulting buttery mixture together into sturdy, peanut-size clumps.
1 Prepare fruit by peeling, removing pit or core, and cutting intopieces.
2 For very juicy fruit, such as peaches, set some fruit aside to add later.Cook remaining fruit in skillet with butter and sugar, covered if directed, to release juices.
3 Uncover and simmer until juices evaporate and fruit begins tocaramelize.
4 Add reserved uncooked fruit to skillet and cook until heatedthrough.
5 Whisk lemon juice with a small amount of cornstarch and stir into filling.