Cobblers and crisps are very forgiving. They’re perfect fodder for freelancing. You can mix and match fruits for the filling. You can add the topping of your choice. You can make them as sweet as you like. And everyone likes cobblers and crisps.
Today, we’re going to explore the world of cobblers and, to a lesser extent, crisps. We’ll give you some techniques and guidelines for making these desserts with the goal of arming you to take our recipes or the recipes of others to build desserts that are perfect for your family and uniquely yours.
We’ll preface this discussion—cobblers and crisps are easy desserts to make, easier than pies. With pies, you form and shape crusts. You build a bottom crust and often a top. You seal the edges tight and make them decorative. With a cobbler, you cover the filling with a topping and you’re done. (Next Thanksgiving, instead of making so many pies, consider building some cobblers.)
The filling can be made with most fruits or a combination of fruits. Take apples and accent them with cranberries or raspberries. Take peaches and spike them with blueberries and slivered almonds. You can even take strawberries or strawberries and rhubarb and top them with a shortbread-like topping. There’s a choice of toppings—a crisp can be defined as a cobbler with a streusel-like topping. We’re partial to loading our toppings, both for crisps and cobblers, with nuts.
There are several ways to build a topping for a cobbler:
Method 1: Building a cake-like topping
To build a cake-like topping, mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Add oil or melted butter to the liquid mixture. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture. Use a spatula and stir until the batter is combined. Pour or spoon the batter over the filling and bake.
Like all cobbler toppings, use a soft flour—pastry or cake four. (All purpose flour will do.) Don’t over-mix or the topping will be tough instead of tender and cake-like.
The Apple Cranberry Walnut Cobbler is included as an example of this type of recipe.
Method 2: Building a free-form biscuit topping.
With the biscuit method, you cut the butter or shortening into the flour with a pastry blender. (You can get a free pastry blender in today’s publication.) When the flour and butter mixture becomes granular, add the liquids and form the biscuits.
In the free-form biscuit method, enough liquid is added to make the dough soft and spoonable. Large spoonfuls are dropped on the filling. The result is a rough-hewn, shaggy top.
Tips for success:
• Use cold butter—you want your butter to act like a solid, not a liquid.
• Don’t let your dough get too warm.
• Don’t’ overwork your dough.
Method 3: Building a shaped biscuit topping.
In this method, you use less liquid for a dryer dough. The dough is folded and rolled with a rolling pin on the countertop. Cut round biscuits and arrange them on the filling.
Method 4: Baking the topping ahead of time and adding the topping to the filling before serving
Instead of arranging the biscuits on the filling, place them on a baking sheet and bake as you would for other biscuits. This is a great make-ahead method. Just before serving, arrange the baked biscuits on the filling and bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for eight to ten minutes or until hot.
For crisps, use any streusel topping recipe intended for a pie. For a simple butter, flour, and cinnamon topping, check out the toppings intended for Dutch Apple Pie. Many brown betty recipes are made with toppings similar to this. We’re in love with nuts so we usually choose toppings with nuts or oats and nuts. Cranapple Crumble is an example of a crisp—yes, a crumble is a crisp—that uses a topping with oats and nuts.
Making the Fillings
We usually build our dessert fillings in one of four ways:
Method 1: With canned fruit
Use canned fruit with the juice for a quick and simple filling. To thicken the juice to a slurry, add a little cornstarch or flour as if you were making gravy. Add the spices that you like.
Mormon Peach Cobbler is a recipe that uses this technique.
Method 2: With fresh fruit on the stovetop
This is our favorite method. We can choose any mixture of fruits that we like. We can make the mixture as sweet or as tart as we like. We can control the amount of juice for either a cobbler with a lot of sauce or one that is relatively dry.
Start a slurry in a large pot on the top of the stove. We like to use fruit juices or fruit juice concentrates. (There are some marvelous fruit juice concentrates in the frozen juice section of the grocery—orange mango or passion fruit for example. You can really spike up a dessert with these.) Whisk in a little cornstarch, maybe some spices, and some sugar into the slurry. Give it a few moments to let the sugar dissolve and whisk it again. Add the fruit and cook it on medium heat until the fruit is tender. Add more juice or water as needed. Remove the filling to a baking pan and cover it with the desired topping.
Apple Cranberry Walnut Cobbler is a recipe that uses this technique.
Method 3: With fresh fruit in the oven
Many soft fruits such as peaches and strawberries require little cooking. A raw fruit filling can be topped and then popped in the oven. By the time the topping is baked, the filling is usually hot and bubbling.
Mormon Cobbler with Fresh Peaches is a recipe that uses this technique.
Method 4: With canned fruit pie filings
We usually reserve these canned pie fillings for crisps and usually when we are in a hurry.
Other Techniques and Tips
You can choose the size of dessert that you would like. A pan that is 9 x13-inches will need eight to ten cups of fresh fruit—the equivalent of six or eight apples. An 8 x 8-inch pan is half the size. To cover a 9 x 13-inch pan with a cake-like or biscuit-like topping will require a recipe with 2 1/2 to 3 cups of flour. One-half cup of sugar in that same topping recipe will make a not-too-sweet topping.
The Apple Cranberry Walnut Cobbler uses fresh apples and dried cranberries and this stovetop method. We can then control the amount of juice and sweetness of the filling. We can leave the cranberries out; we can use fresh cranberries at holiday time. We can use raspberries or strawberries. We can add nuts to the filling. We can spice up the filling.
This dessert recipe fills a 9 x 13-inch pan. If that’s too much, cut the recipe in half and use an 8 x 8-inch pan or a baking dish.
We like to add finally chopped nuts, walnuts or pecans, to cake-like and biscuit toppings. Slivered or sliced almonds are wonderful additions to streusel toppings for crisps.
We hope that you have a wonderful time building cobblers and crisps. Use one of our recipes—we’ve included several—or something from your favorite cookbook. Then do a little freelancing. Build the dessert that fits your tastes and is uniquely yours.