Thursday, December 5, 2013
Some desserts exist in their own hierarchy of greatness. And without further equivocation, I can safely say that what follows is one of the finest peach cobblers from the greater repertoire of grunts, crisps, crumbles, pandowdies and buckles.
They are all very similar in their genetic makeup, especially the summer variety that relies on berries or fruits. For the most part, there’s a pastry involved in the process, which is incorporated into the fruit or berry filling. Sometimes it’s baked or steamed, or cooked in a skillet in the oven or on top of the stove.
One cobbler that I often prepare, either with peaches or apples, is an unusual preparation of stewed fruit cooked in sugar syrup that’s put into a dish, topped with pastry strips, then layered with more filling and finally topped with the final strips of pastry. The fruit compote seems watery but the layer of pastry dough thickens it up as it bakes. It’s an admirable cobbler.
For this traditional cobbler prepare a dough in the usual way with 2 cups flour,, 6 1/2 ounces butter and about 1/3 cup water or enough to hold the dough together. Set aside, chilled. Put 6 cups peaches (unpeeled), sliced, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar, 2 cups waters and 4 tablespoons butter into a large saucepan and bring to the boil amd cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Roll out the dough and cut into 1-inch-wide strips . Put half the peach mixture into the bottom of a greased 2 1/2 quart glass or ceramic baking dish, lay half the strips on top and then pour the remaining peaches over the dough. Cover with remaining strips. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes until the top is brown and the filling is bubbling.
The one that truly stands apart—and featured here--is the batter cobbler. Here is a simple batter of flour, sugar, milk, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s poured into a baking dish that’s been preheated with a generous amount of butter until it begins to sizzle slightly.
Once the batter is poured over the butter, it starts to cook immediately--ready for the mound of sugared peaches to go on top. It’s put in the oven to bake and what emerges is this beautiful crusty confection from all the sugar and butter with a filling of peaches that’s luxuriously rich. It’s very sweet, that’s for sure, because of the high proportions of butter and sugar. Don’t even think of cutting back on these ingredients. It won’t be the same.
The butter has melted in the dish in the oven, the batter has been poured over the butter and the sugared peaches have been placed on top, ready to bake
You also must use peaches at full ripeness. Local peaches are plentiful at farmers’markets now. But when you bring them home let them sit on the counter for a few days until very ripe--soft when squeezed gently.
Out of the oven the cobbler emerges with this incredible candy-like crust covering the sweet peaches within
When the finished cobbler is topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream you’re about to enter into the unique realm of dessert heaven.
Peach cobbler served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream
The Ultimate Peach Cobbler
Servings: 6 to 8
1/2 cup finest quality sweet butter
6 to 8 fresh peaches, peeled and sliced and enough to measure two cups
3/4 cup flour plus 1 tablespoon
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups sugar
A few gratings of nutmeg
A pinch of cinnamon
3/4 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Put the butter into an 8-inch square ceramic baking dish to melt in the oven while it preheats.
Meanwhile skin the peaches by dropping them into boiling water to cook for 30 to 45 seconds, then remove and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Drain and remove the skins’ they will slip off easily.
Slice the peaches and put into a large mixing bowl with 1 cup of the sugar. Stir to combine.
Prepare the batter by mixing together the flour, baking powder, remaining 1 cup sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Combine with a whisk. Stir in the milk until the batter is smooth.
Once the butter is completely melted and bubbling slightly remove from oven, swirling the butter around to coat the sides of the dish. Add the batter and then immediately place the peaches, by hand, over the batter. Put the dish on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the crust is a light golden brown and the filling feels firm when touched with your finger.
Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving and accompany with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.