You Can Throw Together A Cobbler, No Sweat
7:54 AM EDT on August 20, 2022
Cobbler is like stuffed peppers in ... well, in basically no respects, except that, like stuffed peppers, it can be thrown together in a generally normal household kitchen pretty much on a whim. If you have any of a wide variety of fresh, seasonal fruits, and some other kitchen-staple type stuff, and the impulse to make something sweet and delicious and dessert-like, you can just whip up some cobbler.
I suppose the first question a person might ask in response to this claim is What is cobbler? Reasonable! In case the above photo has not assured you of this: I am not asking you to make a shoe repair craftsperson. Cobbler refers to a dessert that is generally a lot like your familiar fruit pie—that is to say, it contains hot cooked fruit usually in some sweet gooey substance—only instead of a top-and-bottom pastry crust it just has a topping of what in most cases is basically just sweetened biscuit dough, which turns golden-brown and crispy in the oven. In some places, particularly in the Deep South, it can also have a bottom crust, but when I think of cobbler, and when I admonish unsuspecting readers to make cobbler, I am talking about the stuff that is just the hot gooey fruit, with a biscuit topping. You can throw this thing together, and I insist that you do it.
Will it be the absolute most delicious thing you've ever eaten? Playing the odds, probably not: Probably nothing you extract from your oven an hour or so—and no grocery shopping trips—after having had the impulse to make it will ever be that good, unless you are a professional cook. But it will be gooey and decadent and satisfying, and that's plenty. Measure it in the context of the ease of its production, relative to that of, say, a homemade cherry pie. Have you ever tried to make a pie from scratch? Psycho shit!
I would like to call your attention to the cobbler in the photo at the top of this blog. I threw that cobbler together on a weeknight this week, loosely referencing some instructions I wrote for peach cobbler a zillion years ago on the old website. It's the first cobbler I've made in at least five years. The only ingredient in it that had not been gathering dust in my kitchen for at least two weeks was the blueberries, which I'd bought earlier that day. I will not lie to you, dear reader: This cobbler was soupier than I'd consider ideal! Also the biscuit dough for the topping was both slightly too wet to behave the way I wanted it to and saltier than I wanted it, because I am out of cobbler practice and didn't bother measuring things carefully. If I'd ordered this cobbler for dessert at a restaurant, and then my wife asked me how it was, I would have shrugged and said, "Fine," and continued eating, unless I'd paid $30 for it, in which case I would have shrugged and said "Probably not worth thirty bucks"—and continued eating. But, see, that is the whole thing! It was fine, a perfectly fine dessert, which everybody enjoyed, and which had been fully thrown together on a whim. The next morning, at least two not-me members of my household were visibly and/or vocally disappointed to learn that there was not any left over.
That, I think, is pretty much the whole cobbler idea: A perfectly fine baked dessert, delivering most of the decadent pleasure of a fruit pie, but, like, a normal person can make one, without a lot of planning. You're a normal person! Or anyway you wear the mask of one, to hide the howling chaos within. You can make a fine cobbler—a good one, even. You can throw one together, is the thing: Working within some broad guidelines, you can more-or-less wing it and then have some cobbler for dessert, and enjoy it.
Blueberries are in season right now; let's make a blueberry cobbler.
Here are some things that you will need.
You will need some blueberries. It is not super important to hew to any exact quantity of blueberries, here, except in relation to whatever vessel you will use to cook them. When I made cobbler this week, I got two 18-ounce packages of big fat fresh blueberries and used them all, which ended up being very obviously too many blueberries for the nine-inch round cake pan that I used for the project. This did not stop me from attempting to fit them all in there, and as a consequence a bunch of hot, delicious blueberry goo overflowed out of the pan during its time in the oven. (Thankfully I had stationed a cookie sheet on the oven rack beneath the one with the cobbler on it, and it caught all of the blueberry goo instead of allowing it to drip down into the guts of the oven and turn into smoky hell.) I guess that is my way of saying that 36 ounces of blueberries is too many for making a single blueberry cobbler in nine-inch round cake pan, so either use fewer blueberries than that or use a bigger vessel (or two vessels).
I suppose you could go for blackberries instead of blue, with minimal changes (or perhaps none) to the procedure. Depending on where you are, you might still be able to get away with peaches or nectarines, though that will change the steps quite a bit. Peak strawberry season is in the rearview mirror. Raspberries would dissolve to seed-studded slime when you cook them. Possibly there are other cobbler fruits? Pear cobbler? I don't know. In any event I recommend blueberries; the instructions in this blog are for blueberries. Moving on!
For the purposes of this blog let's imagine that you are using 36 ounces of blueberries, but also some type of ovenproof vessel with at least an inch and a half of depth that is larger than a nine-inch round cake pan. I think the ideal vessel for this is probably around a square foot in size, and 1.5 or two inches deep.
Later on, when you get to the cooking steps part of this, you're going to, uh, cook the blueberries. As they cook they are going to release a lot of liquid, as I briefly covered above. This liquid can make your cobbler more like a bowl of hot blueberry juice, rather than like a rich gooey pie filling. So you're going to need two fat teaspoons of cornstarch; this will thicken that liquid and make it, uh, gooey. You do not necessarily need the zest of a lemon and half of its juice, but the blueberries can lose some of their tartness as they cook and the lemon can help replace it.
You will need a cup of regular all-purpose flour and probably less than a cup of water, but go ahead and measure out a cup of water. This is for the biscuit dough. You will also need some normal white granulated sugar. The dough will use half a cup of the stuff. The blueberry filling will also use sugar, around a third of a cup of it; this can be the same type of white sugar or brown sugar or maybe even honey. You will need a teaspoon or so of baking powder, and a pinch or two of salt. You will need a stick of butter, hacked into little pieces (do this while the butter is still very cold and hard). I highly recommend that this be unsalted butter, so that you will have maximal control over how salty your biscuit dough will be; I didn't have unsalted butter earlier this week, and so I used salted butter instead, and then the dough was saltier than I wanted it. However! If all you have is salted butter, that is fine. Simply take back the pinch or two of salt mentioned previously, and let your butter handle the salting part of the operation.
You will need a pair of big bowls, or one big bowl that you will use twice, cleaning and drying it thoroughly in between. In addition to the ovenproof vessel mentioned a few paragraphs ago, you will need a lil' saucepan. (You're going to boil that cup of water in this saucepan; if you don't have a small saucepan but do have a microwave, you can boil the water in a microwave-safe mug.) You will need a fork, and a spoon, and possibly some other type of implement (silicone spatula?) for tossing stuff in the bowl. I think that's it. Let's cook and see.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Also, bring the cup of water to a boil however you're going to do that.
The first undertaking is the blueberry stuff. In one of your bowls, or your one bowl, toss the blueberries around with the third of a cup of sugar and the cornstarch (and the lemon zest and juice if you're using any) until the dry stuff is pretty well dispersed among the berries. Dump this into the ovenproof vessel and stick it in the oven for 10 minutes.
(A note, here: You can do the blueberry part in a pot on your stovetop, by just mixing the cornstarch with a little bit of water and the lemon juice, dumping in the blueberries, and cooking it over medium heat, stirring all the while, until it's thick and gloopy. That's how you'd do it if you were making pie filling that would later go into a pie crust, and it might be preferable in some respects: It gives you a better real-time sense of how things are coming along, how gloopy your gloop has gotten. But since there's no bottom crust involved in cobbler, and since I like being able to make the biscuit dough while the blueberry stuff cooks instead of having to spend that time stirring and stirring and stirring, I think it's fine to just do the blueberry stuff right in the vessel that will eventually have the whole cobbler in it.)
OK! So! While the blueberry stuff is cooking in the oven, you're going to make the biscuit dough. I'm not going to boldface all the individual parts. In your bowl, with the fork, mix the flour, the half-cup of sugar, and the baking powder. Drop all those little pieces of hacked-up cold butter in there, and with your hands get down in there and mix stuff and pinch the little bits of butter to break them up, until the contents of the bowl are sorta grainy and coarse because the butter is making the dry stuff clump together here and there. Next, slowly drizzle that boiling water in there, a little at a time, while gently stirring it in with the fork in your other hand, just until you have something that is sticky and minimally dough-like. You should definitely end up using far less than the entire cup of water! You may end up using less than half of the cup!
To be clear: Whatever impression you might have gotten from my careless use of exclamation points in the previous paragraphs, it's not a disaster if you end up using the full cup of water. Your cobbler's topping will wind up being softer and cakier, like poundcake or cornbread, rather than crumbly and biscuit-like. That's fine. I just think it's better, a lot better, if it's more biscuit-y.
So, you have your biscuit dough and the timer went off on your blueberries. Haul the blueberry stuff out of the oven, and kind of move it around in its vessel a little bit with your implement. You'll see that the berries have softened a lot; probably there is a lot of liquid in there now. If this liquid is not gooey yet, that is OK, both in the sense that it almost certainly will get gooier later, after it gets more cooking and then cools, but also in the sense that even if it never gets any gooier than it is right now, that is fine, because it will taste delicious and the whole idea here is not to fret a lot over making this thing perfect.
With your spoon, scoop little blobs of biscuit dough and array them all over the surface of the blueberry stuff. Unless you used a really vast cooking vessel with tons of surface area, there should be enough dough to give this sucker pretty good coverage. If the spoon-sized blobs of dough are more that, let's say, a couple of inches apart from each other, maybe you will need to whip up more dough. On the other hand, maybe not. I keep coming back to this, the very point of the blog: It's going to be fine either way! Because it will be sweet blueberry goo with biscuit-y dough on top of it! And because at the end you can put a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a big heap of whipped cream on it! So I really do not think that you should sweat this!
Stick this mother back in the oven, and set a timer for 30 minutes. Uh, that's really it. If your oven has a window and an interior light, you can peek at the cobbler after, say, 20 minutes to see if the topping is A) spreading across the surface of the cobbler a little, and also B) becoming golden brown. Unless you went very far off-script, though, it's almost certainly fine to just wait out the 30 minutes, after which the cobbler will be done. Scoop portions into bowls.
Decide for yourself whether to chuck some ice cream or whipped cream in there, or neither, or both, or both and a maraschino cherry and some chocolate sauce or whatever. Either way it's fine! It's cobbler! That's the whole point!