Cobbler Redux: An Example of The Biscuit Method (plus another method and a few techniques)

Meet the Scientific Marvel that is Cobbler

Meet the Scientific Marvel that is Cobbler

There were some lovely, lovely plums at the store on Sunday, perfectly ripe and fragrant.  While some might choose to use the plums in a salad, not a bad idea, I always lean towards dessert.  So, I bought ten of them and prepared to make Cobbler Happen.  Again.  In my book, you just can’t have too much cobbler.  And, in honor of The Biscuit Method, about which I Went On at Great Length a couple of days ago, I decided to do a drop biscuit topped cobbler as opposed to the batter-based cobbler I made here.  Also because my mom makes a Very Nice biscuit-topped plum cobbler.

Before I begin, may I just state for the record that this was Damn Fine Cobbler.  I didn’t use a recipe for the fruit part, but I looked up a basic sweet biscuit cobbler topping, just to look at proportions.  The original recipe is here.  I tweaked it a bit, because I wanted to use my Atkinson’s Mill Cornmeal again, and because I am not very good at leaving Well Enough alone.

What follows is a “recipe,” as near as I can guesstimate amounts.

Ahem:

Biscuit Topped Plum Cobbler
For the fruit portion of the activity:

  • 10 lovely ripe plums, each about the size of a racket ball (ish)
  • healthy pinch of salt
  • several serious squeezes of honey, maybe 3 tablespoons.  Do this more or less to taste depending on your sweet tooth and the sweetness of the fruit.
  • about 3 tablespoons fruit juice–I used cranberry-pomegranate because that’s what I had.
  • maybe 2 tablespoons corn starch

For the biscuit portion of the activity:

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup corn meal
  • some brown sugar–the original recipe called for 6 TBSP white sugar; I just dumped in a little–prolly about 1/4 cup (not packed) or a bit more
  • heavy pinch of salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder–the original called for 1 1/2, but I didn’t want my guys to be really light and fluffy.  I was going for more of a scone-type deal.
  • 3 oz cold butter, cut in pieces
  • a heavy pinch of cinnamon–maybe about 1/4-1/2 tsp
  • 2/3-ish cup milk

The Gilding of the Lily

  • demerara sugar, for sprinkling on the top of the cobbler, because I never met a lily that didn’t need some gilding

So this is how this works.

Here are my hands cutting up the plums.  I washed them well, first.  The hands and the plums.  Plum skins are very thin, so just leave them on.  If you have an Aversion to plum skins, you can peel them, I guess.

Here are my hands cutting up the plums. I washed them well, first. The hands and the plums. Plum skins are very thin, so just leave them on. If you have an Aversion to plum skins, you can peel them, I guess.

First, I cut up my plums and threw them in a pot with the rest of the fruity ingredients.

Everybody in the pool:  plums, honey, salt, fruit juice and corn starch.  Add the cornstarch while everything is still cold and stir it in, or you'll have lumps.  I guess you could mix the cornstarch into the fruit juice first; yes, that would've been a Good Idea.  Note to self...

Everybody in the pool: plums, honey, salt, fruit juice and corn starch. Add the cornstarch while everything is still cold and stir it in, or you’ll have lumps. I guess you could mix the cornstarch into the fruit juice first; yes, that would’ve been a Good Idea. Note to self…

Note that milky looking juice.  This is before heating to a boil.

Note that milky looking juice. This is before heating to a boil.

Then, I brought the whole deal to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Then, I threw all the dry biscuit ingredients together in a bowl.  Before adding the fat, I was very careful to crush all the lumps of brown sugar so that my dry mix was nice and homogeneous.

Whisking the dry ingredients together.  I had to use my hot little hands to crush the lumps out of the brown sugar.

Whisking the dry ingredients together. I had to use my hot little hands to crush the lumps out of the brown sugar.

Hello, cold butter.

Hello, cold butter.

I tossed in the butter and proceeded to rub it in by hand.  Now, remember I said that often you want to leave little pieces of cold butter whole so you have some delightful buttery pockets?  Well, this time, I really wanted a pretty short (not a lot of gluten) biscuit.  I wasn’t worried too much about structural integrity.  It wasn’t like I was going to pick them up, split them and spread some butter on them or anything.  So, I kept rubbing until everything was pretty mealy.

See, most of the butter is in very wee, mealy pieces, but the whole mix looks pretty floury.  Magical.

See, most of the butter is in very wee, mealy pieces, but the whole mix looks pretty floury. Magical.

Notice that the mix is still somewhat floury–not all sticky like a cookie dough.  This means that I was able to get some gluten formation.

Once my dry ingredients were mealy and very little fat was visible, I stirred in the milk.  This actually makes a fairly wet dough–it’s decidedly sticky, but not so much that you need to keep wiping your hands.

Here's my pretty wet biscuit dough.  It's not shiny or runny, but it is Decidedly Sticky.

Here’s my pretty wet biscuit dough. It’s not shiny or runny, but it is Decidedly Sticky.

I sort of tossed the milk about with a fork as I poured it in, and I chose not to do any kneading, again because I didn’t want to get too much gluten forming.

See how clear the juices are now?  Plus it's nicely thickened.  Thank you, corn starch, for thickening my fruit.

See how clear the juices are now? Plus it’s nicely thickened. Thank you, corn starch, for thickening my fruit.

Once the fruit was nice and soft and the juices were thickened and clear, I poured it into my trusty 9″ cast iron skillet.  I let the skillet heat up in the 350F oven while I was doing all my prep, so when the fruit hit the pan, it made a satisfying sizzle and began to boil a bit around the edges.  This meant some yummy caramelization, so I was pleased with that.  Hooray.

You could pat this dough out and cut circles, but I'd cut back on the milk some.  I wanted Rustic Cobbler, so I just dropped it from my fingers.  I didn't even use an Implement.  How's that for rustic?!

You could pat this dough out and cut circles, but I’d cut back on the milk some. I wanted Rustic Cobbler, so I just dropped it from my fingers. I didn’t even use an Implement. How’s that for rustic?!

Then, just drop little blobs of the biscuit topping all over the surface of the fruit.  Sprinkle liberally with demerara sugar, and bake at 350 until the biscuit is nice and golden.  Comme ça:

From cutting the plums all the way to taking it out of the oven took about an hour.  Not bad.  You could cut down on that time by using berries--no need to cut them up.

From cutting the plums all the way to taking it out of the oven took about an hour. Not bad. You could cut down on that time by using berries–no need to cut them up.

I guess the baking part took about 30 minutes or so.

I served this with vanilla ice cream, but you could certainly use whatever type of topping you’d like.  For bonus points and a shout-out, answer this question in the  comments section:  What is the only dessert-type topping that Miss Jenni does not want you to use?

Other Stuff I Want To Say About This Dessert

  1. These biscuits were seriously good.  I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a “drop scone” in the UK, but there are certainly drop biscuits on my side of the Atlantic.  Regardless, I would surely make these little guys again and just bake them on their own, maybe giving them a wee knead (but maybe not).  They were Wonderful.
  2. Store this guy at room temperature for up to 3 days so your topping doesn’t get soggy and sad.
  3. You could easily turn this biscuit into a pastry/pie-type crust by cutting way back on the milk, letting the dough hydrate for a half hour or so in the fridge, then rolling.  In that case, leave some pieces of fat a bit larger, for flaky goodness.
  4. Use whatever fruit and whatever spices you like in either the fruit part, the biscuit part, or both.
  5. Oh, the other method I mentioned up in the title?  Stewing fruit.  If you don’t want the juices to be thick, leave out the cornstarch.  Otherwise, there you have it:  stewed fruit.  Add some vinegar and some onion to the mix and make a chutney, but that’s another story.
  6. Oh, did I also mention “a few techniques?”  Okay:  some sort of fruit with some sort of dough=cobbler.  There’s one.  Here’s another:  using starch to thicken liquid.  Usually your liquid needs to come to a full boil to completely gelatinize the starch and cook out that raw starch taste.  You want to stew fruit, this is how you do it.  And a third:  sweetening  Especially with the fruit, you just want it sweet enough, and nobody can tell you what that means.  You have to add sweetener (or not) until it’s sweet enough for your taste.  I used honey, because I thought that it would go well with the plums.  Of course, there are tons of other choices, too:  sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, stevia, etc.  Then, there’s baking itself.  If I had clamped a lid on top of the skillet and simmered it over low heat on the stove top, my biscuits would’ve steamed (moist method) instead of baked (dry method).  Then, I wouldn’t really have a cobbler; I’d have a grunt.  Don’t get caught up in all the fruit dessert lingo, though:  cobbler, betty, crisp, crumble, grunt, slump, etc–they’re all very similar.
  7. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, don’t worry about it.  Any heavy Baking Vessel will do.

And that pretty much takes care of things, I think.

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Comments

  1. says

    Ooh, ooh! I know the answer! Pick me! Miss Jenni says NEVER use Cool Whip! For it is made of Oils and Chemicals and Not Foods! Recoil as a vampire to the sun with its very mention! Hissssss!

    …Nice looking cobbler you got there, too. :P

    • says

      Well played, Miss Anna. Well played, indeed! You are correct, of course. I am Very Pleased that you’ve been paying attention (although I’m thinking that you didn’t need me to tell you to Stay Away from the Foul White Foamy Stuff)! You win much praise and a shout-out on Ye Olde Blog tomorrow. Others who answer correctly get points, too, but you Win, since you are The First! :D

  2. Bronwyn says

    There is indeed a thing called a drop scone in England, but it is not like your drop biscuits. It is called a pancake in Scotland and a pikelet in New Zealand and in America would probably be called a small pancake.

    • says

      Thanks for teaching me a new thing, Bronwyn! The pastry lingo, and terminology in general, can be so different from country to country. I remember when I was in Ireland and was all excited to have a sticky bun. Not at all what I was expecting, although it was tasty!

  3. says

    Looks so good! So, I’m with you on your cobbler method. I never heated my pan ahead of time but will try that next time I make cobbler. I read (I think it’s Booby Flay, I mean Bobby Flay – who I am withholding judgement on) that he makes his cobbler biscuits separate and then puts them on top so they don’t get soggy. Thoughts?

    • says

      I don’t know about Bobby Flay’s procedure. I like cobbler because the fruity goodness is absorbed by the dough that is touching it. It’s the estuarine part of the dish where the fruit and the biscuit comingle that I love so much. If I want separate biscuits and fruit, I’ll just put some jelly on a biscuit. And that’s what I have to say about that. ;)

  4. says

    I just love your tutorials….you have become my pastry chef hero…and I love love love plums, so I will make anything with plums in it!

  5. says

    I’m not good at leaving well enough alone either – that’s why I love your recipes so much! i.e. they’re not really, with lots of playing room. I think Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini made a comment once after praising an author’s recipes and proceeding to modify it to her tastes, that it’s important to start with a trustworthy recipe, so you know your changes will work. I couldn’t agree more.

  6. says

    ok, it’s breakfast and all i want is a heaping of this cobbler. no eggs, no pancakes. i want this cobbler. i can feel the texture of the toppings right now!!

  7. says

    My Ma used to make drop scones when we were kids – I seem to remember a kind of a thick batter, spoons of which were dropped onto and then cooked on a pan. Haven’t had them in years, though – I should ask my Ma what she used to put in them and maybe make mention of it on that ol’ blog of mine…

  8. Jo-Anne says

    sounds like a delicious recipe. I too just picked up some plums for a fruit salad for this coming weekend. They ripened way too soon and I’m afraid I’ll have to make this on Thursday and buy more plums for the weekend.

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