July 23, 2010

On birthdays and cobbler

Harry's birthday was on Thursday, and once again, like last year, I made him a cobbler. Among other things, goofy natures aside, we share the same month for our birthdays, and a similar taste for desserts that aren't overly sweet. I know, you're probably thinking that the author/baker of this blog must like really sweet things with that cake she made herself a few weeks ago, but that cake was rich, not saccharine. Rich doesn't necessarily equal heavily sugared. Any how, my dad's pretty easy to please when it comes to desserts, especially during the summer with so many different types of fruit coming into season, all throughout these long, hot months. It helps, of course, when one lives in California with ample access to fantastic produce. The stuff just grows so well here.

If you enjoy apricots, you need to make this cobbler. This type of baking is so simple and yet one of the best ways to showcase fruit in a dessert. When the apricot (or other stone fruit or berry or what have you) is at the peak of its prime, it doesn't need much embellishment. The great thing about pies and cobblers and tarts is that you can adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe to your taste, depending on the natural sweetness of the fruit. The other great thing about pies and cobblers and tarts is that, although it may be a bit hot to turn the oven on, you can always make ice cream to eat with them. You'll thank yourself for turning the oven on earlier in the day when sitting down after dinner to a helping of cobbler topped with freshly churned ice cream. Apricots and vanilla pair very well together. This isn't revelatory news in the food world (because really, what doesn't pair with vanilla?), but some things are just worth going back to again and again and again.

Feel free to substitute other fruit in this recipe, or a mixture of fruits. I'm certainly willing to try more ideas. The apricot, though, is a good choice. The biscuits are cream biscuits -- they kind of remind me of what old-fashioned, fluffy biscuits should be like, real dessert biscuits. Bite into it and you'll remember why simple, traditional cobbler is so popular. The apricots taste like what apricots should taste like, the biscuits are complimentary, they neither underwhelm nor overwhelm, and the near perfect combination invites a large scoop of smooth, creamy ice cream. The ice cream isn't necessary by any means, but it does make the whole thing that much better, as if cobbler could get any better than this.

Although he didn't say much, my dad seemed to enjoy his cobbler. He's the type, much like me, that will speak up if something isn't to his liking but remains quiet when it is good. I don't know why we do that. The biscuits are rather large, but hey, if you're going to have cobbler, have some cobbler.

I doubled the original recipe to make enough for my family, so if you want to make a smaller version, just halve everything and use an 8 x 8" baking dish. It's best on the day it's baked. The biscuits will slowly lose their moist freshness over a few days, so enjoy it quickly. We make our ice cream with honey, for several reasons, mostly health ones, but if you would prefer using granulated sugar, up the dosage to 3/4 cup. Honey is much sweeter than sugar, thus less is needed. The ice cream is quick and easy to make but high quality. A sufficient amount of cream makes the difference between an icy version and a smooth, creamy one.

Apricot Cobbler w/ Vanilla Ice Cream
Hugely adapted from The Craft of Baking

For fruit:
3 quarts whole ripe apricots, pitted, cut into sixths
½ cup granulated sugar
2 - 3 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
For biscuits:
½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
12 Tbsp (1 ½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups heavy cream, plus extra for brushing biscuits
1 Tbsp raw sugar, such as turbinado

Prepare fruit: In a bowl, stir together the apricots, sugar, flour, and lemon juice. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes.

Make biscuits: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender (or two knives) until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add 2 cups of the cream, and mix until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to ¾-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter (or inverted drinking glass dipped in flour), cut out 15 rounds. Gather the dough scraps and roll out again as needed to cut out all of them.

Assemble cobbler: Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Scrape the fruit and its juices into a 14 x 10-inch glass baking dish (or something of a similar capacity), and top with the biscuits. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the extra cream, and sprinkle with the raw sugar.

Bake, rotating the dish halfway through, until the juices are bubbling and thickened and the biscuits are cooked and dark golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack to cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.

Makes 15 servings.

Simple Vanilla Ice Cream
Adapted from the Cuisinart manual's Recipe Booklet

1 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup mild flavored honey
3 cups chilled heavy cream
1 ½ Tbsp pure vanilla extract

In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the milk and honey until fully incorporated, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Process according to your ice cream manufacturer's directions (it takes about 25 - 30 minutes in ours). Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for a few hours for a firmer, scoopable texture.

Makes about 2 quarts.

(To double the recipe, we make two separate batches, as the ice cream maker only has the capacity to churn out 2 quarts at a time.)

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