It was Tara (Austen Weaver) who introduced me to the idea of pie for breakfast.  She's a smart lady, that one.

cranberry blueberry breakfast cobbler

cranberry blueberry breakfast cobbler

She serves hers at room temperature, with milk, the day after things like Thanksgiving dinner. It makes perfect sense, as fruit and pastry and dairy are hardly unheard of a.m. foods, and I like the carryover of continuing celebrations.

And, as it happens with the best conversations you have with friends, that idea of hers got me thinking. I wondered about those times when you don't happen to be so lucky as to have a pie in the fridge, but wanted something similar.  Since pastry-making doesn't easily lend itself to spontaneity, cobbler was my proposed answer — one that could be thrown together the morning of, even, with some whole grains in the mix, and less butter and sugar than the usual. 

But breakfast cobbler required some thought. My instinct when it comes to cobblers it to lean towards the biscuit ones, the kind that has a velvety stew of fruit beneath a crisply crusted and golden top. However, that breed of cobbler requires cutting butter into flour, often enriching that with cream, and then either rolling out the resulting dough or dolloping it over the pan of fruit. And biscuits mean not only some work, but also a considerable cooking time, neither of which suited my breakfast aim. 

So we came to batter-style cobblers, a subject upon which I am no expert. Thank goodness I know some folks with opinions on the matter.

Batter cobblers are entirely different from the biscuit variety. Some have the batter on top, in a cakey, even layer. I've seen some  that are close to clafoutis, which soufflé up when baked, and are almost custardy at their middles. I chose to concentrate on recipes with a quick bread-like mixture poured into a skillet of melted butter, as in the procedure for Dutch babies or Yorkshire pudding, with then the fruit on top. 

berried breakfast cobbler

berried breakfast cobbler

I was stuck on the hope to keep baking time short, and the prep time even shorter. I nixed the consideration of any fruit that required cutting, pitting or hulling, or any that were so dense or rich with juice as to require long cooking. I had hoarded cranberries through December, so pillaged my frozen stash. In the freezer was also the last of the local blueberries I'd saved from last summer, tiny and wild ones still dusky indigo with bloom, so out they came too.

I cobbled together a simple batter, one that can (and has in our household) be whisked together by a child with minimal supervision or an adult who hasn't yet shaken off the ragged ends of sleep. It uses the muffin method of wet ingredients into dry, stirred only until everything is incorporated, but without any worry for lumps, and then it is scraped into a preheated skillet. Handfuls of fruit are spread on top, then a shimmering, scattering of demerara sugar, before all goes to the oven.

30 minutes later without any attention, and granting time enough for a shower and getting the table set and kettle on, the cobbler is done.

To borrow Tara's line, if pie and milk is like cereal (only better), a breakfasty batter-style cobbler with yogurt is like a pancake and muffins and cream of wheat mashed together into something unquestionably wonderful ( and not the mess that that sort of sounds to be).

By using a blend of white and whole wheat flours, the cobbler ends up with the best qualities of both. It is toothsome at the edge where it meets the pan, but plush where it cradles the fruit. The tart berries seep and relax into the batter, and the candied ginger and orange zest grant personality and fragrance to their twang. It is generous, gratifyingly warming eating, especially when spooned into bowls with dollops of yogurt or a pour of cream.

The cobbler is moderately healthy, managing somehow to giving the impression of being decidedly less so. It is sweet, but not too sweet, a firm possibility for breakfast, but also in the afternoon with a cup of tea, broken into pieces and eaten with your fingers, as a skinny snacking cake. If hard pressed, come dinnertime, I'd bet it could even be dessert.

As you may have noticed, there's been some renovations here. Fingers crossed, it's all gone smoothly and fiddly things like subscriptions should be maintained. That said, please excuse any wonky bits as the dust settles. Feel free to poke around and please let me know what you think.

berrybreakfastcobbler3.jpg

BERRIED BREAKFAST BATTER-STYLE COBBLER

In working up this recipe, I spent a lot of time working down the quantities of butter and sugar. The butter I think is at a good place; there's enough to get the edge of the cobbler nice and crisp, with a hint of richness even, but without superfluous weight. The sugar, which is already reduced in comparison to a dessert cobbler, is what I'm still unsettled upon. The next go round I might try to lose those two pesky tablespoons and cut the sugar to 1/2 cup — maybe split between cane and golden brown, or maybe using golden brown entirely, I've not decided yet.

Enough for 6-8.

For the cobbler

  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces, 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup natural cane sugar, plus two tablespoons
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • zest scraped from 1/2 an orange or a whole clementine
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups frozen cranberries, thawed a little
  • scant 3/4 cup frozen blueberries, partially thawed if large
  • 1 tablespoon demerara, or other coarse sugar

To serve

  • Yogurt, sweetened or unsweetened, or milk or cream. I like Greek yogurt thinned with the juice of the clementine left from zesting.
  • A few tablespoons hemp hearts, sliced almonds, pepitas, toasted, or other crunchy add-ons for sprinkling. Granola, even.

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet, then set in the oven to melt. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, crystallized ginger, and zest. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, beat together the milk and the egg. Whisk the milk mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. 

When the butter in the pan has melted, carefully remove pan from oven. Pour batter into the pan and, without stirring it into the butter, coax it into the edges of the skillet with the back of a spoon. (For the record, the batter will look a stingy amount; have faith that it will be enough, as it does indeed swell and spread as it bakes.)  Scatter the cranberries over the batter, followed by the blueberries and the demerara. Bake until the batter browns, and the centre of the cobbler springs back when gently prodded, around 25-30 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving with whatever toppings suit your taste.

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Authortara
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at the farm stand

I'm writing at our dining table, having recently moved from one side to the other so as to catch more of the breeze from the open window (now) to my right. I can see across the house from this seat. I can see that out the front window the sun is shining bright like August while, weirdly, over the backyard the sky looks pale grey, dressed in the damp clothes of September.

Autumn's around the bend. That said, we're enjoying these days as we head in its direction.

On Saturday, we set out to snag some peaches; our fourth basket in under three weeks, if my tally is correct. That's the math of late summer. It's the season for a peach feast, and we're enthusiastically obliging. We took along iced tea sweet with lemonade and rugged with ice, because even the shortest of road trips deserve a beverage when the sun's out.

We were aiming for a fruit stand we can get to by taking the long way 'round; twisting through back roads and skirting woods and crossing fields. 

We needed the peaches, because there's a drink I've wanted to tell you about, a grown up one. It's a cocktail with peach and lime and mint, spiked with cachaça - the sort of sip that bounces across the tongue like a stone skipping on a lake. Flitting, flirtily, then ending with a splash. I like it a whole lot. 

That's not for today, because I got distracted. First, by the couple that owns the stand. They're older, with warm smiles, soft speech and a sharp wit. Their house is beside their stand, with their trees running behind both. She gently pointed out the fruit she thought best, and he talked to my eldest about tractors. We talked about how things are growing, about when the pears might be ready, and about the thermos of coffee stashed behind the baskets of fruit.

Then I was distracted again, this time by plums. They were lookers. 

In the case of pretty plums, we did what must be done. We bought a basket, one bigger than sensible. We ate a few in the car on the drive back, along with the blackberries and one of the peaches, because we bought them too. We stained our hands sticky with juice, slurped our tea through straws and then decided what was to be done with the bounty of our greed.

The endpaper to Canal House Cooking Volume No. 4 is a scene of summer's generosity; plums are laid out on a white platter with their emerald, curling leaves still attached; squat looking peaches cozy up to glossy nectarines, apples and pears are in the middle with their yellow-green skin; a punnet of blackberries shine like night from the corner of the frame, beside the matte navy of blueberries. The subtitle for the volume is "Farm Markets and Gardens", and it's a bullseye of an image - summing up everything best of the farm stand we'd visited, and fittingly, it's where I was reminded of the recipe that inspired the dessert we settled upon to celebrate the plums. 

In the pages between those endpapers, you'll find a recipe for a Berry Cobbler by Pam Anderson. It's the cobbler that got me started on cobblers, with basically a butter cookie as topper for a layer of vanilla-scented fruit. That's where I began with my thoughts on these plums, as there's a footnote that gives the gentle suggestion of Italian prune plums in place of the berries. I want prune plums for a cake my Mum and I were discussing, so the shockingly-hued reddish golden ones would be my chosen substition for cobbler.

I took some detours along the route to where we ended up, turning down brown butter boulevard for example, but Anderson's cobbler was where we set off from.

Brown butter was beaten with sugar, then an egg and vanilla added to that, along with a mix of flours and some ground almonds. It was basically a rustic shortbread dough - just holding together, gritty with nuts with flecks of brown from the whole wheat and almond skins showing through. It chilled while I set about preparing the plums. They were tossed in brown sugar, cornstarch and a discriminating amount of spices; cinnamon and ginger for a buzz of warmth underneath the plum's sweet acerbity. 

The dough was spooned and crumbled over the fruit, and we were ready for the oven. It felt a pie-dish kind of day, so that's what I used, and even though the syrup bubbled over and stuck to the pan, I didn't mind at all.

When baked, the dough crisps on top but soft underneath, with its belly sagging into the fruit. It tastes very much like a biscuit cookie has been crushed on top of a bowl of stewy, supple fruit. In halves and quarters, the pointed edges of the plums droop as they cook, while keeping some shape. There's luxurious weight to them still. The brilliant, fiery orange-pink of the skin seeps into the golden flesh and into the juice, so the colour ends up a mix of peaches and raspberry, though the flavour is plum through and through.

Acting like August or pretending to be September, whatever this day wants to be, wherever it leads, there's cobbler left in the dish and spoons in the drawer, and that's all I need to know.

Brown butter plum cobbler

Inspired by a recipe from Pam Anderson, from her book The Perfect Recipe (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001) via Canal House Cooking Volume No. 4 - a publication that inspires with every issue. The original recipe calls this a cobbler, with a cookie crust that slightly sinks into bright puddles of fruit. It's a grand dessert, and I urge you to seek it out and try it as written. In fact, try as many recipes as you can from Anderson's book, which is one I consider an essential to have around. Not only is she chatty, witty and totally approachable in her cooking, what's more is that her recipes work. Every. Single. Time. They're tested and then tested again, and she's generous enough to share the results of all that effort.

This recipe is on offshoot of one of her variations for cobbler that best fulfilled our craving yesterday. My changes makes this something different; it has a sandier topping that might tread into the definition of a crisp. But since I'm no expert, and Anderson surely is, I'm leaving her title intact. 

I should say that the sugar may be scant for some tastes and is dependant on the fruit; plums are sour and the amount I used kept the twang that hits the point at the back of your jaw right below the ear - it's not so much that the muscle clenches, but there's still a twitch. 

For the topping

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds, see note
  • 1/2 cup fine grained raw cane sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar packed, or more, depending on your fruit
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds plums, pitted, halved if small, quartered if large

Method

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt and ground almonds. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter, swirling occasionally. Once the butter has melted, continue to swirl the pot, as the butter begins to darken and brown. When the butter is amber in colour and aromatic, remove it from the heat and pour into a medium heat safe bowl to cool slightly. Pour in the sugar, and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture lightens in colour. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla. Add the flours and stir until combined. Refrigerate the dough and preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C).

Combine the cornstarch with the brown sugar, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Add the plums and toss gently to coat. 

Tumble the plums into an 8-inch square baking dish. Drop the dough by heaped spoonfuls over the fruit, covering evenly. Bake in the preheated oven until the juices are bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. Let stand to cool slightly before serving.

Serves 4-6.

Notes:

  • I think almond is a fine compliment to stone fruit desserts for its subtle, fragrant sweetness and, in this case, its texture as well. I used a handful of natural, skin-on almonds, pulsing them in a food processor to a fairly small, uneven meal. Alternatively, this can be omitted and use a few drops of almond extract instead. On cooler days, hazelnuts or walnuts might be my choice instead.

*******

Something to share:

  • My dear friend Tara Austen Weaver wrote a stunner of an ebook about Japan, to benefit Japan and the continued rebuilding efforts after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami last March. The book is now available for purchase, and she's written about her project here.
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Authortara
Categoriesdessert, summer
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