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