One of my favorite summer desserts is cobbler. I’d like to say that it’s all about the fruit (in summer, is there anything better?), but that would understate the importance of the buttery-sweet biscuit topping with its crisp exterior and tender crumb ideal for sopping up warm juices from the fruit filling. Unlike pies with their time-consuming crusts, cobblers come together quickly: Just toss fruit with a bit of sugar, top it with a simple biscuit, and pop it in the oven.
Best of all, cobblers are infinitely adaptable. Take the biscuit topping, for instance. You can adjust the amount of cream in the dough to create either traditional cut biscuits, drop biscuits, or crumbly, streusel-style biscuits. You can also tweak the topping by substituting or adding ingredients like cocoa powder, nuts, or spices. In the filling, you can jazz things up with fresh herbs, citrus zest, or even a splash of balsamic vinegar. Then you can bring a final layer of flavor by coating the biscuits with a glaze and a sprinkle of sugar or nuts. All of these options are presented in the template below, or check out some of my favorite combinations at right. With the number of directions you can take cobbler, you can create different, delicious versions all season long.
Step 1: Make the Biscuit Dough
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 11 oz. all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 Tbs. baking powder, and 3/4 tsp. table salt to combine, 15 to 30 seconds. If you like, you can replace 1/3 cup of the flour with 1/3 cup cocoa powder OR replace 1 cup of the flour with 1 cup semolina flour.
Add 4 oz. (8 Tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with pieces no larger than the size of a pea, 1 to 2 minutes more.
Transfer to a medium bowl. If you like, stir in one or two of the following add-ins: 3/4 cup chopped nuts, 1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips, 1 Tbs. finely grated citrus zest, 1-1/2 tsp. ground ginger, or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon.
Make a well in the center of the bowl, and pour in the amount of heavy cream needed for your chosen biscuit style: Use 2/3 cup cream for crumbly biscuits, 1 cup cream for cut biscuits, or 1-1/2 cups cream for drop biscuits. If you like, you can also add 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract or 1/4 tsp. pure almond extract at this point.
Toss well, and gently combine the mixture into a dough, being careful not to overmix. For crumbly biscuits, the mixture will form large streusel-like crumbs. For cut biscuits, the mixture will be like traditional biscuit dough. For drop biscuits, the mixture will be slightly tacky.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the filling. (The biscuit topping can be made up to 1 day ahead; keep covered in the refrigerator.
Step 2: Prepare the filling
In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tbs. cornstarch (if you have especially juicy fruit, you may want to use an additional 1 or 2 tsp. cornstarch). In a large bowl toss your fruit with the sugar mixture. Choose from: 4 lb. peaches, nectarines, or plums (cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices); 3 lb. strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or blueberries (cut strawberries into halves or quarters if large); or 3-1/2 lb. mixed fruit. If you like, add up to three of these filling flavor variations: 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp. fresh citrus juice, 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, 1/4 tsp. pure almond extract, 1-1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh tender herbs (such as basil or mint), or 1 tsp. chopped fresh hardy herbs (such as rosemary or thyme). Toss well to combine.
Step 3: Assemble the Cobbler
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400°F.
Butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish or 8 to 10 1-1/4-cup ramekins. Pour the fruit into the prepared dish(es). Top the fruit with the prepared biscuit dough, matching the style of biscuit to the amount of cream used in the dough:
For cut biscuits, on a lightly floured work surface, pat the dough into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Cut biscuits using a round cutter dipped in flour, or use a knife to cut into squares. If using a biscuit cutter, save the scraps and rework the dough to cut more rounds. Arrange the biscuit over the fruit about 1 inch apart. For drop biscuits, use two spoons or a scoop to dollop the dough over the fruit about 1 inch apart. For crumbly biscuits, crumble the dough over the fruit in an even layer.
Step 4: Finish with a Wash, Glaze, or Topping
If you like, brush an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 Tbs. water), cream wash (2 Tbs. heavy cream), honey-butter glaze (2 Tbs. melted unsalted butter mixed with 2 Tbs. honey), or maple cream glaze (2 Tbs. heavy cream mixed with 2 Tbs. maple syrup) over the tops of the biscuits before baking; you won’t need it all.
If you like, sprinkle a topping evenly over the biscuits. Choose from one of the following: 2 Tbs. turbinado, demerara, sanding, or pearl sugar; 2 Tbs. cinnamon sugar, 2 Tbs. semolina flour, 2 Tbs. cornmeal, or 2 Tbs. chopped nuts. Note: if you’re using crumbly biscuits, it’s hard to detect fine toppings, like cinnamon sugar or semolina after baking. Choose a coarse topping, such as sanding or pearl sugar (or skip the topping).
Step 5: Bake the Cobbler
Transfer the cobbler to the hot 400°F oven, and bake until the biscuits are evenly golden and the fruit filling is bubbly in the center of the dish, 30 to 35 minutes. Rotate the cobbler halfway through baking time for even browning. If you’re using a honey-butter or maple-cream glaze without any toppings, brush the biscuits again halfway through baking, and then again when the cobbler is just out of the oven. If the biscuits are browning too quickly, reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and tent the baking dish with foil. Let the cobbler cool for at least 45 minutes before serving it warm.