A cherry cobbler is the perfect dessert for Labor Day, even if you, like me, will be home, without friends and extended family, doing nothing much at all. But let’s cut to the chase, and discuss the the subtle difference between a cobbler, a crisp and a crumble, the three desserts that frequently get grouped together. I’m willing to bet, most of you don’t actually know what makes these three fruit-focused dessert favorites different.
According to the Oxford Companion to Food, cobblers are the oldest and date its inception back to the 1850s. At its core, a cobbler was simply fruit baked in the oven with some form of dough on top. Gradually, over time, we began to associate cobblers with having either a biscuit topping, such as this one, or some dense, cake-type topping. No matter the topping, the real trick with cobblers, is the proper fruit selection. Firmer fruit takes longer to release its juices, which allows the biscuit topping to cook through before the fruit makes them soggy.
A crisp and a crumble are incredibly similar. The topping that sits on the baked fruit is crispy and crumbly. In contrast to cobblers, crisps didn’t begin making appearances in America until the early 1900s. A crisp is a type of dessert consisting of fruit which is baked with a crumble-like topping. The choices of toppings are endless, but the most common is topping of butter, sugar, flour and oats that’s mixed together with your fingertips until crumbly. Unlike a cobbler, a crisp is where your very ripe fruit comes in handy. The goal here is the fruit bubbles up over the filling and peaks out of the crisp topping.
A crumble, originating from England, and is basically a crisp, but it can have a slightly different texture. Crumbles often incorporate things like chopped nuts, though many recipes stick with the standard butter, sugar, and flour, and simple spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The topping might be slightly softer than a crunchy crisp, or have big clumps rather than a more equally distributed topping commonly found on crisps. But fruit selection for a crumble remains the same as with a crisp; anything goes, but softer tends to be better, which cooks the fruit faster while also brown the top perfectly.
The takeaway here is, cobblers, crumbles, and crisps are all easy rustic baked desserts which highlight seasonal fruit with the added bonus of some type of pastry topping. And although they may not stand out as the most elegant dessert, they are loved by most and a great way to highlight seasonal fruit of any kind. Topped with ice cream, homemade whipped cream or straight up, you honestly can’t go wrong with any of these classics holiday or not.
- For the Biscuits:
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 cup cold milk
- For the Filling:
- 3 1/2 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1-2 tablespoons raw sugar
- Step 1 For the Biscuits: In a medium mixing bowl add the sugar, baking powder, salt, flour, whisk to blend. Add butter and working quickly, use your hands to incorporate the butter into flour mixture.
- Step 2 Slowly add the milk, mixing the flour mixture with a fork to incorporate. Now, using your hands, fold the dough over and onto itself several times, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl, to bring together into a large mass. Note, the dough will feel very wet and sticky, lightly flour your hands with additional flour as needed.
- Step 3 Place the biscuit dough on a generously floured work surface. Using your well floured hands, pat the dough into a 3/4-inch thick rectangle. Lightly dust your work space with more flour, then cut dough into 4 equal pieces and stack on top of each other. Dust the dough with a little flour and press down on the stack with a rolling pin to flatten. Roll the dough out until it’s ½” thick, dusting with more flour as needed.
- Step 4 Use a 1 1/2-inch round cutter (or similar), punch out the biscuits. Go straight down, do not twist the cutter. Remember to dip the cutter in flour in between cuts to prevent sticking. Place the biscuits on a plate. You should have about 20 biscuits in total when done. Gather up dough scraps, re-roll, and punch out more biscuits if needed. Refrigerate the dough until you’re ready to use it.
- Step 5 For the Filling: Preheat to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place near your work station.
- Step 6 In a medium mixing bowl add the pitted cherries, 1/3 cup sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt. Gently toss to coat. Place the filling in an 8×8 baking pan or equivalent. Place the baking pan on the prepared baking sheet.
- Step 7 Arrange the chilled biscuits over the cherry filling, fitting snugly so they’re touching with only a few gaps. Using a pastry brush, generously brush the biscuits with butter and sprinkle with the raw sugar.
- Step 8 Place the cobbler in the oven and bake for about for about 25-30 minutes or until the biscuits are lightly golden brown and juices are bubbling. Be sure to cool the cobbler slightly before serving.
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