Peach Cobbler - The Pastry Variation
Don't you just love it when you get a fresh view of an old favorite? I made my first cobbler over forty years ago, and I've been making them ever since...and all that time my idea of cobbler has been the same: fruit, cooked with sugar, flavorings and a thickener, with a sweet biscuit baked on top of it. I love all the gooey sweetness soaking into the biscuit and mixing in my mouth with the mandatory vanilla ice cream. For about the last fifteen years I've been doing variations on Deborah Madison's version in The Green's Cookbook, which uses tapioca for the thickener. I particularly like it because she combines blueberries and peaches, which here in Maine seems to me to be so perfect in the summer after a feast of lobster, corn on the cob and a salad of fresh field greens and heirloom tomatoes.
So what could I learn about cobbler, given that we have this long and wonderful relationship? Well, sometimes you're in love with a girl...until you meet her sister! The other night we had dinner at a local restaurant here in Portland and after a very enjoyable meal there was mention of "warm peach cobbler" when the dessert list was recited. Ah, my old favorite, I thought. Let's see how their version compares...
Some of you who are more knowledgable about the world of cobbler may already know where this is going, but to me it was a bolt from the blue: no biscuit anywhere in sight! On presentation, the dish appeared to shallow bowl of cooked fruit with a nice little scoop of homemade vanilla slowly melting over it. However, the story got more interesting once the first spoonful was in my mouth. The fruit was perfect: not overcooked, so there were nice chunks of peach, and not too sweet, with just enough cinnamon. But there was another element in there: something like...cookie dough! In any case, it was not the peach cobbler I thought I knew, and yes I was wondering: just where has this version been all my life!
The next day I couldn't help myself: I bought a bagful of peaches (I actually found some nice ripe ones -- from California, since it will be another month until we get New England peaches -- at Whole Foods) and went to work to try to discover the secret. A little surfing on the net and I found the "pastry variation" of cobbler, so after reading several versions (called "country cobbler" or "Texas cobbler" or variants on that idea) -- in which a sheet of pastry is baked in the center of the fruit, like buried treasure -- I went to the kitchen and made my own adaptation, trying to get as close as I could to the Katahdin experience.
The result: wonderful. There is something extremely seductive about this stuff (maybe it's the butter...?) -- so my cobbler world is definitely in a slightly different orbit than it was a few days ago!
Peach Cobbler - The Pastry Variation
6 - 8 modest servings
1-1/2 C flour
6 T butter
3 T shortening
1/2 tsp salt
3 T ice water
1/4 C sugar
4 C peaches, peeled and sliced
3/4 C sugar
2 T flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 T melted butter
To make the pastry, place the flour, butter, shortening, salt and sugar in the processor bowl with the steel blade. Pulse a few times until the mixture is like cornmeal. Add the ice water and pulse a few times, just enough to mix the water into the other ingredients. Turn the mixture out into a plastic food storage bag (it will be crumbly, not yet like dough) and quickly knead it through the bag a few strokes, till it just starts to hold together. Refrigerate for an hour or more.
Meanwhile, combine the peaches, sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a cold saucepan. Stir well and then heat slowly to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer about five minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and correct seasoning and sugar content. Stir in the melted butter.
Reserve and keep cold 1/3 of the dough. Roll out the rest to the approximate shape of your dish. (I used a 5" x 9" oval baking dish about an inch and a half deep; a 6" square dish or 7" round would also work). Butter the baking dish and spoon in half of the fruit mixture. Lay the pastry sheet over the fruit.
Bake about 12 minutes in a preheated 475º oven, until the pastry is just starting to brown. Spoon in the rest of the fruit mixture. Roll out the reserved dough, cut in strips and lay in a lattice pattern over the fruit. Sprinkle with sugar and bake about 15 minutes more, until the fruit is bubbling and the lattice is browned.
Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.