Cobbler is Juicy

Cobbler is Juicy

The women in my family have been making cobblers since before I can remember!  But, what I always remember is the wonderful juiciness of every one of them!  That little memory brings me to the discussion of what is cobbler; what is pie; and what is an upside-down cake? Probably dependent upon what part of the country you’re in, the term cobbler means different things to different folks!

Let’s travel a few miles south of my home state of South Carolina and go to Tuskegee, Alabama so I can reminisce just a bit. I moved there in 1992 to teach in the business school at that crown-jewel of higher education, Tuskegee University. My love of the food there was enhanced with my experience of enjoying an apple “cobbler” at their wonderful Kellogg Conference Center! It was quite a different cobbler from any that I had ever experienced.  Initially, I thought it was cake with a fruit bottom – a sort of upside-down cake, but with more liquidity to the fruit bottom!  It’s really not – the fruit filling for the cobbler is very much like the fruit filling for the cobblers we make in South Carolina.  However, the topping is cake-like, versus a crust top that I was use to eating in South Carolina.  For sure, it was delicious – different—but, absolutely delicious! Common to both:  Juicey!

When we talk about pie (we’re talking double-crust fruit pies), on the other hand, there’s no difference by region –it’s a bottom crust and a top crust, both of which are perfectly flaky, and the filling is juicy to varying degrees!

Upside-down cake is a fruit filling on the bottom with a cake top. It is not so much juicy, as it is a part of the cake itself!  Generally, when I make these, I serve these on their own with perhaps a brandied and sweetened whipped heavy cream on the side for guests to dollop a scoop upon their serving should they so desire.

This little chat is all about the fruit cobbler, given these wonderful berries and other fruits that I’ve been seeing at the fruit stands, and farmers’ markets. I’ve made three cobblers in the last six days!  I’ve included several photographs to go along with our chat, because I want you to note two things  — the absolute importance of a flaky crust; and the clear necessity of a juicy filling!  Let’s step into the kitchen.

For all three cobblers that we will chat about today, I did them as individual cobblers in custard dishes. You can use little ramekins, miniature pie plates, or custard dishes when you are doing individual cobblers.  This is easy for me being an empty nester; and it gives me a little bit of control of my gobbling up too much of a good thing in one sitting!  Of course, if you are making your cobbler for the dessert course of a family dinner, then by all means use your 9×9 square baking dish; or  your larger 9×12 rectangular baking dish.  My mother use to use a larger lasagna pan to make her cobblers because our family consisting of daddy, mommy,  one sister, and two brothers, plus me of course, was an army of six hungry mouths awaiting large dessert portions after dinner.  We won’t talk about my two younger brothers always saying “I want some more cobbler”!!!

I am showing three cobblers: (1) Apple, with a filling that is that of a luscious apple pie; (2) Cherry-Berry, with a very sweet filling of dark sweet cherries and luscious blackberries; and (3) Blueberry, with a very juicy filling touched with a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest.  They have different degrees of juiciness as dictated by the fruits themselves.

First up are a couple of beautiful apples that were on sale. I pick up a Red Rome and a Granny Smith.  Both of these apples are just too wonderful for baking.

First, refer to the earlier blog on “Perfect Flaky Pie Crust”. As you know, my standard recipe for crust is what I use.  Take a look at the first photograph – this is the Apple Cobbler before breaking the crust.  Look at the tenderness and flakiness of the crust!  This is what you want to complement your wonderful filling.

Photo No. 1 – Apple Cobbler Crust

The cobbler is just enough for one person; goes well with that after-dinner cup of coffee; and prevents eating too much!

Photo No. 2 – Apple Cobbler Flakiness of Crust

Note the degree of flakiness in photo number two. I broke up the crust and photographed it to show you just how perfect the “Perfectly Flaky Crust” recipe is for your pies and cobblers.

Photo No. 3 – Apple Cobbler Filling

The filling of the apple cobbler should be nice and juicy as dictated by the amount of apple juice released during the baking process. It is not a runny type of juicy.  It’s a enveloping glaze of a liquid that complements the baked apples with a delicious accent of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and a hint of lemon.  It is not unusual for me to add a tablespoon of rum in my seasoning if I am including raisins in my apple-cobbler filling!

Take a look at this apple cobbler – all you need is a simple scoop of vanilla or rum raisin ice cream! Of course, I dared not to succumb to the additional indulgence!

Once you peel and cut your two apples, you need only add 3 tablespoons of sugar, about a teaspoon each of the spices, along with a tablespoon of cornstarch. You will be able to divide this among three ramekins (or in this case, custard dishes), add a top crust and bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees.  This is just a real quick, uncomplicated dessert that gives “miles of smiles”!

It’s summer time in South Carolina; and I’m driving on a secondary road on my way to Kingville. This is a lovely Saturday morning and I want to visit the cemetery of my great grandparents.  On the trip down are these wonderful fruit stands along the way.  I stop and get out of the car anticipating a particular fruit, but quickly notice these luscious blackberries, and some beautiful dark sweet cherries. I cannot make a decision as which “one” to get, so I get some of each! I quickly realize that I left my cherry pitter in Texas, so I’ll have to hand-pit each cherry if I’m going to use them in a cobbler!  The blackberries, no problem – just rinse and dry!

I used about 2 cups of cherries and a pint of blackberries. This combination yielded me 4 individual cobblers. The blackberries give off a bit more juice, and cherries not quite as much, but retains its juice within the flesh of the cherry itself; so I use 2 tablespoons of cornstarch as part of my seasoning for the filling.  I simply put the berries and pitted cherries in a medium-size steel bowl; add a quarter cup of granulated sugar, a teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and half teaspoon of cloves, then the cornstarch. I stir and divide it among the four custard cups; top each with a portion of crust and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  Do keep in mind that if you are making a large family-size cobbler, your bake time will increase to 35-45 minutes, dependent upon size of cobbler.

Photo No. 4 – Cherry-Berry Cobbler Crust

 Photo No. 5 – Cherry-Berry Cobbler – Filling 

Photo No. 6 – Cherry-Berry Cobbler – Filling

 

Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits. I am particularly fond of blueberry pie; and a blueberries and cream layer cake that I make. During my early years of summertime in NYC, my absolute favorite desert was the blueberry cream pie that one could get at the Chock-Full-o-Nuts lunch counters.  As they are long gone, it’s a memory that I bring to fruition at home during summer months.  My version of that delicious cream pie is included in volume one of “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook.”

As you can see below, blueberries also make a fabulous cobbler. They are the juiciest when baked and create the most delicious filling .  Note the difference in the liquidity of the juice that the blueberry cobbler has in the photographs provided below.  A little addition that I did with the blueberry cobbler was brush the crust with a little bit of melted butter and sprinkle some sugar atop it! Ohhhh, don’t get me started on describing how wonderful that was – sugary and flaky!

Photo No. 7 – Blueberry Cobbler – Crust 

Photo No. 8 – Blueberry Cobbler – Sugary Flaky Crust

 

Photo No. 9 – Blueberry Cobbler – Juicy Filling

 

Photo No. 10 – Blueberry Cobbler – Juicy Filling

Hope you enjoyed taking a look/see at these wonderful cobblers. I assure you that each was delicious! Its summertime – go get some beautiful summer fruit; make a cobbler!!!

 

 

The Perfect Pie Crust (every time!)

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The Perfect Pie Crust

There is nothing better in eating than a terrific pie crust on a chicken pot pie; or an apple pie; or a wonderful custard pie.  I have friends who much prefer cake to pie because they don’t like eating a pie with a bit of a wet, soggy bottom crust.  Well, guess what – neither do I; and a bottom crust need not be wet and soggy!  I, especially love a good custard pie be it potato, coconut, lemon, etc.  The way I make sure I have a nice crust that’s flaky and dry is to pre-bake!  However, pre-baking will not correct incorrect ingredients or flaws in technique!

The pie crust was one of the most difficult lessons to learn because I had difficulty with “looking like peas”!  But, I could and still can visualize “rough” and “coarse” and “lumps”!

The pie crust recipe below is the one that I use for almost any kind of dish that I make that call for a crust.  I have three versions of it, which illustrates its flexibility!  It’s just flour, shortening, water and vinegar (i.e., flexible with sugar)!  I don’t waste a good egg on a pie crust! I don’t use good cream cheese on a pie crust! I don’t use up good milk on a pie crust!  Just flour, shortening, water and vinegar–perfection every time!

Let’s stop talking – let’s get to the kitchen and make a crust!  Now, I want y’all to use my recipe and follow my instructions!  This recipe is from my Aunt Emma T, and taught to me by Bunch (my mom)!

(You can read the wonderful story about these two amazing cooks and see this recipe in volume one of the series, “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”!)

Perfectly Flaky Pie Crust

(Not just sometimes, but EVERYTIME!!!)

There are some basic tricks to a perfect pie crust –

  • the first and most fundamental – all ingredients need to be icy cold! So, here is what I do just as routine:  I keep a pint-size Mason or Ball canning jar with ½ water and ½ pure white vinegar in my refrigerator (at all times), so that I can make a pie crust on the spur of a moment! Once I cut up my shortening/butter pieces, I put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. 
  • the second being the technique of adding the liquid to the dry, and I’ve given a bit of comical details in the instructions below. 
  • the third – I’m old fashion, I do NOT use a food processor to make pie crust. I use a pastry cutter (a knife and fork can be substituted for a pastry cutter) and my fingers!!! 
  • I use one of my stainless steel bowls. Of course, I’ve had it in the freezer for 30 minutes before I begin to make a pie crust!

So, let’s do this y’all!

I make three different pie crust (i.e., plain, savory, sweet)!  And, of course, with many different additions of spices, the list could go on and on (i.e., cinnamon, etc.)!

As your base for a –

PLAIN PIE CRUST (for meat pot pies and the like and dessert pies when you don’t want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

1 ½ cups solid vegetable shortening

water/vinegar mixture as needed

SWEET DESSERT PIE CRUST (for dessert pies when you  want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

½ cup 10X powdered sugar

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

½ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

water/vinegar mixture as needed

[SAVORY] PIE CRUST (for meat and/or vegetables when you  want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

½ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ground thyme extract

water/vinegar mixture as needed

Preparation instructions:

  1. Take your stainless bowl out of the freezer
  1. Add the dry ingredients, and using a hand whisk, blend all dry ingredients (no blending required for a plain pie crust)
  1. Cut your shortening ingredients (solid vegetable shortening and/or butter) into cubes
  1. Using a pastry blender (or a knife and fork), cut shortening into dry ingredients.

Hint:  The trick here is do NOT cut the shortening in too fine!  You really WANT TO SEE LUMPS of shortening still remaining in the blended flour.  Lumps should be about the size of sweet peas (i.e., English peas) as my mother would say!  I like to say the flour should now look a bit coarse and rough as a result of the lumps!!!  Visualization your choice!!!

  1. Using only a TABLESPOON at the time, add your water/vinegar mixture! Now, take you hand and mash the liquid into the flour mixture!

Hint:  First time, it’s going to still be very dry.  Now, add the second tablespoon of liquid and repeat the finger-to-blend step!  NOW STOP! 

Take a look/see at your crust – it should just BARELY come together.  Should be crumbly just a tad!

IF it will not come together at all, a third tablespoon is required.

IF YOU HAVE ADDED MORE THAN A TABLESPOON at the time and your crust comes together like a biscuit dough, you are NOT going to have a nice flaky crust.

The difference between a pie crust dough and a biscuit dough –

You want your pie crust dough to be like a DRY “play putty” (that kids use), that when you roll it out, you want to be able to see the large pieces of shortening in the crust!  It should not roll out to easy–it should be just a tad bit stiff!

You want your biscuit dough, on the other hand, to come together well, be pliable a bit that it will stay together when rolled out for cutting into biscuits!

  1. Now, for the technique of rolling out your dough! If you do not have a large marble slab (which I do not!!!!!), I form my dough into two balls, wrap in wax paper and put it back in the freezer for 5 minutes or so to get cold again.
  1. To roll out my dough, I put down a sheet of wax paper on my counter, lay dough on top, and a second sheet of wax paper on top the dough. Using my rolling pin, I hit the dough a couple time to give myself an indention in the dough to get started with the rolling process.

Starting at the center of the dough, I roll to the desired size and shape such that I can lift from the bottom wax paper and flip the dough into my pie plate!  Now, I must say I use the wax paper so that I don’t have to dust my counter with flour.  It’s the one instruction from Aunt Emma T and Bunch that I don’t necessarily follow:  They dusted their counter with a bit of flour!)

But, all in all – Boys and girls, follow this technique and you’re gonna get a perfect pie crust EVERY single TIME!!!!

All best wishes; enjoy,

Joe

The Perfect Pie Crust (every time!) Click To Tweet

Hello Cooking/Dining World!

Welcome to the Ham Bones Books blog!

I am author J.D. McDuffie, author of Ham Bones, an amazing book of true home-cooking southern recipes. I look forward to posting and chatting about all great southern cooking recipes, styles, and methods!

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My book is available from the Ham Bones website, but also from Amazon. Hardback, paperback, and ebook available. Do pick up a copy for 100 mouth-watering recipes!

Joe