Monday, July 10, 2006


The title of this post illustrates succinctly why after only two weeks of Portmanteau Writing 101, the professor ejected me from the class, frothing as I ran down the hall, "Lewis Carroll is spinning in his grave, you idiot!"

Anyway. I'm generally not a big cobbler maker (though I suppose that, in principal, I'm not really opposed to flirting with shoemakers) because I'm skilled at (and I like) making pastry, and if you're skilled at (and you like) making pastry, then why not just go ahead and make a pie? And, of course, a cobbler is no dessert for a prescriptivist. If you say you're going to make a pie, you might be making a single-crust or a double-crust or a lattice-crust pie, but everyone knows pretty much what you mean. Crust recipes are, of course, legion, but if someone tells you you're getting cherry pie, you're very rarely surprised with the appearance of what, um, appears on your plate.

But cobblers? You can combine just about any fruit mixture with just about anything remotely doughy and call it a cobbler. Most cobblers contain a single crust-like layer, but it's anybody's guess whether it's going to be a top or a bottom crust-like layer. And then you have no idea what that crust-like layer is going to be composed of. I'm pretty sure that there are people who just open a tube of biscuits. Some people use a regular pie dough, which really makes you wonder why they didn't just go ahead and make a pie. A biscuit-like dough is perhaps more common, but it might be almost anything.

When I think of a cobbler, I tend to think of a bunch of fruit and sugar dumped into a square pan with some thickener and then covered with a relatively liquid drop biscuit dough that includes some nutmeg. It is, of course, lazier than a pie, but a cobbler can be very good, and it requires a good deal less planning than a pie because the crust doesn't need to rest and doesn't require anything approaching careful handling. So if you unexpectedly find yourself with a bag of peaches thirty minutes before dinner, you can have a cobbler ready for dessert.

In the case at hand, I had already made two cherry pies, and I had enough cherries for a couple more, and certain members of the household were expressing the heretical notion that perhaps there had been enough cherry pie for the moment. (Who are these people?) So I just picked my jaw up off the floor and decided to make a cobbler.

But I didn't want to make just any old cobbler, so I came up with a new recipe for the crust-like structure. It is meant to be a cross between almond shortbread and biscuits so that it retains elements of the usual cobbler crust but becomes a little more special and capitalizes on the natural affinity of almonds and cherries. I should also note that the excess scraps of this dough make a very good cookie. I think that I may make another batch of the dough with a handful of my glacéed cherries chopped up and added to the dough. Then I'll roll the whole shebang into a log, refrigerate it, slice it, and bake it. Yum.

Because I pretty much made this recipe up (or at least I made the dough up: the filling is just my standard cherry pie filling without the almond extract), I wasn't sure that it would turn out the way I wanted, but it turned out almost exactly the way I wanted. If I could change anything, it would be to use a little less dough than I used. The dough is very good, but I would have liked a slightly higher proportion of cherry to dough and a few more leftover scraps to make into almond cookies. [Update: upon further reflection, I might also grease the baking dish to make the finished product easier to get out. It would be a shame to leave any of it behind. It's really good.]

What I ended up with here is certainly not a pie, but I'm not sure it's a cobbler, either, though I am sure it's delicious. You can call it anything you like.

Cherry Not Pie

For the crustish part:

1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1/2 cup butter, frozen
1 egg
Ice water

For the filling:

1 quart tart cherries, pitted
1 scant cup sugar
3 T. quick cooking tapioca
1/4 t. salt

Toast the almonds at 300 degrees for about ten minutes. Remove them from the oven and let cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put the filling ingredients in a bowl, stir to combine, and let sit. They should sit for at least fifteen minutes and up to an hour before you use them.

Put the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of your food processor and pulse to combine. Add the almonds and pulse until they are ground fine. Cut the butter into eight pieces, add to the food processor, and pulse until the mixture has the texture of coarse meal.

Add the egg and pulse to combine. If the mixture does not form a cohesive mass, add a tablespoon of ice water and pulse again. Repeat until the dough forms a ball.

Take about half of the dough and press it into the bottom of an eight-by-eight baking pan. It should be about a third of an inch thick. Take the rest of the dough, roll it into a log, wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it into the freezer for a few minutes, or until you can slice it relatively easy. Cut it in slices about a third to a half of an inch thick.

Pour the filling mixture over the layer of dough in the baking pan. Top with the sliced rounds of dough.

Bake at 425 for fifteen minutes, lower the heat to 350, and bake for another 30 to 50 minutes, or until the juices are thick and bubbling throughout.

If you are not fond of puffy dough, you could probably omit or reduce the baking powder. I liked it the way it was, though I would likely halve the baking powder if I were just making cookies with the dough.

I almost always have blanched whole almonds lying around from one of my blanching sessions, but if you only have whole, unblanched almonds, I don't see any reason why you couldn't use them in this recipe.

I really can't wait until I can try this recipe with ripe peaches. Yum.


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