Fine food plays a major part in this joyous season, but as hostesses we face a dilemma. Give family and friends a memory of a table full of tradition and flavor, or to risk a guilt trip over the fattening dishes we serve? Especially those desserts! Since holidays sans sweet are an anathema, this year, I offer you the solution: tasty and lean cobblers.
There is no Thanksgiving in Latin America, but it’s the festivity Latino immigrants tend to adopt faster than others. Perhaps it has something to with the glow of food and feasting. My fondest memories of such holidays are linked to taste and aroma. Not the taste and aroma of turkey, not my mother´s secret stuffing recipe, not the cranberry sauce that I still adore. Thanksgiving to me was associated to the word “gratitude” and gratitude meant “pie”. Pumpkin, apple, sweet potato, and pecan pies filled November with their sensuality. Yes, their flavor, looks and smells were better than sex.
Sadly for us, pies are calorific. They have thick crusts and sometimes lids of dough, even if it is just a couple of strips positioned there to create the lattice effect. Within those two sheets of dough lies a stuffing rich in sugars that we tend to exacerbate with custards and coats of extra sweet marmalade. Just think of classics like Boston Cream Pie, Key Lime Pie or that horrible (but scrumptious) habit of serving “Pie à la Mode”, warm and topped with ice-cream.
I have a dear friend, a former student of mine, who used to take me in for Thanksgiving . At the time, she was living with her in-laws in a three-floor Brooklyn house. Her husband´s family came from the South. Their sense of hospitality was drenched with Southern hearty fares and impressive spreads. I used to come home after those Thanksgiving’s meals, stuffed like the just eaten turkey, rolling like ping pong ball, and burdened with a heavy tray of desserts samples. My hosts had so much food; they had to share the leftovers it with their guests.
They used to set up a table in the kitchen to locate desserts, and such a bounty Pirate Jack Sparrow has never seen! Guests were encouraged to bring additional dishes for that last course. Those contributions joined other sugary victuals baked at home. On my first visit, being the only foreigner in such an American occasion, I was in needles and pins. What could I bring? I ended up making an apricot cobbler. I didn’t know it then, but the cobbler is as American as Apple Pie.
Pilgrim Fathers, sorry… Pilgrim Mothers were the brains behind the cobbler. Unable to make their heavy British puddings in their new land, these early settlers developed the habit of tossing dumplings on top of vegetable and meat stews. Eventually they did it over stewed fruit and a dessert was born.
In simpler terms, a cobbler is a sheet of fruit. You can use pie filling; you can use canned or fresh fruit. All you have to do is drop dollops of batter (very light cake batter) creating a sort of cover, but one that lets you see the bottom layer. Those clumps were originally called “doughboys.” So American was the dessert that “Doughboy” became the nickname of soldiers that went abroad to fight The Great War. I guess I´ll have to think of Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby and John Gilbert in “The Big Parade,” next time I bake a cobbler.
|Thick Doughboy on top of cherry ad apricot filing (Photo by The Boreka Diary. Flickr)|
The nice thing about the cobbler is the control you have over the ingredients. You can skip sugar, you can add less than the usual amount, you can replace it with Stevia, agave syrup or whatever artificial sweetener strikes your fancy. A cobbler uses less butter than a regular pie. And you can avail yourself of margarine or canola spread. The thing is that you can turn a cobbler into something healthy and yummy. And for us, the beleaguered elderly cooks, it´s an easy dessert since we can even cook cobblers on a skillet or casserole and over the stove. No need to bend or drag heavy trays from the oven.
And now, let’s get down to business. Here come my favorite cobbler recipes.
Easy Cobbler Batter
1 cup (one stick) of melted butter (margarine, or any corn spread)
½ cup of flour
1 tsp. of baking powder
1 pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar ( replace it with your favorite sweetener)
¾ cup of milk
Microwave the butter until it melts. Sift the dry ingredients, add the milk, stir it and finally add the melted butter to the mixture. Don´t worry if it’s a bit lumpy or crumbles. It should be that way.
Spread the filling on the bottom of a baking tray, one thick (about an inch long) layer. Take the batter and drop the doughboys on top of the fruit. You can spread the batter like a pie crust or just make individual clumps that let you admire the fruity contents.
If you want to dispense with flour and baking powder (or you are allergic to lactose) turn your cobbler into a “crisp.”
|Crisp Crust (photo by Grammar Fascist. Wikipedia Commons.Org)|
½ cup of oats
½ cup of almond flour
3 spoonfuls of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of margarine
1 tsp of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Mix the ingredients until you get a crumbly texture. Use the combination to blanket your fruit.
There is only one possible ingredient: fruit.
|Uncooked cobbler (Photo by Chris Young)|
If you’re going for fresh or canned fruit don’t chop or slice it. Use nice plump halves: apples, pears, peaches, plums or apricots. Place them face down on the tray setting them about ¼ inches apart from each other. Squirt some lemon juice on top; add one tablespoon of brown sugar and two tablespoons of cornstarch. Perhaps a wee dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon to enhance the flavor. Then let the dollops fall in the cracks between. Let it go to the oven for 50 minutes at 350º. After baking, the fruit will be exposed, yet framed by a golden crust (a friend calls them “nipples”), creating a lovely visual effect.
Gluten and Dairy Free Blackberry Cobbler (Photo by Cassidy)
If you are working with fresh berries, toss them whole on the tray, unless you are using large strawberries. Those you slice in half. Spray the fruit with lemon, cornstarch and spices and proceed to fabricate your cobbler.
If you going for canned pie filling, dare to be adventurous! Blend apple with blueberry; cherry with pineapple, and so on.
Talking about adventurous...how about boozing it up? Add ¼ cup of liquor to the fruit filling, before cooking it. Whisky or sweet liqueurs like Amaretto, or Triple Sec, are the best choices.
And now for something really wild. …so wild it has no name yet. It’s up to you to christen it.
(You´ll need only three ingredients)
1 bag of frozen berries (or two if you want to combine different fruits)
1 box of cake mix (vanilla or white cake)
2 cans of 7-Up, Sprite or Ginger Ale.
Toss the fruit on a tray. Cover it with the cake mixture. No stirring, no whipping, no fancy ingredients. Just like that. Open your can and slowly spill the soda on top of the fruit cake-mixture. Do not stir. Wait a couple of minutes. You´ll see it bubble like champagne. Toss the mixture inside the oven. Bake 45-50 minutes at 350º.You´ll get the cutest and tastiest cobbler in this world.
So Vintage Greykittens, I know somewhere above I promised a top-of-the-stove recipe. One where you don´t need to bend over to pull baking trays from fiery furnaces. Here it goes:
|(Photo by Carol from PURESUGAR.NET)|
Skillet Cherry Cobbler
1 can of cherry pie filling
½ cup of Bisquick
2 tbs .of sugar
2 tbs of skim milk
2 teaspoons of grated orange zest
¼ glass of orange juice
Combine the dry ingredients; add some milk to moisten the dough. Set aside. In the skillet (get a nice iron cast one) bring to boil the pie filling and the juice. When it’s nice and bubbly, drop mounds of the batter on top. Reduce heat, cover and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Lift the lid off and let it simmer for another extra 7 minutes or until the dough is cooked and golden.
By the way, people (can't blame them) do serve the cobbler with custard sauce, whipped cream, or ice cream. Do it at your own risk, I won´t tell on you. Just remember that we are trying to eat healthy here, and that the cobbler is so delicious , it needs no more improvement.
Bake a couple of cobblers for the holiday dessert. I bet you nobody will miss the pies. Happy Thanksgiving!