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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Berry berry delicious

Summer is a delicious season, and I mean that in the most literal way. The corn! The tomatoes! The fruit! While I barely open my mouth for fruit the rest of the year (apples and oranges and pears, oh meh!), in summer I can't get enough of the sweet berries and melons and peaches. And out here in farm country where I am so fortunate to spend the warm weather months, fruit is bountiful and near-perfect. And oh-so-seasonal. This year, thanks to a family wedding and other requirements that kept us in town well into June, we just about missed the strawberry season, which peaks around Father's Day and is done by 4th of July. But we made it in time for all the other wonderful fruits.

Of course, even the most seasonally perfect fruit is better with a little something added, like a crust, or whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream, or some shortbread. At least, IMHO. My significant other feels quite differently. Once, when asked by a friend to name his favorite dessert, he squinted slightly, gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling, and said, longingly, "A perfect peach."

To me, even the Platonic ideal of peach would not be enough to qualify as dessert. So the question looms: What is the best way to deal with the fruitful bounty of summer? Pie? Not really. Pie is just fruit that's been herded into a pasture and fenced in with crust, and even the best pie crust is nothing to write home about. Tarts are way too fussy for beach season. Crisp and brown betty and cake (here's a wonderful recipe for strawberry cake from my favorite food blogger, Smitten Kitchen--and it works equally well with blueberries or other fruits) are all great, but surely the all-time winner for summer dessert is a perfect cobbler.

A perfect cobbler is a the greatest thing in the world. Well, perhaps except for a nice MLT...

Forgive my digressions, but there's always room for Miracle Max. Now back to cobblers. A cobbler is the ne-plus-ultra summer dessert, simple to make, easy to eat, fresh, sweet, happy. The challenge, for me, was combing up with the right balance of fruit and cake. Since I am not a fruit worshipper, I wanted more cake than fruit, but a light cake. Not a biscuit, although that's good, but also not a sugary cake, although that has its place as well. A somewhat sweet, cake-y cobbler with barely sweetened, summery fresh fruit.

I found the perfect recipe years ago in the New York Times, courtesy of Mark Bittman, a culinary hero. You can whip up the cake in the food processor in a minute or two, or by hand if you prefer. I have doubled the amount of cake but you can halve it if your fruit:cake ratio preference is different from mine. In that case, remember not to halve the amount of sugar in the fruit, only the cake portion. You can also sweeten the fruit to taste; I prefer less sweet fruit if it's fresh and naturally sweet. You could also add a bit of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, etc. Or grated lemon zest. And, best of all, this recipe works equally well with any type of berry (mix them up or add chopped rhubarb, which might require slightly more sugar), peaches, nectarines, or even apples or pears, but who wants to think about apples and pears when peaches and blueberries are at hand? It's summer, the sweetest time of year.

4-6 cups berries, washed and well dried, or other fruit
1 1/2 cups sugar, or to taste, divided
16 tablespoons (two sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits (more for greasing the pan)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch or two of salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the fruit with 1/2 cup of sugar (or to taste) and spread it in a lightly buttered baking pan. 
  2. In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and 1 cup sugar and pulse. Add butter and process for 10 seconds, until well blended. Beat the egg and vanilla together and add.
  3. Drop the mixture onto the fruit by tablespoons. Don't spread it out, just plop it there. Bake until starting to brown, 35-45 minutes. 
  4. Best served warm with whipped cream or good vanilla ice cream. If you have leftovers (you probably won't) it's great with your morning yogurt. 

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