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Slumps, grunts and cobblers

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-05-2014 Pamela Timms

The other night we were watching the finale of the second season of Nashville—an everyday saga of country music folk complete with big hair, spangly clothes and twanging guitars. To mark the occasion I decided to make a themed TV dinner of mint juleps, finger lickin’ fried chicken and fries. For dessert I wanted something quintessentially American, the type of thing your momma might make for you when Shotgun Willie has run off with your backing singer.

As the peaches, apricots and cherries have started tumbling down from the mountains, I decided on a fruit pudding. But which one? Americans have a dizzying selection of desserts to showcase their own summer soft fruit bounty, each essentially a different configuration of fruit and a mixture of flour, sugar and butter.

The one most of us are familiar with is pie, which usually has pastry on top and bottom with a fruit filling. A tart only has pastry on the bottom and a Galette (unlike the French version) is a free-form fruit tart where the fruit is placed in the middle of some rolled out pastry and the pastry is wrapped up around it. Then there are the Crumbles where crumbs of butter, sugar and flour are sprinkled over fruit and baked and Crisps, similar to the Crumble but the topping often contains chopped nuts and oats. The Betty is a dessert in which pieces of bread are added to the fruit and a Pandowdy has a topping which is pushed down into the fruit halfway through baking to soak up some of the fruit juices. A Buckle is somewhere between a cake and a Crisp—the batter is poured into the baking dish first and the fruit is placed on top, then finished with a streusel topping—and when it’s baked the surface has a “buckled” appearance. My favourite is the Cobbler, so called because the top of the dessert, after baking, resembles cobblestones. Sometimes, though, the Cobbler is called a Slump, after Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump in Little Women.

Cobblers, Crumbles, Crisps, Buckles and Slumps have one thing in common—it’s virtually impossible to mess them up: just a little bit of chopping and mixing. They’re also usually eggless, making them an ideal dessert for vegetarians, and a great way to use up abundant but not very ripe fruit.

For this Cobbler, I used some peaches and apricots which weren’t quite sweet enough to eat raw. Half an hour later, after being cosseted a little with caramel, they were divine.

These fruity puds won’t win any beauty pageants but they’re just the thing for achy-breaky hearts—and to keep us going until the next season of Nashville.

Peach and apricot caramel cobbler

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

For the fruit filling

500g each of stoned peaches and apricots (you can leave the skin on)

100g + 200g caster sugar

60ml water

Seeds from one vanilla pod

For the biscuit topping

275g plain flour (maida)

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Half tsp salt

30g caster sugar

85g cold unsalted butter cut into cubes

250g plain yogurt

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. You will need a baking dish about 20-25cm wide. I use one that can go on the hob as well as in the oven so I can make everything in one dish.

Depending on the size of your fruit, cut into halves or quarters, then put them in a bowl with the 100g sugar. Mix to coat the fruit with the sugar, then set aside while you make the caramel.

If the dish you’re going to bake the cobbler in is fire-resistant, put the 200g sugar and water in it. Heat gently, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring the syrup to the boil and let it bubble until it turns a rich amber. Remove from heat and stir in any juice that has come off the fruit along with the vanilla seeds—be careful, the caramel will spit.

The caramel might harden in places but don’t worry, it will turn into a smooth sauce in the oven. Put the caramel back on the heat and stir in the fruit. Leave it to bubble gently for a few minutes while you make the biscuit topping.

Whisk together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter and mix to coat it with flour. Then rub the pieces of butter with your fingertips gently until the butter is in flakes the size of a child’s fingernail. Tip in the yogurt and mix quickly but lightly to combine the mixture. Don’t mix too much, it doesn’t matter if the dough looks a bit ragged—in fact this will keep the topping light and fluffy.

Gently drop large, peach-sized amounts of the dough over the top of the fruit. Leave some space between the “cobbles” so that the fruit can peek out once it’s baked. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the topping is puffed and golden brown. Serve warm, with cream or ice cream.

Incidentally, if you were to leave this on top of the stove and put a lid on and leave the biscuit topping to steam rather than baking it in the oven, you would be making a grunt.

Pamela Timms is a New Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at Eatanddust.com.

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