And so easy. With two basic recipes, buttermilk biscuit dough and a crisp topping, you can transform the fruits of summer into dozens of fantastic fresh-baked desserts.
Juicy sour cherries, berries, sliced peaches, nectarines, or plums are piled into a buttered baking dish, tossed with a bit of sugar, and sprinkled liberally with buttery streusel topping to become Summer Fruit Crumble.
Those same fruits can be placed in the same buttered baking dish and topped with sweet biscuit dough, then cooked till bubbly and brown. Now you've made cobbler. Or, do both. Spread biscuit dough into a baking dish, cover thickly with sliced fruit, and sprinkle the fruit with sweet topping to create a Fruit Crisp Shortcake. Tender apricots or peaches make an elegant presentation layered neatly in a row along the cake. Sliced strawberries or whole raspberries can be scattered gently across the surface to sink slightly and become partially enrobed in the batter as it bakes. The resulting not-too-sweet cake is great as is, or dresses up nicely with sweetened thick yogurt, whipped or ice cream, or a bit of jammy fruit sauce on the side. As good for a coffee break or breakfast as for dessert.
A crisp, cobbler, or shortcake crisp can be cooked in any ovenproof baking dish. Ramekins, pie pans, Pyrex casseroles, or a decorative gratin dish are all fine choices. Plan for about a cup of uncooked fruit per serving and room for topping or base. Make extra topping to keep in the freezer and you can have a fruit crisp or crumble oven-ready quicker than it takes to preheat your oven.
The art of perfecting a crisp and cobbler repertoire requires considerations of fruit size, flavor, texture, and juiciness. Balance sweet and tart, crunchy with soft. Fresh, frozen, and dried fruit are all possible sources for fine fillings.
A few dried cherries mixed in with fresh or frozen berries will absorb juices and thicken the resultant mixture. Juicy and tart rhubarb is well paired with chewy dried apricots for a more toothsome filling than rhubarb can offer on its own. When cutting fruit, consider making morsels bitesize: Large strawberries are best halved or quartered, peaches cut into chunks rather than thick slices.
Most fruits need some sweetening in addition to the topping. Tart fruits such as sour cherries, rhubarb, and raspberries always need some added brown or white sugar or honey in the fruit layer. I usually add 2 tablespoons of sugar per cup of fruit for tart fruits, while sweeter fruits, such as ripe peaches, may get just a sprinkling.
A deep layer of juicy fruits can be made to thicken during baking with a tablespoon of cornstarch or flour mixed in with the sugar in the fruit layer — or choose to go heavy on the topping, which is mostly flour and will then absorb much of the flavor of the juice. I generally leave the fruit unthickened and serve juicy crisps and crumbles in bowls.
For textural variety mix soft berries with stone-fruit chunks. Strawberry-apricot, or blueberry-peach. Or plan for color. A blush-hued cobbler with red plums, raspberries, and rhubarb will evoke the late-summer sunset even in October.
Nuts, spices, herbs, and zests are also welcome additions to expand from the basics. Sprinkle a few sliced almonds in with the topping, or add some minced lemon verbena to the fruit. Blueberry crisp is always enhanced with a few chopped walnuts in the topping and some lemon zest in the filling. Culinary herbs more familiar in savory preparations are sophisticated additions to these homespun desserts. Try a few strands of thin-sliced fresh basil as garnish on a peach crisp, or add just the smallest hint of rosemary and black pepper along with sugar and vanilla into the cream served on the side before it's whipped. A scant teaspoon of cardamom in the biscuit dough is an unexpected and exotic flavor that blends nicely with most fruit.
With so many combinations to try, here's hoping for a fruitful summer.