Bread of the Month: Gobbling a strawberry cobbler

Sometimes, it’s good to see red. Strawberry red, that is. Spring months usher in that beautiful ruby across California fields and farmers market tables. This year, with all the rain, the berries are big, beautiful and bodacious, and you make room in your life/schedule/oven/fridge for any and all ways to use them.

A couple of years ago, I made strawberry hand pies (see blog entry of July 2014). So spellbound with the juicy nature of berry meeting pastry, I moved on to making larger strawberry pies (and even a crostata), and it dawned on me, after years of eating every
type of pie in the wardrobe, strawberry turned out to be my favorite. There’s just no better pie. A few rivals come close, but I’m set on that juicy filling now, for sure, and maybe forever.

That being said, last year, I found myself obsessing over the possibility of making a strawberry cobbler. For awhile, I thought of it night and day, mouth watering. I knew the plump, juicy, sweet berries would be the perfect setting for tender, buttery biscuit drops.

So while strawberries are always top of the list for pie (and should be), they’re also likely not common for a cobbler “filling” (cobbler recipes are primarily peach, blueberry and apple). I saw no reason why you couldn’t stew those luscious berries a little, thickening them, and find the best biscuit-y dough to crown this heaven. I thought, the best jam meets the best biscuits, in reverse, or, upside-down, or…you get it…

For my cobbler, I used a simple concoction for the filling (including sugar and some thickener) and cooked the berries slightly. My secret ingredient? Orange juice and zest! I love using these to enhance fresh strawberries, fresh or cooked. It brightens the overall flavor and seems highly compatible.

For my cobbler topping, I adapted a light-as-air drop biscuit recipe, adding some orange zest here also. The dough was dolloped by large spoonfuls into the still warm filling (which had been dotted with a little butter). I had to crowd the biscuit dough in, but I figured, the more, the merrier. I topped the cobbler with some sparkling sugar for a sweet crunchy finish.

The magic of a cobbler is the merging of fruit and biscuit (I’m still insistent that the biscuit cobbling is the truest version of this dessert). I was delighted to eat a warm bowl of the juicy, jammy fruit melded with its homey, buttery crown, topped off with some good vanilla bean ice cream. It was like an upside-down strawberry shortcake. Only better, if that’s possible…

Strawberry Cobbler
Serves 6 to 8

Filling:
6 cups chopped fresh strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon King Arthur Flour Instant ClearJel thickening agent or 2 teaspoons flour
2 tablespoons butter cut into small pieces

Cobbler:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups cake flour

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter , cut into ½-inch pieces and softened

4 tablespoons vegetable shortening , cut into ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon orange zest
1¼ cups buttermilk
Sparkling sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make filling: In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine strawberries, sugar, salt, orange and lemon juices, zest and thickener or flour. Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until berries release their juices and thicken slightly. Turn off the heat. Pour filling into a buttered 9-inch casserole or deep dish pie pan. Dot with butter.

Make cobbler: Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Rub butter and shortening into flour mixture until mixture has a coarse, crumbly texture. Toss in orange zest. Stir in buttermilk until combined.

Drop large spoonfuls of the biscuit dough onto the warm filling (you may have to squeeze it in). Sprinkle with sparkling sugar.

Place cobbler on the middle rack of the oven, and place a foil-lined baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven to catch any juice that bubbles over. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes until topping is golden brown.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

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