Amongst the many things that are par for the course in our daily life right now, but that are, in fact, kind of wild, one of the foremost is the delivery of our giant 1,000 gallon still from Kentucky this last Friday. (In case you haven’t been following the threads of my random occasional references, Joel and I moved to Minnesota last fall in large part to start a small craft distillery. Joel has been working on it full time, and I work on it evenings and weekends when I’m not trying to cut thousands of words from my dissertation (gah! Word counts! Not my strength!). It’s still in process, but it’s moving along rapidly, and we’re hoping to be producing gins sometime late this fall (fingers crossed!).)
A 1,000 gallon still, as you may suspect, is no small piece of equipment. In fact, it turns out it weighs about 4,000 lbs. Also, it does not fit through your standard loading dock door. It wound up taking 5 guys, 7 hours, 2 extra rented heavy duty combination crane-forklift dealies because the regular forklift wasn’t strong enough, and some disassembly of a side garage door to get it into our space. But it’s there now. It’s there, and I don’t think it will be going anywhere for a while!
Also weird, I feel, is the first weekend you ever spend washing baby laundry. I’m sure it will soon be all too familiar of a task, but for now it was my first ever washing of all the adorable clothing we’ve received as gifts, done so that I could put them away all clean and ready to go in the nursery as part of the 6 weeks to due date countdown (eek!). Normally the weekend laundry is sheets and towels and clothes for big size people. Laundry that doesn’t have little monkeys and dinosaurs and duckies on it. Pairs of socks that don’t fit quite so completely into the palm of your hand. It was surreal trying to decide whether you fold a newborn-sized onesie, or whether you just lay it flat since it’s so tiny already.
What is blessedly normal is the berries. The berries and the stone fruit. The splendid parade of summer. It’s possible I’m trying to assuage all my various anxieties through berry and fruit consumption. Then again, I think it’s possible I always gorge this much on fruits in the summer. Who doesn’t? Who hasn’t whispered to themselves the ode of the perfectly ripe peach as one dribbles and drips down their chin?
I feel like everywhere I’ve been reading people claiming that it’s hard to save berries and stone fruits for baking because they’re so luxuriant and tempting to eat fresh. I agree that they’re luxuriant and tempting, but I don’t find it too hard to reserve them for baking. In fact, I find it hard to stop baking with them. Luxuriant they may be when fresh, but they are five times more so when baked into a soft, jammy, intensely, intensely fruit-flavored heap. So luxuriant, I usually don’t even give them a topping, just a drizzle of maple syrup and into the oven they go. Then again, a buttery topping never did hurt a thing.
Much has been made this summer of the assemblage of buttery baked fruit desserts available to the home cook to choose from, the taxonomy of simple workaday fruit desserts, the crumbles, crisps, slumps, pandowdies, grunts, sonkers, betties, buckles, and cobblers. Not to mention the slightly more prissy but often worth the effort perfect pies and tarts.
For myself, I’ve been on a bit of a tart rampage. Peaches, plums, or nectarines, married with berries in a frilly crust and topped with streusel. I’ve also thrown together more of those fruit-laden, coffeecake-like buckles for breakfast guests and potlucks than I can count. On the other hand, I rarely make cobbler. Rarely, but I suddenly realized that this was quite possibly a terrible, terrible, crying shame, given that it combines bubbling baked fruit with a barely sweet scone or biscuit-like topping – aka two of my favorite things, three if you count the whipped cream or ice cream you’re bound to top it with.
So, I paused my tart and buckle-making frenzy and set about assembling what I hoped would be the cobbler (or at least a cobbler) of my dreams. For the filling, I knew I wanted apricots and berries. Joel’s favorite fruit is apricots, and he often requests them baked for special occasions. I’ve gotten hooked on them by association. And experience. Their tart, sweet marriage of honey, floral, and citrusy flavors is particularly potent and wonderful when cooked. I decided to combine them with blackberries. One of the best things I ever baked was actually an apricot-huckleberry galette, and if we had huckleberries here I would have used those. But we don’t, so blackberries seemed like the most reasonable alternative.
For the topping I wanted a biscuit that was tender and crumbly, neither too cakey nor too airy, but something in between. And one that would crisp and burnish around the edges so they could put up some resistance to the fork before being submerged into fruit juice and delicious submission. I wound up adapting Nigel Slater’s cobbler topping recipe because according to his description, he seemed to be looking for the same cobbler characteristics as I was, and it didn’t disappoint. There is a generous amount of topping for the fruit filling, but neither steals the show completely. When warm the topping is crumbly, when cooled it is a bit more tender like a scone. Both ways it is a fantastic foil for the bright flavors of the apricots and blackberries. And it makes for an excellent sojourn from the wildness of everyday.
- 1½ cup all purpose flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 2½ tsp. baking powder
- 6 Tbs. very cold, unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
- 1½ -2 pound ripe apricots, pitted and cut into eighths
- 2 cups blackberries
- ½ to ⅔ cup dark brown sugar
- 2 Tbs. cornstarch
- ½ cup crème fraîche (sour cream or Greek yogurt can also work, but crème fraîche is best in my opinion)
- 1 tsp. almond (or vanilla) extract
- 2 Tbs. heavy cream
- Raw cane sugar, for sprinkling
- Heat your oven to 375° F. In a medium-small bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Using your fingers or two knives, quickly rub or cut the cold butter chunks into the flour mixture until you have incorporated it so that it looks crumbly with pea-sized chunks of butter remaining. Stick this in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
- While the dough ingredients rest in the refrigerator, gently toss the apricots and blackberries with the brown sugar and cornstarch. If the apricots are sweet, use only ½ cup sugar, but if they are on the tart side, you can use ⅔ cup. Scrape the fruit mixture into a 3-quart baking dish or large skillet.
- Take the flour and butter mixture back out of the refrigerator. Stir in the crème fraîche, almond extract, and heavy cream just until everything comes together in a shaggy mess -- there will probably still be some dry parts.
- Gather this dough mess together with your hands and press it into a ball, kneading it about 3 times -- as few times as possible to get the dough to come together -- with the leftover dry bits. Either break the dough into walnut-sized chunks, flatten each slightly, and lay them atop the fruit or, if you prefer a neater look, gently press the dough out into a rectangle around ¾-inch thick, cut the dough into 1½-inch squares, and lay these evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the topping lightly with raw cane sugar.
- Bake the cobbler in the oven until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown and crisped around the edges, about 35 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving (so no one scalds their mouth). Serve topped with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or both. The cobbler can be made ahead and rewarmed. Leftovers can be kept covered for a day or two and rewarmed before serving as well.