[Note: Diana Zinkl, a fellow Michigan State grad and D.C. expat, noted recently that she had success with a gluten-free version of a peach cobbler recipe she'd found on the Web. I reminded her that I'd posted a pretty neat, all-purpose fruit cobbler recipe in June, and Diana -- who now lives in Colorado -- picked up the challenge and invented a gluten-free version of that. She compares the two in her guest post here.]
I was a little remiss recently when I did a Google search for a good cobbler recipe to take advantage of the local peach season now under way. I overlooked that my Chicago friend Bob Benenson -- a fellow Michigan State alum and fellow former DCist -- had posted an all-purpose cobbler recipe (with photos that will whet your appetite) on his Cooler on the Lake Shore blog in June.
But that provided an opportunity to stage a Peach Cobbler Showdown... the results of which are below.
First, a little back story. I have been enjoying the local produce since recently relocating to Colorado. The weekend before last, I picked up a box of locally grown peaches from my church fund-raiser.
All good intentions, but it left me with a dilemma: What does a single girl do with 10 pounds of peaches?
Pie -- or some variation -- sounded good. Of course, pie always sounds good to me, both making and eating. I have always enjoyed cooking for myself, and in recent times, that hobby has come in handy, having adopted a gluten-free diet 18 months ago. I look at the hunt for gluten-free alternatives to my favorite foods as a challenge, and cobblers, I have found, are a good starting place for a gluten-free lifestyle.
The Internet is my primary starting point when I need a recipe. I love cookbooks, but nothing beats a dozen or two versions of a dish to sift through, pull out the best bits and then come up with what sounds good and works with my kitchen inventory.
I found a very basic peach cobbler recipe on the Food Network website that I was able to modify. I eliminated a few ingredients I did not have. I also used a mix of corn starch and corn flour to replace wheat flour in the crumble, and corn starch in the filling. (Note: Corn starch can be used instead of wheat flour in most pie-filling recipes if you are short on wheat flour or need a substitute for any other reason.)
At the time I made the first cobbler, I did not have cinnamon. Instead, I used a few leaves of fresh sage to add a bit of flavor dimension. This may sound strange, but I started using peach and sage together last summer and it is a surprisingly tasty combination.
One other note about the simple cobbler: Vitamin C decomposes at 348 degrees. Thus, I cook any fruits or vegetables containing Vitamin C at 340 degrees or cooler to preserve the vitamin C, unless there appears to be a food chemistry reason to use a higher temperature setting.
The result on the first cobbler was as expected, a tasty, sweet, rich standard begging for ice cream.
Subsequently, Bob saw my Facebook postings about the peaches and cobbler and suggested the recipe he’s been using (which he also adapted from a recipe he found on the website of a food blogger). Intrigued by a cobbler comparison and by the idea of using a frying pan as a pie pan -- Bob is a fanatic about cast-iron cookware -- I decided to make a second cobbler using Bob’s recipe, with gluten-free modification.
To make Sophisticated Cobbler, I used 1/3 cup King Arthur Gluten-Free flour, 1/3 corn masa, and 1/3 corn starch to make the cake batter. The most unique touch to this recipe is that the fruit is briefly pre-cooked in a sugar syrup in which the secret ingredient is boozy -- either bourbon, sherry or brandy.
I spread the batter around the bottom of a large frying pan (that just fit in my small stove), then dumped the hot syrup and fruit mix on top. My first reaction to the resulting soupy concoction was, “I ruined it.” Then I thought, that’s what Bob said would happen. I popped it in the oven and half an hour later an amazing result. The look of this cobbler is very fun, both the frying pan and the fruit popping out of the crust.
The taste test? Both are good.
The Simple Cobbler has a down-home goodness, an overtone of comfort food. The addition of sage adds a savory note that cuts some of the sweetness, but leaves intact the “like grandma used to make” vibe.
The Sophisticated Cobbler is lighter and the alcohol definitely imparts a sense that one is eating a dessert for grownups. And oddly, while I want to say that I prefer the Simple Cobbler, the Sophisticated disappeared faster. (I have no problem eating pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner.)
Which one wins? The look of Sophisticated Cobbler certainly impresses, and the frying pan presentation definitely scores style points. (Bob says friends have pointed out that it looks like a deep-dish fruit pizza.) If your goal is to wow guests, I certainly think this would be a fantastic end to a dinner.
On taste, I can go either way, although the taste is mostly in the filling preparation, and I think you could use the syrup recipe with a Simple Cobbler topping, or use a Simple filling prep and pour it over the Sophisticated Cobbler dough. I am also curious to try the result of adding fresh sage to the syrup preparation. I would anticipate an aromatic and complex result. Possibly too complex, perhaps best served in smaller amounts.
Of course, Simple Cobbler is just that. The ingredients list is short, and even the most accidental chef will have sugar, salt, butter, lemon juice and flour (or an alternative) around the house. If you find yourself with unexpected guests, needing an extra dessert, or just in need of some comfort food, Simple Cobbler is ready for a rescue. If there is more time for planning or if you are a devoted cook who keeps a well-stocked kitchen, Sophisticated Cobbler is a chic and impressive spin on a classic.
Bob’s Sophisticated (Gluten-Free) Peach Cobbler
For cake -
1/3 cup King Arthur Gluten-Free flour
1/3 cup corn starch
1/3 cup corn masa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
For fruit -
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sherry, brandy, or bourbon
5-5.5 cups of fruit
Bring the cake ingredients to room temperature. Soften the butter. Slice the fruits. Grease a 9 x 9 inch square pan or something like that. (Bob uses a 10-inch cast iron pan for this with excellent results.)
Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and 1 cup of the sugar. Add butter and milk. Add the flour mixture, stirring just to combine. Pour batter into greased pan.
Preheat oven to 375 farenheit.
In a saucepan, simmer together the sherry and 1/2 cup of sugar for 5 minutes. Add the fruit and stir to coat with the syrup. Let this simmer for 1-2 minutes. Pour this hot fruit mixture over the batter in the pan. (Don’t worry if some of your fruit sinks. Also don’t worry if the mixture is liquidy.)
Bake for 30 minutes.
Diana’s Simple (Gluten-Free) Peach Cobbler (Adapted from Peach and Blueberry Crumbles, The Food Network)
2 pounds ripe peaches
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup corn starch
4 leaves of fresh Sage
½ cup corn starch
½ cup masa corn flour
2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
½ teaspoon salt
¼ pound (one stick) butter, cold
Preheat oven to 340 degrees.
Slice peaches into large cubes. In a large bowl, mix all filling ingredients, stirring gently. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.
Combine crumble ingredients. Mix with hands or a pastry blender, breaking up butter until mixture is large grains and looks like sand.
Put the filling mixture in a pie pan, casserole, cake pan or similar dish. Spread crumble over the top. Bake for 45 minutes or until topping begins to brown.
Note: The original recipe calls for blanching and peeling the peaches. I do not usually do this when I make cooked peach desserts, rather I leave the peel on and usually do not find it to be a texture distraction.