Fashionable Mixed Berry Cobbler with Buttermilk Biscuits

I recently learned that the state of Alaska is a berry-growing machine. Wild cranberries, blackberries, salmonberries, lingonberries, raspberries, and bog blueberries are everywhere. When the annual picking season rolls around in August and September it's "all everyone seems to talk about". Add in the aurora borealis and world's largest chocolate waterfall and I'd say Alaska sounds like a pretty magical place.

Speaking of magic, spring and summer fruit is starting to swing into gear at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Granted, I don't get to frolic in the mountains picking a basket full of berries, but I also don't need to use "good bear safety practices" when stocking up on ingredients for my cobbler. Seems like a fair tradeoff.

Here's to Alaska and her bears and berries.




Useless Facts

  • Blueberry Cobbler is old-timey Alaskan cuisine and was even featured in the 1980 "Juneau Centennial Cookbook". The authors collected favorite family recipes from residents who had lived in Alaska for 50+ years. 
  • The growing conditions in Alaska have created superberries - blueberries ten times higher in antioxidants than those grown in the lower 48. Generally speaking, blueberries have the highest antioxidants of any fruit. I'm into flavonoids lately as evidenced in the Useless Facts here and here
  • The first written recipe for berry cobbler was published in the 1839 cookbook, "The Kentucky Housewife". The intro stated that, "Although not a fashionable pie for company, cobbler is very excellent for family use." And this gem, "Blackberries develop differently than most other fruits, and even blackberries that might look mature to the untrained eye can be misleading (this rule can also be applied to men.)" So sassy.
  • The blueberry is the second most popular berry in the U.S. behind strawberries. Since strawberries aren't technically a berry, I guess blueberries are actually number one? Berry politics.

Recipe

There's nothing complicated about berry cobbler - no fancy machines or preparation. It's comfort dessert built entirely around the simple perfection of fruit at its peak. My recipe was inspired by both Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home and Cook's Illustrated's The New Best Recipe.

Two important tips:
  • Adjust the ratios of fruit to highlight whatever tastes best. I made a couple of cobblers recently and, while I always use about 30oz of fruit, each dish had different ratios (one had more blueberries and the other more strawberries).
  • Start with the lower amount of sugar and adjust up as needed. Always, always taste your filling. If you need a lot more sugar than this recipe calls for your fruit may not be ready.

Tools

Ingredients


Berries at Pudwill Berry Farms - Santa Monica Farmers Market


Filling
  • 8 oz strawberries Note: If using more than 10 oz of strawberries, you may want to up the cornstarch a smidge since there will be more liquid.
  • 8 oz blackberries
  • 14 oz blueberries
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup sugar Note: When blueberries are the focus I lean towards 1/3 cup, but if strawberries are the star I don't need more than 1/4 cup.
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest Note: Many recipes call for more lemon zest than this. My preference is for undertones of citrus so taste the filling and adjust to your liking.
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch flake-style salt

Biscuit Topping
  • 5 oz + 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Cinnamon Sugar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

Filling
  • Combine all of your filling ingredients in a medium/large bowl, tossing gently with a rubber spatula
  • Let the berries macerate for about 25 minutes, tossing a few times  
  • While the berries are doing their thing, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat to 375 degrees
  • Line a baking sheet with 2 layers of foil (easy cleanup)
  • After 25 minutes, toss the berries one more time then transfer to a 9-inch glass pie plate
  • Place the pie plate on your baking sheet and bake until the filling is bubbling around the edges, about 25 minutes

Biscuit Topping
  • Bowl 1: While the berries are baking, whisk the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl to combine 
  • Bowl 2: Whisk the cooled melted butter, buttermilk, and vanilla together in a small bowl
  • Bowl 3: Whisk the remaining 1 tbsp sugar with the 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • About two minutes before the berries come out of the oven, add the buttermilk mixture to the flour and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined Note: I use my fingers to test for dry pockets.
  • Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and gently roll into a lumpy ball

Final Assembly
  • Remove the berries from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees 
  • Place the 8 dough balls on the hot berry filling, spacing them apart so they don't touch 
  • Sprinkle each mound of dough with the cinnamon sugar Note: I use a fine mesh strainer for even distribution.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes until the biscuits are golden
  • Let the cobbler rest a bit before serving 

Serving
  • You can make the cobbler several hours in advance. Simply cover with a dish towel once it has cooled completely. I reheat my cobbler in a 300 degree oven until just above room temperature. 
  • This recipe is enough for 4 servings - 2 biscuits per serving. A scoop of vanilla ice cream goes really well with warm cobbler.

Storage

Refrigerate the leftovers (if there are any!) in an airtight container for up to a day or two. I usually store the biscuits separately to maintain as much of the texture as possible. If the biscuits get soggy (usually by day 2), the fruit mixture makes a great topping for ice cream.


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