For something like 40 years, my grandparents hosted a neighborhood barbecue on the Fourth of July. The party was a multi-generational affair, with gangs of little kids running around, and my father or an uncle manning the grill. There’d be a buffet set up outside in red and white checks or crêpe paper bunting, and my grandfather would orchestrate a right-at-dusk fireworks display in the backyard. Every year, a neighbor would bring a big sheet cake dressed up in blueberries and raspberries to look like the flag.
So for the holiday weekend, I wanted to bake something nostalgic and homey to celebrate, something as Rockwell-Americana as my grandparents’ party. Americans have a long-standing tradition, since colonial times, for baked fruit desserts with colorful, old-timey names: buckles and grunts and bettys, slumps and cobblers and crisps. With a shortcake-like, flaky-crumbly-sweet biscuit topping and juicy fruit filling, cobblers might be my favorite: rustic, unfussy, easy to throw together and utterly delicious. This recipe adds just enough sweetness to soften any tart edges and enhance the berries’ flavor; swap out ripe-but-firm peaches, pitted and sliced, for another traditional take on the theme. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or room temperature with lightly sweetened whipped cream, and have a very happy Fourth of July!
adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsay Remolif Shere, 1985; serves 6
for the berry filling:
- 3 pints mixed berries (raspberry, blueberry or blackberry)
- 1/3 C sugar
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 1 Tbsp granulated tapioca (optional; substitute another 1/2 Tbsp flour instead)
for the cobbler dough:
- 1 C all-purpose flour
- 1/2 C whole wheat pastry flour (or substitute more all-purpose)
- 1/4 tsp + healthy pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
- 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 6 Tbsp butter, cold and cut into small pieces
- 3/4 C heavy cream, cold
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the berries with the sugar, flour and tapioca in a large bowl. Let stand while you make the dough.
In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. With a pastry cutter, two knives or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarsely ground cornmeal. (If you use your hands or your kitchen is warm, pop the dry ingredients into the fridge; you can do this up to a day ahead.) Pour the cream overtop and use a fork to toss and lightly mix all together until just moistened.
Pour the berry mixture into a 1.5 qt gratin or baking dish. Lightly form little patties of cobbler dough, without smushing them too much. (Crags and cracks are okay; you want to avoid overworking the dough, which creates a denser topping.) Aim for roughly 2 – 2.5″ diameter and 1/2″ thick. Arrange on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the topping browns nicely and the berries are bubbly and thick. Serve warm or room temperature with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Note: You can use any berries except for strawberries in this recipe, which are too soft. Buy a pint of heavy cream and use what’s left over to make whipped cream for 6 people.