Although the drought we’ve had this summer has been devastating, I've heard that there has been a silver lining of sorts. The naturally occurring sugars in crops such as peaches, grapes, and cantaloupe become more concentrated when water is at a premium. So, even though the fruits are generally smaller because the lack of water failed to plump them up, their flavor has been intensified. Yes, that is small consolation for those poor people in the drought-ravaged areas, and I assume they are not sending up flares in response to this, but the peach lovers out there should.
Well, it just so happened that there'd been a bowl of peaches ripening on my counter for a few days. The fruit was beautiful: the colors ranged from deep yellow to red interspersed with patches of orange. These are the fiery colors of autumn, but peaches are so symbolic of summer, that the irony of it all was...well, ironic. When that heady, peachy aroma brushed my nostrils each time I passed by the bowl, I knew they were ready, as was I, for cobbler.
There’s an ongoing debate regarding whether or not to peel the peaches before baking them in a pie or cobbler and this time I chose to go with the “yes” side. I filled a large pot with water and allowed it to come to a slow boil. I made an “X” at the bottom of each peach with a paring knife, and once the water boiled, dropped each one in. After they bobbed around for about three to four minutes (you don’t want to cook them, just loosen the skins), I carefully inched them into a bowl full of ice water using a slotted spoon. I waited a few seconds for them to cool, and slid the skins off. Every once in a while you’ll get a recalcitrant peach, so if that happens, pop the little sucker back into the hot water for another minute or so or merely peel the skin off with the paring knife. Once the fruit was “denuded,” the cobbler-making could begin.
I came across what looked like a wonderful cobbler recipe from Jamie, of the blog Life's A Feast, and I combined it with a portion of my own tried-and-true recipe. The result was a bubbling base of caramelly peaches--soft and almost creamy, not quite hiding beneath the crunchy top biscuits, which served as a perfect foil. The Maine blueberries added some extra color, and smidge of tartness. Truly a perfect almost-end-of-summer dessert.
(adapted from Life’s A Feast and Nancy Silverton)
For the Peaches:
3/4c. granulated sugar, plus 1 Tbsp. for sprinkling over the fruit
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped of seeds
juice from half of a lemon
7 to 8 peaches (3 1/2 lbs.), pitted, peeled, cut into eighths, and cut in half diagonally
2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 heaping cup blueberries
For the Biscuits:
1c. cake flour
1/2c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar plus 2 Tbsp. for sprinkling over biscuits
1/4c. heavy cream
1/3c, unsalted butter, cold, cubed
Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a 9x12-inch rectangular baking dish, and set it aside.
To prepare the peaches: In a large heavy skillet, stir together the water and sugar. Add the vanilla bean scrapings and pod to the sugar mixture. Whisk the seeds into the sugar/water mixture to evenly distribute. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, until sugar takes on a darker color. (Tile and swirl the pan to cook evenly.) When the mixture reaches an even medium caramel color, remove from the heat.
Add the peaches, lemon juice, and a few grating of the nutmeg, tossing to coat. (Be careful as the mixture may spatter and the sugar may harden.) Replace the pan over the hot stove and allow it to sit until sugar melts.
Place a large strainer over a bowl and pour in the fruit, straining the liquid into the bowl. Remove the vanilla bean and transfer peaches to the baking dish. In a small cup, whisk together the cornstarch and a tablespoon of the peach liquid. Once it is all mixed together, pour slurry and remaining liquid into the original skillet. Over medium heat, bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Pour the thickened juice over the peaches and scatter the berries evenly throughout.
To make the biscuits: Sift the flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt together into a large mixing bowl. Toss the cold, cubed butter in the flour then rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles cornmeal or damp sand. Make a well in the center; whisk the egg into the cream, and then pour onto the flour mixture. Stir with a fork until well combined and has become a thick batter.
Drop the dough by very large spoonfuls making an uneven scattering over the fruit, leaving some of the peaches poking through. Brush the dough with a tablespoon of cream and a few gratings of nutmeg. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar evenly over the dough and bake for 20 to 35 minutes until the biscuits are firm and golden brown, and the liquid is bubbling.