Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler


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For some time, I’ve wanted to make a confession… For all of my goings on about candy bars, I actually go to farmer’s markets at least once a week, and for the rest of that day, fruit gets priority over chocolate. I like to use fruit fresh before I have to refrigerate it, so for a short time, the silkiness of chocolate is replaced by the vibrancy of fruit. I feel a sort of calm benevolence on my market day — a sort of bliss that comes with searching out, discovering, and collecting these ephemeral gems that come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, and textures. And now that I’m past the point of basic fruit identification and preparation, it’s an exciting time to get to know each fruit better, in their infinite varieties.

I buy whatever looks good in whatever quantity I can manage, because I’ve found that farmer’s markets defy shopping lists… and plans. So, I come home, and brainstorm and research to figure out what to make and how, with an eye towards perhaps incorporating something like preserves into my candy bars.

Then I get to it right away. It’s beautiful work… I feel lucky watching the bubbling strawberry preserves that’s a deeper, shinier red than rubies (and which I plan to use in my peanut butter candy bars)… managing the soft, juicy flesh of snow angel white peaches for peach frozen yogurt… gently pulling away orange peels from the ball of flesh inside, accompanied by the brisk snap of citrus oil…

I’ve become a bit of a purist with my fruit. Ideally, I’d eat it fresh and unadorned, but my appetite doesn’t usually permit me to eat it all at once (esp since I also have to sample chocolate experiments every day… and keep room for “real food”). So, I consider what I do preservation work, to keep the flavors of each fruit purely contained in one form or another. Sugar figures largely in this. If I add some sugar and perhaps water and lemon juice and maybe some heat, it’s a sorbet (my freezer averages 7-10 sorbets and ice creams). If I add a bit more sugar and perhaps lemon juice and a lot more heat, it’s a conserve. If I add something in the way of flour, butter, or eggs, it’s a baked good.

Baking requires the most ingredients/cost/work/heat/clean up and lasts the least amount of time (not everything freezes well), so I haven’t done it as much recently. It also mixes flavors into a definite combination. To me, the beauty of sorbets and conserves is that you can make a flavor of each that you can adjust through additions whenever you please, for as long as it lasts. So, instead of making a strawberry-tequila sorbet, I’ve become content to make a good strawberry sorbet and pour a little tequila on it, if that’s what I want… or maybe add a little black pepper, or parsley ice cream, or orange sorbet… it can change every time I scoop it into a bowl. If I don’t, however, have enough of one fruit to make a realistic batch, I’ll give in and make, say, a strawberry-orange sorbet. Anything goes on market day — it’s really just a little game I’ve devise for myself to use up every last scrap that I can of food that I admire. Chocolate Mint, Six Ways was a previous installment, using up an entire bunch of chocolate mint.

So, today, I drove home with cherries, strawberries, and rhubarb… And I was in the mood to bake! The rhubarb and cherries made it a special occasion. I just haven’t been able to find purchase-able rhubarb at my farmer’s markets — it’s either absent or scraggly. I admit that today was no different, but I finally resorted to buying it at the Santa Monica Coop on the way home. I only got a pound of it, though, because it was $3.29/lb.

The presence of cherries for the past couple of weeks has helped get me through this paucity of rhubarb. Maybe the warm weather has brought in the cherries a bit early this year, and after the havoc the heat wrought on my chocolates this week, the cherries are also going a long way to justify the heat. I got some Brooks cherries (somewhat firm-fleshed, not too sweet, red) and a soft-fleshed, reddish black cherry… I asked for the variety when I bought them, and the vendor said “Gigi.” But I’m not entirely convinced that she wasn’t talking to the woman behind her, b/c I can’t find information on this type of cherry. I suspect that it’s a Bing or…?

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I would have liked to make an all-rhubarb dessert, but a pound isn’t very much and I thought about how to stretch it out into a full dessert. Strawberries would have been the obvious pairing, but maybe too obvious… and most of my Camarosa strawberries were earmarked for perfecting my preserves… and the rest, (Chad and) I felt like eating fresh.

I then started thinking about pairing the cherries with the rhubarb… and how the sweetness and tartness would complement each other well, and how their natural flavors would just be wonderful together.

So, when I got home, I rounded up some cookbooks for more ideas, and I was thrilled to find a recipe for Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler in Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. I just got this book recently, and after using one of her previous books, reading her blog, and following the eGullet thread, I’ve been looking forward to trying out some recipes. What a wonderful coincidence that she — and Nick Malgieri, incidentally — also thought that this combination was a great idea.

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And the cobbler was terrific — a fresh and tasty dessert that used my precious rhubarb and cherries to their full effects. Greenspan adds ginger into the mix, and I think that it’s the spark that heightens all of the flavors…. and the whole wheat-brown sugar biscuits on top are a comforting background. It was one of the most fully flavored cobbler that I’ve ever had.

The recipe uses a bit more cherries than rhubarb, and the filling is rounded out by sugar, cornstarch, and ground ginger. I was really impressed by the juice. I’d never realized how a flavorful juice can be such a force in a cobbler; before, it just seemed like a by-product of the water and sugar in the fruit. But here, the flavors of the rhubarb, cherries, and ginger truly mingled in it and added to the flavor of the whole. I also liked that there was just enough cornstarch to thicken it a little, but leave it thin enough to remind you that it’s made of juice, and it’s not a gratuitous syrup, glaze, or binder.

Next time, though, I may decrease the ginger a little bit or use a different kind. I used an organic Ginger from Whole Foods that seemed stronger than normal.

I used equal parts of each cherry that I had, which added a subtle variation in texture within the cherries, even if their flavors mingled. I also fell in love with the cherry pitter I got in Sonoma. It gets through cherries fast, and with minimal loss of flesh.

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I wanted to try out my new spices that I purchased when I was in Napa last week, so I substituted the ginger in the biscuit with the Chinese Tunghing Cassia Cinnamon, along with a pinch of the ground mahleb. I was going to use 1/8 tsp of the mahleb, but a little taste test proved that it’s very bitter… and I wanted to add it as a minor note, so eaters would ask “What is that bitterness?” rather than “What is that bitterness?” The cinnamon and mahleb were subtle, but added a bit of complexity of their own.

My biscuit dough was a little moist, but it was made in a too-small mini-prep, which I can only praise for not breaking while being over-loaded. The biscuits baked up very nicely regardless — light and satisfying.

Also, I baked it in my treasured Emily Henry 9″ Pie Dish, instead of the 8″x8″ pan prescribed. It has almost the same volume, but I decreased the baking temp 25F to compensate for the ceramic.

I topped it with a scoop of Philadelphia-Style Vanilla Ice Cream adapted from David Lebovitz‘s The Perfect Scoop. I love the contrast of cold melting vanilla ice cream with warm sweet fruit and biscuits. As opposed to French custard-style ice creams made with egg yolks, Philadelphia-Style ice cream only uses milk and cream. I find that it has a purer flavor — without the accent of eggs. Custard-style ice cream might be a little silkier, but if you add just a little bit of salt and alcohol, I find that Philly-style melts quite nicely. Lebovitz prescribes vanilla extract in addition to the vanilla bean, but I figured that there would be enough flavor in the vanilla bean and just added vodka as the alcohol.

Also, I had 1 stalk of rhubarb leftover, so I made the Rhubarb Confit from the French Laundry Cookbook, halving the recipe. Just water, sugar, and rhubarb. Even the rhubarb trimmings are used to infuse the syrup. It’s supposed to be good for a week, so I’ll probably have it with yogurt for breakfasts.

I also had a pound of cherries left, so after looking into the Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook, I cooked the cherries in a little water, added sugar, and chilled it. Tomorrow, I’ll taste it, and maybe add a little kirsch and/or balsamic vinegar to punch up the flavor before spinning it into sorbet.

If I were really an all-star, I’d make a pie crust in my pie dish this week, and keep it wrapped and frozen for serendipitous pie-making on market day in the future… but those 7-10 sorbets and ice creams already have priority… and I may be developing a serious taste for cobbler…

9 Responses to “Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler”

  1. erin Says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that has a hard time finding rhubarb at the markets here in LA–it drives me nuts!

    Your cobbler sounds fantastic–last year I made a rhubarb-raspberry grunt when I finally found some at the Hollywood Market. I love the idea of the rhubarb confit with yogurt in the AM.

  2. Gary Says:

    I would have a serious crisis if I ever had to make a final choice between chocolate and fruit/flour/sugar/dairy. During the years I lived in Switzerland, such dilemmas caused conflict on a daily basis. It was very unpleasant.

  3. Nina Says:

    Erin – OMG, right!?! I was looking forward to rhubarb more than anything else this Spring! And it seems like food bloggers everywhere else are posting almost daily about their cheap, plentiful rhubarb supplies….

    And thanks! hehe The rhubarb confit is going to be such a nice change from the strawberry preserve experiments that I’ve been working my way through during breakfast… and will until, roughly, 2010.

    The rhubarb-raspberry grunt sounds great — if I ever get some more rhubarb, I want to try out that combination.

    Gary – hahaha  For me it’s all about the sugar, in whatever form. I used to eat spoonfuls of the stuff as a child.  Any actual flavor is just a bonus. 🙂

    And a lot of people don’t like mixing chocolate and fruit, but I think it’s best of both worlds.

  4. Dorie Says:

    Nina, I’m so happy you made the cobbler and loved it. I, like you, first made the cobbler I found both rhubarb and cherries at the market at the same time – it’s one of those magical late spring culinary coincidences.

    I really like your picture of the cobbler, but I think my favorite picture is the one of the cherry pitter on the board with the cherry juice. Very nice.

  5. Nina Says:

    Thank you, Dorie! Yeah, I’m having a lot of fun these days going with the flow of what’s at the market (and in my cupboard)… The great flavors and combinations never end. The cobbler was such a lovely treat for a weekend afternoon… and evening… and breakfast… and then it was all gone. 🙂

  6. Aaron Says:

    Might they have been Burlat cherries. Burlats are an early variety with an intense dark red flesh that fools you into thinking they’ll have more flavor than they actually do. How were they? It’s my least favorite variety, but it does come nice and early and provides nice color in things.
    What did you think? Does that sound right?

  7. Nina Says:

    Aaron — That may be it… Burlat’s a new one to me. I hope that the vendor is there again on Saturday, so that I can ask. Some were nice and a little sweet, with lingering almost-floral fragrance in in the mouth, if that makes sense… and some didn’t havn’t have much flavor at all… but that inconsistency seems common among cherries I’ve had in the past.

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