Use Drop Biscuits for a Quick Version of This Classic American Dessert
We’re approaching the end of prime peach season, but there’s still time enough to make another dessert or two using this juicy and naturally sweet fruit.
Although peach pie is terrific, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as warm peach cobbler. It’s also an all-American dessert, likely having “originated in the early British American colonies”. Most colonists didn’t have the ingredients or cooking equipment to replicate traditional British suet puddings, so they made puddings with biscuit dough. “Cobbler” got its name because the rough biscuit surface of the dessert resembles a street constructed of lumpy cobblestones.
These days, few of us make biscuits from scratch. Many people are quite skittish about making them. Too complicated, they say. Something could go wrong.
Well, drop biscuits are extremely easy to make — nothing can go wrong. And in my opinion, they work even better in cobbler than the traditional rolled version.
Best of all, they’re quick to make.
Recipe: Peach Cobbler with Drop Biscuits
A cobbler is nothing more than cut-up fruit mixed with sugar, covered with biscuit dough, and baked in the oven. Although fresh fruit is best in this dish, canned or frozen works in a pinch. You can even use canned pie filling.
Buttermilk makes particularly good biscuits, but few of us have that on hand. This recipe includes instructions for using a buttermilk substitute (which is how I usually make it).
Although I specify an oven-proof skillet, you can easily substitute a baking dish. The amount of fruit you’ll need does depend on the size of your skillet or baking dish, however. A 10” skillet or 8” square baking dish needs 6 cups of fruit; a 12” skillet or 9”x12” baking dish (the classic Pyrex casserole size) will require 10 cups of fruit. The smaller recipe yields 6 to 8 servings, the larger about 12.
The recipe for the filling is one I learned long ago, probably from my mother, although the idea for including Minute Tapioca comes from Christopher Kimball’s The Cook’s Bible. The recipe for the drop biscuits is one that Cook’s Illustrated perfected.
Leftover cobbler will keep for a day or two in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Note that peach juice has incredible staining powers, and sometimes will stain the biscuit dough a slightly bluish tint when left overnight in the refrigerator. The cobbler is still safe to eat, but may look a little weird.
For the filling:
- 6 cups peaches, washed, pitted, and roughly chopped or diced, peeling not necessary (10 cups if you’re using a 12” skillet; one peach is about a cup)
- freshly squeezed juice from half a lemon (you’ll need the juice from the other half for the biscuits)
- ~2/3 cup sugar (or to taste; it’s partially a judgment call depending on how sweet your peaches are)
- 1 tablespoon Minute Tapioca (optional; the purpose is to help reduce the juiciness)
- 1 cup cold milk (may substitute buttermilk)
- juice from ½ lemon (omit if you’re using buttermilk)
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled for 5 minutes or so
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 level teaspoons baking powder
- ½ level teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¾ teaspoons table salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Position one rack in the middle of the oven (for the cobbler). Position a second rack toward the bottom of the oven, and place a foil-covered baking sheet there to catch drips from the cobbler in case the juices run over the side of the skillet (which they usually do just a little).
- If you are using 6 cups of fruit, use a 10” skillet or 8” square baking dish; if you’re using 10 cups of fruit, use a 12” skillet or 9”x12” baking pan.
- Wash your peaches. Using a knife, cut into the fruit at the equator (across the crease) until the knife reaches the pit; then cut a circle all around the circumference of the peach. Twisting slightly, you should be able to separate the two peach halves. Assuming you have freestone peaches (see notes), the pit should pop right out (see notes for what to do with clingstone peaches). Roughly chop or dice peaches into cubes of ½-inch or so (size is not critical). Place in skillet (or mixing bowl if you’re using a baking pan).
- Add lemon juice, sugar, and Minute Tapioca; mix together. Put skillet on burner, bring to simmer, and taste for sweetness. Add more sugar if you feel it’s necessary.
- Simmer for 15 minutes while you prepare the biscuits. (If you’re using a baking pan, place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the biscuits.)
- Measure 1 cup of cold milk and add juice from ½ lemon to it. Let sit for about 10 minutes (see notes for why this step is necessary). If using buttermilk, simply pour a cup of buttermilk. Pour into a bowl (if you have a 2-cup measuring cup, you can keep the milk in the cup; no need for the bowl).
- Cut stick of butter into several pieces and melt using method of your choice (I put it in a coffee mug or Pyrex measuring cup and melt it in the microwave).
- Measure 2 cups of flour by dipping scoop into flour, and sweeping the back of a knife across the cup to level the flour. Place into a bowl (not the one with the milk).
- Add baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and table salt and stir or whisk together for a minute (you want to thoroughly combine the baking powder and soda throughout the flour mixture).
- After the melted butter has cooled (about 5 minutes), add it to the cold milk. Stir together (small clumps will form). Add this to the flour mixture, and stir together until you just form a batter that pulls away from the sides of the bowl (over mixing tends to make tough biscuits).
- Let rest until the peaches have cooked in the skillet for about 15 minutes (or baked in the oven). Then, using an ice cream scoop, scoop up dollops of dough (about 1½ or so inches in diameter) and plop them on top of the peaches. Distribute the scoops evenly over the top of the peaches — you’ll have about 8 or so biscuits. Some of the scoops will probably be touching; this is OK. (If you’re making a 10-cup recipe of cobbler, make the dollops a little bit smaller. Even so, the biscuits will have some spaces between them. This is OK also.)
- Bake on a center rack. Usually the biscuits will bake in 13 or 14 minutes (they’ll be puffed up and nicely browned on top), but set the timer for 12 minutes and begin checking then.
- Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes. Then dish up and serve as is, or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
- I find that a medium peach when cut up yields about a cup. But peaches vary, so if I need 6 cups, I always buy an extra peach or two just to make sure I have enough.
- Although you can peel your peaches, I find the peels add a bit of extra color, and I like the bit of texture they add. About the only time I peel peaches is if the fruit is so overripe that the peels are practically slipping off anyway.
- Peaches are drupes, a type of fleshy fruit with a pit (stone). Peaches can be either clingstone or freestone. If the flesh separates easily from the pit, it’s a freestone; if the flesh sticks tightly to the pit, it’s a clingstone. Both types of peaches are available in supermarkets, although freestones seem to predominate.
- It can be difficult to separate the flesh if the peach is a clingstone. I usually cut the peach into wedges (rather than just cutting it in half) and remove the flesh bit by bit. You won’t be able to get all the flesh off the stone this way, so you may need to use an additional peach.
- If there’s a way to identify by sight whether a peach is a freestone or a clingstone, I don’t know it. If it matters to you (it usually doesn’t to me), ask your friendly produce clerk. Most will know (if they don’t, they generally will cut open a peach to find out).
- Adding the lemon juice to the milk turns it into clabbered milk. This acidic milk (or buttermilk, which is naturally acidic) helps make a tender biscuit that rises a bit more than it would without the acid. If you don’t want to bother clabbering the milk, just use sweet milk as is, omitting the lemon juice; but also omit the baking soda if you do this.
- It’s the combination of the clabbered milk (or buttermilk) and baking soda that adds extra rise to the biscuits. If you add the baking soda without the extra acid, the biscuits will not rise as much. Shirley Corriher has an excellent discussion of how much baking powder and baking soda to use, and in which circumstances, in BakeWise.
- The reason for cooking the peach mixture for about 15 minutes before adding the biscuits is because the peaches require a longer cooking time than the biscuits. By adding the biscuits when the peaches are half done, both the biscuits and peaches will reach their respective peaks at the same time. Some recipes call for putting the biscuit dough on uncooked peaches and then putting the pan in the oven for approximately half an hour (the time you need to cook the peaches), but I find this results in overcooked biscuits.
- Although drop biscuits work particularly well in this recipe, you can substitute regular rolled biscuits. You can even substitute the commercial biscuit dough you find in chilled cardboard tubes in the supermarket. I won’t tell (but the biscuits also won’t be as tasty).
If you use a skillet rather than a baking dish when making this recipe (skillets are more fun, so I urge you to do so), make sure your skillet is ovenproof. That means no wooden or plastic handles — they won’t stand up to the hot oven. It doesn’t matter what your skillet is made of — stainless, aluminum — just as long as the high oven temperature won’t harm it. I don’t suggest using a skillet with a nonstick surface. Although the surface will be largely covered by the peach mixture and biscuit dough, the high oven temperature may harm the small portions of the skillet’s finish that may remain uncovered.
Because cobbler is an all-American dessert, I like to use an all-American cast-iron skillet when preparing this dish. When properly cared for (don’t use harsh abrasives) these skillets seem to last forever. The one you see pictured here belonged to Mrs. Kitchen Riffs’ grandmother and is at least 100 years old. It’s got another 100 years in it, I figure, maybe more.
That’s a lot of peach seasons.
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