Cobbled Together

The Dining Room

GUEST:  Mr. Avery, Inst. for the Preservation of Culinary Heritage and Authenticity

Mr. Avery: Mr. Brown, we at The Institute for the Preservation of Culinary Heritage and Authenticity take food very seriously. That said, Iím sure you can appreciate this invitation is not given lightly. There are those on the selection committee who feel that you are not institutional material.
Alton Brown: Oh, I assure you, Mr. Avery, Iíve been in and out of institutions my entire life. Ha ha ha.
MA: Well, I dare say that had it not been for the untimely passing of Mr. Yorick ...
AB: Poor Yorick!
MA: You knew him?
AB: Not very well.
MA: He was a fine man, and his passing has left an opening, but your acceptance is far from a fait accompli. Here is your charge. [slides an envelope to AB] The annual Commodoreís banquet is in three days. This yearís theme is "Moonlight on the Potomac Ė Land and Sea, 1783". You will be responsible for creating an authentic, historically accurate, fruit-based dessert.
AB: Oh, thatís just fine, Mr. Avery. I got the pie skills to pay the bills.
MA: You do know that the Commodore has written several award-winning volumes on pie?
AB: Pie? Did I say pie? Iím sorry, I meant cobbler. Cobbler.
MA: Oh.
AB: Hey now, in the rock, paper, and scissors of the culinary world, cobbler beats pie every time. Itís the ultimate fruit delivery device. And although its roots are very firmly set in the past, cobblering is a method for modern living.
MA: Well, I may periodically stop by to check on your progress from time to time. Good luck, Mr. Brown.
AB: Oh. Thank you, Mr. Avery. But I donít need luck. Iíve got ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

A Diner


GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist.

    So, what do we actually know about cobbler? Well, we know that cobbler was born of English plum pudding. And we know that itís called "cobbler" because the top of the finished dough resembles cobblestones. Makes sense, doesnít it?

DEB DUCHON: Actually, itís called "cobbler" because itís hastily assembled. Itís cobbled together.

    We also know that, once the cobbler concept reached the American shores, it diversified and spread like a virus on steroids.

AB: Deb, whatís a Nutritional Anthropologist like you doing in a place like this?
DD: Shhhh. Iím doing research. Do you mind?
AB: Oh.
DD: [Louder] So whatíll you have, Sir?
AB: Oh, well, I was thinking about cobbler.
DD: Well, we have Brown Betty.
AB: Whoís she?
DD: Thatís baked fruit with layers of buttered bread crumbs.
AB: Okay, uh, whatís a buckle?
DD: Thatís fruit cooked with yellow cake batter.
AB: A crisp?
DD: Oh, that is fruit topped with a mixture of butter, sugar, flour, and nuts or oats. Itís known as a 'crumble' in England.
AB: And yet these are all still cobblers. Okay, I have to ask about "the grunt".
DD: Love grunt. That is fruit topped with biscuit dough, ...
COOK: [off camera] Order up, Deb.
... and cooked on top of the stove to create a dumpling-like texture. Itís called "grunt" because thatís the sound it makes when it cooks.
COOK: [off camera] Order up, Deb.
Very charming. What about a "pan dowdy"?
DD: Thatís cobbler in which the dough is pressed into the fruit, creating an uneven, ...
COOK: [off camera] Deb! Order up!
DD: ...
or dowdy appearance. [yelling, to the cook] KEEP YOUR SHIRT ON, HALE! IíLL BE RIGHT THERE! [back to AB] So, what will you have?
AB: Um, can I have just a minute to consider my order?
DD: Whatever. [leaves]

    Wow, she didnít mention that there was "surly tart" on todayís menu. Heh, heh. Surly ...
    So, all of those things that she gave in that lovely recitation are all technically cobblers, which means that we could consider just about any device containing cooked fruit and dough thatís not a pie, to be a cobbler. Now where I grew up, a cobbler is usually a very deep dish application with layers of hot fruit interspersed amongst these kind of thick layers of crust. The crust is composed of a dough thatís kind of half pie dough and half biscuit, and, well, itís ... letís just blow this joint and go make some.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Tender and Flaky

    Place nine and a half ounces of all-purpose flour in the work bowl of your food processor along with one ounceóthatís about two tablespoonsóof sugar, one tablespoon of freshly grated lime zest, and teaspoon of kosher salt, and just pulse that three or four times to combine.

9.5 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
1 Ounce Sugar
1 Tbs. Freshly Grated Lime
1 tsp. Kosher Salt

    Next up, the fats: four and a half ounces of unsalted butter, and one and a half ounces of lard. Thatís right, good old fashioned pig fatóvery very useful in pastries. Now these should all be cut into little bitty cubes, and those cubes must be well-chilled. Why chilled? Well ... [Flaky and Tender appear in the window]

4.5 Ounces Unsalted Butter
1.5 Ounces Lard

    Hey look, itís our old friends, Tender and Flaky [they engage in light horseplay]
    Ha, ha, ha. Feisty little boogers, arenít they? You know, they were probably attracted by the fact that it looks like weíre making pie dough here, and if we were, we would want to integrate both tenderness and flakiness. Tenderness, of course, comes from using a warm or melted fat that can ooze throughout the dough, and flakiness comes from using a cold fat that remains in solid sheets as you roll it out. Now since weíre making cobbler, I just donít care that much about tenderness. I really want good, solid flake structure, which is why Iím using chilled fats, and I want flavor, which is why Iím using a combination of lard and butter.

AB: [to Tender and Flaky] Hey, hey. Have you got ... hey. Have you guys seen my neighborís new dog?
TENDER & FLAKEY: [dog barks and growls, Tender and Flaky both appear to be pulled below the window]

    I guess they have. Now just pulse this a few times or until the mixture starts to get crumbly and starts to kind of climb up the side of the bowl, just like that. That is perfect.

    Now itís time to add water, and we only want to add ice water, because, of course, we want to keep this fat solid. How much? Well, it could be as little as one tablespoon, could be as much as three. It depends on the moisture in the air, the moisture in the flour, the moisture in the butter. It depends. But regardless of how much we use, I always add with a spritzer, because a spritzer will always evenly distribute the water, and that will always beat just pouring it in. So, we spritz the surface, and we process. And we do this as briefly as possible.

1-3 Tbs. Of Ice Water

    Move that crumbly mess into a zip-top bag, and just shape it into a disk, about "yay" by "yay" [about 6 inches in diameter, and about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick], and then tuck this into the refrigerator for at least half an hour. Thatíll give time for the flour granules to soak up some of the water, and itíll give us time to hunt some fruit.

Cobbler dough can be kept in the freezer for up to three months.

Harryís Farmers Market, Marietta, GA Ė 10:15 AM

GUEST: Grim Reaper, Deadly Delicacios, Inc.

    If you want to know what fruits make for good cobblers, you have only to check out the preserves section of your local Megamart. Thatís because the berries in stone fruits that are so popular with preserve-ists, contain reasonably high amounts of pectin. Now thatís a water-soluble polysaccharide capable of creating a kind of gel when cooked in a slightly acidic aqueous solution. But more on that later.
    Now there is one cobbler accomplice that doesnít seem to be represented here. Excuse me.

Grim Reaper: Rhubarb! Get your fresh rhubarbóthe reddest fruit in town!
Um, excuse me, um, isnít rhubarb in the same botanical family as buckwheat and sorrel, and therefore, in fact, a vegetable?
GR: Yeah, sure. Whatever. Makes a killer pie, though ... I mean, delicious. Try some.
AB: Er, maybe, maybe, in a minute.

    You know, rhubarb, which in Latin, roughly translates to "root of the barbarians", was originally used as a medicinal productóa hepatic stimulant, in factóuntil about the 18th century, when it finally became a culinary ingredient. Why the long wait? Oh, I donít know ...

AB: ... could it be because rhubarb is poison?!?
GR: Only if you eat it.

    Well, in this case, the reaper-y device there comes in the form of oxalic acid, which besides being a flavorant, is also a darn good bleach and rust remover.

GR: Ahhh, oxalic acid. Itís one of my favorites. Right up there with hemlock and old "Threeís Company" reruns. Try some.
AB: Oh, what the heck. [eats a sample of rhubarb, then gags, and spins out of view of the camera.]
GR: Another clueless pedestrian lured in by the ruby-hued stalk of doom. Heh, heh, heh, heh ...
AB: [now recovered] You know, actually, all the poison is in the leaves. That just really tastes lousy, raw.
GR: Eh, well, canít blame a Reap for trying.
AB: ĎSuppose not.
GR: See you next week. Just kidding. Or am I? Heh, heh, heh, heh ... [floats off camera]

    Look for the best ruby-red rhubarb in your megamart starting sometime in late winter through the spring. You always want the stalks to be celery-crispótheyíll have better flavor that wayóand as bright red as you can get them. The rest of the year, when this isnít in season, you will be able to buy "hot house" rhubarb, which is easily recognizable by the fact that it is not as bright red, it is pink, but it is still tasty. It is also the stuff that is used in the frozen variety of rhubarb.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    For the fruit filling, combine one cup of sugar with two tablespoons of cornstarch and a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt. Then, grab yourself one pound of rhubarbóthatís about three large ribsó and cut it into half-inch pieces.

1 Cup Sugar +
2 Tbs. Cornstarch +
1/4 tsp. Kosher Salt

1 Pound Rhubarb, Chopped

    Since itís loaded with tannins and phenols, rhubarb is mighty astringent stuff, but just as aromatic bitters can bring an otherwise bland cocktail to life, ...

T: [offers AB a cocktail of bitters]
AB: [takes it and drinks] Ahhhhh.


... rhubarb can bring a new sparkle to a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Although strawberries are the most famous rhubarb mates, [in a southern accent] being a southern boy, I like peaches better, three of Ďem! About one pound, Iíd say. [In his normal voice] Ahem, sorry, uh, just cut those in half, remove the pits, carefully, of course, and cut into small wedges thusly.

1 Pound Peaches, Sliced

    Now that so many of the cell walls have been damaged, these peaches will oxidize quickly and turn brown, and in this case, brown doesnít taste good, so we will add one tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lime juice to the mix. Thereís another reason for the acid.

1 Tbs. Fresh Lime Juice

    Letís say for a moment that these sponges are the cells inside our peaches. Now when they are raw, they are very very firm. The cell walls are doing their job keeping some stuff out, other stuff in. But by applying heat and moisture, we can soften this structure, to the point where itís very very tender, and water and juices and flavors and things move through the cells out into the surrounding cooking water, which is what makes cobbler sauce possible. The danger, of course, is in overcooking this structures to the point that it just turns into mush. Experience and a decent timer will help guard against this as will the addition of acidic ingredients, things like vinegar, or lime juice, lemon juice and what not, will help, by reinforcing cell walls. They will also act as color guards, preventing your bright reds and oranges from turning brown, or blue, which wouldnít be good.
    Now toss, using my favorite tools on earth [shows his hands]
    Time to build. Retrieve your dough disk, which is nicely chilled, and reach in and pull off about a third of it. You donít have to weigh it. You donít have to measure it. Just kind of eyeball it.
    Now we move down to a buttered baking dish. Now cast iron would be okay for this too, but I kind of like glass Ė I think it makes it easier to serve. Put a little flour on your fingers, and just crumble this up and kind of cover the entire bottom of the dish.
    Now we can add the fruit, which, as you can see, has turned all of the dry ingredients into a kind of syrup. Everything is kind of dissolved.
    As we have seen many times on this program before, the handling of thin, wide dough products is treacherous business. To get around this, we will sacrifice a zip-top bag. Just grab your nearest paring knife, and slit down one side, across the bottom, up the other side. Take off this top part, slide your hand under, and move over to the dish. Simply invert. There. Now you can actually push down on the plastic and kind of mold around the dish a little bit without getting your hands messy, or tearing up the dough.

    Slide into the middle of a 375 degree oven for 60 minutes, or until the top just starts to get golden brown and delicious. Now if you are going to use frozen fruit, and you can, youíre gonna need to bump that up to 90 whole minutes. Now one little tip: there could be some juices trying to escape from that, so make yourself a little tray out of aluminum foil. Thatíll make cleanup a lot easier.


In England, rhubarb is commonly paired with ginger.

The Kitchen

    [opens the oven] Smell that? You know, one of the great joys of cooking fruit is that it contains a lot of aromatic elements that, being volatile, escape out into the air during cooking, and that makes the whole place smell finger-licking good. Now 60 minutes is up, and you can see the crust is lightly brown. But I think we could use a little more golden brown and delicious, so switch your oven setting to broil, and give it three to five minutes for the crust to darken a bit.
    And now the hardest part: letting this cool down for 15 to 30 minutes before you dig in.

MA: Sure smells good.
Doesnít it.
But, umm ...
Umm, but what?
Yeah, peaches.
MA: Well, itís just that our dinner celebrates the cuisine of the northern shore of the Potomac, not the southern shore.
AB: Haaaaaaa, youíre kidding, right, Mr. A?
We at the Institute never kid about food, Mr. Brown.
No. No, I bet you donít. [leaves]
MA: [takes a fork, and tries to take a taste of the cobbler]
AB: [returns and takes the fork and the cobbler away] Thank you.

    Craving cobbler, but find yourself without an oven? Do not despair. Just make like an old-school New Englander and punt, with a grunt.

    Place nine and a half ouncesóthatís roughly two cupsóof all-purpose flour in your work bowl of your processor. Add to that, two teaspoons of baking powder, one teaspoon of kosher salt, and one quarter teaspoon of baking soda, and just pulse that maybe three or four times just to combine.

9.5 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
2.5 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp. Baking Soda

THING: [tries to hand AB a sifter]

    Yes, you could use a sifter for this. But you know what? I hate sifters. They, they ... you canít clean them, they rust, they take up a lot of storage space, and half the time, theyíre broken. The food processor is always there for you. And, of course, it adds air to mixtures, which is nice.

    Now move this off to a nice big bowl and use our fingers to cut in two ounces of unsalted butter thatís been chilled.

2 Ounces Unsalted Butter

    The dough on this cobbler is destined to become dumplings, and dumplings are a lot like biscuits, as far as texture goes. Now texture comes from rubbing. This rubbing action we canít get this\ in a food processor, because weíre literally coating some of the flour granules completely with butter, while leaving chunks all around it. Just canít this any other way.

    So, weíll make a well in the center of this, and pour in one cup of buttermilk: low-fat or regular-fat, it doesnít really matter. And stir it in with either a rubber spatula or a big old wooden spoon. We donít want to stir any more than necessary to just bring it loosely together. Why? Well, we would create gluten even though some of the flour is protected by butter.

1 Cup Buttermilk

    Put a little bit of flour down on that [parchment paper] before you dump. There we go. Donít forget the part on the spoon. A little dusting of flour on top of that, and just wrap it enough to kind of pull it together into a ball. Get this in the refrigerator.

    Combine one cup of sugar, one-half teaspoon of ground ginger, and one cup of water. Then add in one pound three ouncesóthatís about four cupsóof fresh or frozen blackberries. Toss that to combine, and then move that into a ten-inch cast iron skillet set over medium heat. Now bring this just to a simmer, and then decrease the heat to, letís say, medium low, and continue cooking, and occasionally stirring, for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid thickens.

1 Cup Sugar
1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger
1 Cup Water

1 Pound 3 Ounces Fresh or
   Frozen Blackberries

    Berries are soft, liquid is syrupy. Now weíre ready to drop some dumplings.
    Retrieve your chilled dumpling dough from the refrigerator, and, if youíve got it, grab a one-ounce disheróa little spring-loaded device. Very handy for this. If you donít have one, use a couple of large spoons.
    Now the trick is to deliver the dumplings so that they move from the outside to the inside. You donít want to pack them in too tightly, because they are going to swell during cooking.
    There. Now would you look at that. They start puffing up like blowfish right away, absorbing, of course, the hot liquid from below. Now, to do these traditionally, you would just cover them up, and let them cook over very low heat, like chicken and dumplings, until the dumplings are just cooked through. Or ...

    ... by finishing this in a 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, you will bring dry heat to the party, and that is exactly what we need to toast the top of the dumplings.


    Now Iíll admit, this isnít really an authentic approach for a grunt, but Iím suspecting that, being a mere mortal, Mr. Avery will fall for the luscious luster of golden brown and delicious. Now bubblage could be an issue here, so once again, we will use our aluminum safety pan. Iíll be back.

Blackberries have been found in the
stomachs of human remains from the Ice Age.

The Kitchen

MA: Now you said that this is a traditional New England grunt, correct?
It is indeed. And you know, they say that the name "grunt" comes from the sound that it makes as it bubbles away on the cook top.
Well this appears satisfactory, Mr. Brown. I can accept this as your entry if youíre sure.
Why wouldnít I be sure?
Well, itís probably not my place to say, but the Commodore has a bit of a blackberry allergy.
An allergy, huh?
MA: Blows up like a balloon at the sight of them.
Aw, thatís just terrible.
Ironic, really, since his state is overrun with them. But, thatís the English countryside for you.

    English, eh? [leaves]

MA: [takes a fork, and tries to take a taste of the cobbler]
AB: [returns and takes the fork and the grunt away] Thank you.

    When cobblering, itís important to remember that there are deep cultural divides at work here. The rolled dough is decidedly Southern, the dropped dough very New England, but the crumbly, crunchy streusel topping, well, thatís very merry Olde England.


    To make one, we combine five ounces, by weight, of all-purpose flour, two-thirds of a cup of sugar, one and a half cups of chopped nutsówalnuts, pecans, what have youóand one and a half cups of crushed crackers, ginger snaps, or even cereal. Get that in a bowl, and mix to combine. Then weíre going to cut in four ounces of unsalted butter cut into cubes. 5 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Chopped Nuts
1 1/2 Cups Crushed, Cookies,
    Crackers Or Cereal

4 Ounces Unsalted Butter

    Phase two, twelve ounces of berriesóIíve got a combination of frozen blueberries and raspberries hereógo into a second bowl, along with a quarter of a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of cornstarch, and half a cup of our newly minted crisp mixture. There we go. Stir to combine. 12 Ounces Frozen Berries
1/4 Cup Sugar
2 tsp. Cornstarch
1/2 Cup Crisp Topping

    Now although we could just bake this as one big crisp, I prefer to divide my mixture between four seven-to-eight-ounce ramekins, and then just top each of them off with a half cup or a little bit more of the crisp mixture. That way, nobody has to fight over portions.

    Park these in the middle of a 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the fruit bubbles up, and the topping is lightly browned. Then, be absolutely certain that you allow these to cool for at least 15 minutes. If you donít, the sauce will not have time to thicken up and gel and, youíll burn your mouth.


MA: Mr. Brown, this is simply divine.
Is it, really?
Absolutely. Were it up to me, youíd be admitted to the Institute at once.
Aw, thank you. It means a lot to me, coming from you.
Well, alas, itís not up to me. And since Mr. Yorick is not as dead as was first suspected, your application has been denied. But thereís always next year.
Thatís great. Thank you, Mr. Avery for telling me.

    So, what have we learned here, kids? Well, weíve learned that cobbler isnít just a link to the past, itís a bridge to our culinary future. Weíve also learned that, uh, if youíve got good eats on your plate, you donít need fanshy schmanshy clubs on your resume. See you next time.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

Hit Counter

Last Edited on 08/27/2010