Published July 1, 2004.
Bad peaches, soggy biscuits, and syrupy filling were just three of the problems we had to solve in resurrecting this simple summer dessert.
The reason most cooks have not made peach cobbler recently is the usual one: The promise is better than the reality. For starters, peaches are unpredictable. Some turn mushy if cooked a bit too long, while others exude an ocean of overly sweet juices. The topping is also problematic, ranging from tough, dry biscuits to raw, cakey lumps of dough. In worst-case recipes, it is both hard and crusty on top and soggy on the bottom. So what's a home cook to do?
This classic marriage of cobbler topping and sweet, fresh fruit is worth advertising; so few modern cooks serve it, and yet it is easy enough to throw together at the last minute. What could be more appealing than warm cobbler dough atop rich, juicy peaches?
What proved to be the most perplexing problem was the wide variation in juiciness from peach to peach, which sometimes resulted in a baking dish overflowing with liquid. We tried a technique used to make another American dessert classic--strawberry shortcake--in which the fruit is macerated in sugar to draw out its juices. Sugar did indeed draw off some of the moisture from the peaches, but we had to replenish the cobbler with 1⁄4 cup of the drawn juice to guarantee a juicy cobbler that would have the same amount of liquid every time. We settled on a scant 1⁄4 cup of sugar, just enough to sweeten the peaches without making the filling syrupy. To thicken the peach juices, we found a mere teaspoon of cornstarch to be the perfect amount, giving the filling body without overwhelming the delicate texture of the peaches. For the topping, we created a biscuit recipe in which the butter is cut into the flour (as it is with rolled biscuits) but which also contains a little more dairy, making the dough more moist. For dairy we used whole milk yogurt, which gave the biscuits plenty of tangy flavor. We tried partially baking the peaches before adding the topping, hoping that the hot fruit would jump-start the baking of the biscuits. It did. The biscuits were much better, and the fruit was not overcooked.list of recipes