Nigel Slater once wrote that he rarely cooks a peach, and I routinely follow his example.
Living, as I do, between two towns that boast peach festivals each summer, the drupes are most often consumed straight from the fruit farm. Often in the parking lot, bent at my waist, feet apart and elbows parallel to the ground, so that the copious juices drip to the gravel rather than onto my clothes. The season’s plums are enjoyed in much the same way, as well as the smooth-skinned nectarines.
In an attempt to prolong the satisfaction, I do bring some home to steward into ripening. Those live on a platter in the dining room, stem-side down, resting on their shoulders in a single layer and with space between each. Like this, they’re coaxed to their full promise over the following days.
Stone fruits are ready when they feel heavy for their size – combat any urge to prod or squeeze the fruit for tenderness, as this will only lead to bruises and disappointment later. Instead, rely on that weighty feel in your palm, akin to a water balloon almost, and then smell, searching for the undeniable headiness exclusive to the ripest fruit.
As the days lean further into August, stone fruits settle into their stride. So, when that bounty and my dessert-adoring family dictate an immediate use for a punnet of fruit, I break my no-cook habit.
Whole peaches poached in white wine, their skins slipped off, then the rosy flesh chilled, are served in their perfumed bath with a swath of cream. Fat apricot halves are canned in a straightforwardly old-school simple syrup speckled the seeds from a vanilla bean. A quick plum chutney, buzzing with spice and assertive with vinegar, meets barbecued pork on our plates at dinner.
In my mind though, the best partner to stone fruit is a crust. A crisp pie pastry counters the fruit’s softness; the rocky rubble of a crumble or crisp does the same.
In thumbing through Nicole Rucker’s new cookbook Dappled: Baking Recipes for Fruit Lovers, I came across her peach cobbler, with its cobblestoned topping of ricotta biscuits. I appreciated the potential of the dairy freshness and golden-crisped edges against the sweet and soft stewed fruit beneath.
I love the colours of the late-summer farmstand; peach and plum hues, vibrant golden nectarines with flushed cheeks, fuchsia-fleshed plums, so tumbled them all together into a kaleidoscope version of Rucker’s recipe. The plums dazzled here. Their sharpness brought a keen edge to the peaches’ honeyed influence, and the cobbler was stained sunrise shades.
With the at-its-peak fruit I had, I was miserly with sugar and slightly generous with flour, so the juices flowing in the pan still thickened to a luscious puddle, which was then sopped up by the tender-bellied biscuits with enthusiasm. Breaking the rules is rarely so rewarding.
Peach and Ricotta Biscuit Cobbler
- 2 pounds ripe peaches, skinned, pitted and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1/2 recipe Ricotta Biscuits dough (see below), cut into 2-inch squares
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream, for brushing
Position a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a parchment-lined baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven to catch any drips.
Combine the peaches, sugar, lemon juice, flour, cinnamon and salt in a 2-quart baking dish. Arrange the biscuits on top of the filling and brush the surface with the heavy cream.
Bake the cobbler until the biscuits are browned and baked through and the juices bubble vigorously around the edges of the dish, about 45 minutes. Serve the cobbler warm. Any leftovers will keep well at room temperature overnight, but it’s really best eaten the same day.
Makes 16 biscuits
- 5 cups cake flour, plus more for rolling
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 cups cold buttermilk, plus more for brushing
- 1 1/2 cups cold whole-milk ricotta cheese, drained for at least 1 hour in a fine-mesh strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl. Place the bowl in the freezer to chill for 20 minutes.
Add the butter to the dry ingredients and toss to combine. Pinch and smear the pieces of butter between your fingers – processing the butter like this creates small leaves that layer in the dough, resulting in flakes later. Once all the butter chunks have been pinched, grab small handfuls of flour and butter and rub the two together between the palms of your hands until the mixture resembles uneven pebbles on a sandy beach.
Create a well in the centre of the mixture and add 1 cup of the buttermilk. Using a fork, toss the flour and butter from around the edge of the well into the centre. Fluff the buttermilk and flour mixture with the fork five or six times, until shaggy looking.
Crumble the ricotta cheese into tablespoon-size chunks over the dough, making sure not to break up the cheese too much. Using your hands, with your fingers spread wide open, loosely incorporate the cheese into the dough with a lift-and-gently-squeeze motion. Drizzle the remaining 1 cup of buttermilk over the dough while using the fork to bring the mixture together into a loose and shaggy mass.
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and use your hands to shape it into a 10 x 7-inch rectangle. Fold the rectangle in thirds like a letter and then rotate 90 degrees. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough back into a 10 x 7-inch rectangle. Repeat the folding, rotating and rolling process two more times, ending with the dough shaped into a 10 x 7-inch rectangle of about 1-inch thickness. Wrap the dough with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Position two racks in the centre zone of your oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Return the dough to the work surface and roll it out into a 12 x 10-inch rectangle of about 3/4-inch thickness. Using a sharp knife, trim and discard 1/4 inch from all sides of the dough. Cut the rectangle into 4 evenly spaced vertical strips, and then into 4 horizontal strips to get 16 biscuits. Place 8 biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart on each prepared baking sheet. Generously brush the tops of the biscuits with buttermilk.
Bake until the biscuits are golden brown and have expanded upward to reveal fluffy layers on the sides, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool for as long as you can stand it, or risk a burned mouth and go for it.
Reprinted from Dappled by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019, Nicole Rucker.