top of page

Cobblers - anything goes comfort food

"The whole point of cobbler is that it's easy" Daniel Gritzer/Serious Eats

It's a miserable kind of day - the sort of day when your thoughts turn to some kind of comfort food for dinner. Something warm and cosy - with cream or ice-cream. So tonight we are having some kind of pie or pasty from the leftover lamb and veg, and to top it off I thought I would make a pear bread and butter pudding. Not that I'm writing about that today - I think I've done bread and butter pudding many moons ago.

No my thoughts turned to other such homely things - and in particular cobblers, an individual example of which is shown above. Because I've never really known what cobblers were, and I now discover that this is because they are really American. Which would explain why we never had them back in the day either at home or at school. Every now and then when I saw a picture of one I thought they looked like stewed fruit with dumplings.

They came about because those early English settlers in America, used to their stodgy suet puddings, didn't have the ingredients or the equipment and so just put fruit in a baking dish and covered them with biscuits, fitted together. Although actually we don't mean biscuits - we probably mean scones because an American biscuit is: 'a small bread with a firm crust and soft interior' - a scone of sorts. Mind you if they were calling them biscuits back when a cobbler was invented, then surely it would have been actual biscuits that they were using? I have tried to find out why and when this happened and can only contribute that cookie comes from the Dutch - and the later Dutch immigrants - and the word 'koekje' which means a small cake - which sort of makes sense if you are talking about things like chocolate chip cookies - or scones I suppose - but not actual biscuits - the ones you dunk in your cup of tea.

But I digress. As well as a scone-like topping, for a cobbler, it can also be a kind of pastry, or dumplings - so made from either a dough or a batter. Dotted around or covered over like a pie, on top or underneath.

"These desserts seem descended from puddings on one side and pies on the other. They may be based on biscuit dough, pie dough, dumplings, bread crumbs, a crumbled flour-based topping, or cake; the fruit may be cooked under, over, or inside the dough or between dough layers." Alexandra Penfold/Serious Eats

As I said in my heading - anything goes. And whilst it may have started with fruit - and specifically, it seems, peaches - these days cobblers can be savoury - like these two just plucked from here and there - Beef stew with cheddar cobbler topping/Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Creamy chicken cobbler/ The relationship with dumplings is particularly clear here.

And why cobbler? Well nobody seems to be sure about this. The word was first used in 1859 and one suggestion is that it comes from the word 'cobeler' which means a wooden bowl, or it may refer to the shape of cobblestones. The most logical derivation to me is from the verb 'to cobble together' which is sort of self explanatory - putting something together from this and that. One thing's for sure it's nothing to do with shoe repair and I suspect that it also has nothing to do with the phrase 'a right load of cobblers', although then again it's the this and that notion that might just fit.

Also what about those two methods. Fruit on top and fruit on the bottom. I have just found that Robert Carrier's recipe in his Robert Carrier Cookbook has pastry - fairly ordinary pastry in the bottom and his filling doesn't even have any fruit in it - just a fruit juice cooked with butter and sugar and thickened with cornflour. Topped with some pastry strips. Is this really how they first made a cobbler? He was American after all. And I confess, hero that he is to me, this does not sound very tempting.

In his very interesting introduction to his recipe for Classic biscuit-topped peach cobbler Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats, says of this method - pastry on the bottom, fruit on top:

"After scanning a lot of recipes online and in cookbooks, I found two types to be the most common. One has fruit on the bottom and a topping made of sweetened biscuits; the other has a cake-like batter that starts out below the fruit, but rises to the top as it bakes. ... The result looks good, but tastes horrid. It is entirely too sweet. Plus, it is offensively buttery (yes, that is possible)."

My scanning of those recipes seemed to imply that the majority made a kind of scone dough - which might be flavoured with other things and then put dollops of it all over the top of the chosen fruit and its flavourings. Occasionally these were then smoothed out to form a solid topping, sometimes it was a bit dryer and rolled out, but not very often. The fanciest topping I saw was this one -

Pinwheel Peach cobbler - Dede Wilson/Bon Appétit for which the 'biscuits' had obviously been made as a kind of rolled pastry which had been filled with something else, rolled and sliced.

Nigel Slater didn't like the scone-like approach:

"My problem with the traditional cobbler crusts is their thickness, which sometimes feels like gnawing your way through a scone to get at the filling, so I rolled the dough a little thinner than is usual and added ground nuts to the butter, sugar and flour to form a soft and crumbly dough."

But this didn't stop him making something - Hazelnut fruit cobbler - in which, to my mind, the topping was just as thick as everyone else's. Felicity Cloake checked them all out and combined them in the way that she thought best and delicious. offered a wide range of choices from here and there.

I'll end with a selection from here and there, and I confess that they are mostly British. I did look at some American options but, frankly was not as impressed. Pear and coffee cobbler/Benjamina Ebuehi - an interesting combination; Blueberry, ginger and lime cobbler/Nik Sharma; Peach raspberry cornmeal cobbler - Ruby Tandoh; two from Jamie - Peach cobbler and Pimms and strawberry cobbler with vanilla, orange & almonds; Plum and rhubarb cobbler with star anise and vanilla - Ottolenghi and a final American one from Food and Wine Apple-pomegranate cobbler.

Anna Jones had a bet both ways by adding in some crumble as well for her Pick-your-own crumble cobbler

You'd have to say they all look sort of similar although the density of the topping seems to be the main variable.

Me - I'm closing down and going to go an have a go at this bread and butter pudding. I shall be winging it I think from ideas gleaned here and there and very vague memories of the simple but delicious ones my mum made when I was young.

Related Posts

See All

1 Comment

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
Jun 09
Rated 3 out of 5 stars.

Has this use of the word Cobblers got anything to do with the expression... "A load of old cobblers" meaning what nonsense? Probably not? The raisn bread and pear bread and butter pudding was delicious!

bottom of page