Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fresh Fruit Cobblers and Kuchen

The bounty of fresh fruits coming available in the Pátzcuaro Mercado attracts the eye, engages the cooking instincts, and gets the juices flowing. One of the most satisfying ways to use these fruits is in a cobbler or a kuchen.

Inevitably, some joker will ask, "What's kuchen?" It's a cake, Jake; that's what, with a fruit or cheese filling. Not a layer cake, but a cake-like or pastry base with a deep filling of sweetened cooked fruit.

A cobbler is a kuchen turned on its head. The sweetened fruit is on the bottom, in a deep baking dish, while the crust, (usually a sweetened, biscuit type dough), lies on top.
Take away the top or bottom crust, heap on some streusel, bake, and you have a Fruit Crisp.

The type and juiciness of the fruit determines whether you use a thickener or not. Berries, such as the luscious zarzamoras (blackberries) benefit from some thickener. Apples, with less moisture and containing the natural gelling substance, pectin, require little or no starch thickener.

The Plum Cake I made the other day, based on a recipe in The Joy of Cooking, had 3 tablespoons of Minute Tapioca and 2/3rds cup of sugar to 1 kilo (raw weight) of red plums. It was not enough sugar and a little too much tapioca.

Here's the recipe for Plum Cake (kuchen) from The Joy of Cooking, with my variations **.

Preheat oven to 425º F, 218º C.

Wash and drain 1 kilo fresh red plums.
Pit plums over a bowl. Cut in half if small and in quarters if large. This should yield about 4 cups or slightly more.

Sprinkle with 1 to 1 1/2 cups white or light brown sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional- I left it out)
Three or four drops of Almond Extract**.
2 tablespoons of Minute Tapioca**.
Mix lightly; let stand 15 minutes.

(This dough is actually from the JoC French Apple Cake recipe)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
Blend lightly

Cut in 3 tablespoons chilled butter.

Separately, mix 1 beaten egg and
1/4 -1/3 cup of milk, and
1 teaspoon vanilla.

Add wets to drys, mix lighly to make a medium soft dough.

Line a deep, 8 inch baking dish with the dough, patting out. It does not have to reach the rim.

Put the prepared fruit filling onto the dough base. I also added a few tablespoons of preserved (uncrystallized) ginger from Trader Joe's. Entirely optional, of course.

I also topped the fruit with a streusel, using a little oatmeal in it for textural interest.

Place on a baking sheet, and bake about 30 minutes, or until top is well browned.

Try to let it cool a while before digging in.

Here's a Cobbler version. It's even easier than the Plum Cake.

Prepare the fruit, as above. Butter the inside of the baking dish lightly.

Please, use decent, real butter. Do not attempt these recipes using margarine, or whipped butter, or, "I can't really believe I bought this extra expensive, artificial butter resembling substance". When buying mantequilla pura de vaca, en México, check the package carefully to make SURE it's not margarine in cow's clothing. Sniff the package for an excess of saborizantes. A usually good brand is Gloria Mantequilla, sin sal, in the green wrapper. A better brand is Kirkland, usually available in Costco. It's said (although I haven't tried it) the best is Anchor Brand New Zealand Butter, sometimes at Costco. Recently sighted at Costco, a very expensive French butter, but not, in my opinion, worth the extra cost for use in baking. Maybe for shaving off curls to put on your croute de pain au levain, sprinkled with fleur de sel; chacon a son gout. (Cada loco con su tema.)

Return to recipe...
Pour in the prepared, sweetened, spiced fruit, with thickener as appropriate, dot with butter. You'll need more fruit for this, up to 7 cups.

Top with this dough, from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book, by Marian Cunningham, or a variation:

1 cup of flour
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons chilled butter (1/2 stick or 1/4 cup)
6 tablespoons milk

Blend the dry ingredients, cut in the butter to a coarse, irregular cornmeal like consistency; add the milk. Mix dough lightly with a fork. Roll out on a floured surface. Place over fruit.
Optional glaze: a few tablespoons of milk on dough top, sprinkle with white sugar, bake at 425º F for 35 to 45 minutes.

A foil or parchment lined baking sheet is recommended under the cobbler dish in case of boil over.

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