Colder weather seems to bring out the crisps, grunts, cobblers, slumps, and pandowdy in many a kitchen. I’m assuming you already know what all these things are (and the differences between them), so I’m going to jump right into how to bake up the best cobbler, crisp, dumpling, and the rest of the gang of related baked goods.
If that’s not the case, take a look at the history of slumps, grunts, crisps, and cobblers; and a lengthy list of definitions (because there are a LOT of similar dishes, like a LOT a lot), then head back here. This way, you’ll know you are trying to bake the dish you want.
- What Kind of Fruits are Best for Baking?
- Can you use Canned Fruit or Pie Filling in a Cobbler, Crisp, Betty, and so on?
- Can You Use Frozen Fruit in Cobblers, Crisps, Bettys, etc.?
- What Kind of Sweetener Can You Use in a Cobbler?
- Can a Cobbler be Made Ahead of Time? Can You Freeze a Cobbler?
- What Do I Need to Make Cobblers, Crisps, Grumps, and Slumps?
- Baking Your Cobbler, Crisp, Crumble, and the Like
- Make it Fancy
- Why is Cobbler Runny or Gummy?
- How Long Will Cobbler Keep in the Fridge?
- Go Bake a Cobbler…or a Crumble…or a Pandowdy…or a Sonker
- Related Resources:
What Kind of Fruits are Best for Baking?
You are limited only by your imagination (and what’s in your pantry or sitting in your fruit basket). Frozen is okay too, though some people like to thaw it first, to avoid adding all that extra liquid, while others like the extra juices. Yes, it’s okay to use canned fruit in these classic dessert fruit recipes, though fresh fruit tastes infinitely better. While you may feel like it takes longer, and yes, you do have to peel fresh fruit before putting it into these dishes, as I tell our sons, you get faster the more you do something. So don’t avoid it now, to help future you out later.
Save a couple of bucks by checking out the discounted fruit at your local grocery store. Since you are slicing and peeling fruits for these recipes anyway, who cares if there is a bruise? The same goes for dented cans of fruit and pie filling, if that’s the route you want to go. Sometimes, discounted areas are just overstock, and don’t have anything wrong with them. That’s my favorite kind of find.
Some fruits do work better than others, at least when it comes to varieties. Super extra ripe berries, pears, and peaches, however, can add too much mush. If you want to downplay the mush factor, use ripe (not screaming ripe) fruit. You may need to add in an extra tablespoon (or two) of cornstarch to help thicken things right up. Some bakers do skip cornstarch altogether, preferring to avoid “muddying” the flavor of the fruit, while others opt for tapioca. You do you.
If you like a thicker cobbler, crisp, and so on, stick with your cornstarch or cornstarch alternative (as we’ll chat about below). If you don’t use a thickener, you’ll need to let your mixture sit for a good 45 minutes, to give the soft fruit time to firm up a smidge.
For apples and pears, you’ll want to refer to the text below as the fruit varieties make a difference.
What are the Best Baking Apples?
Apples are not created equal. Some varieties get mushy. No matter what apple variety you choose to bake with, you will need to peel the apple first. We place the peel in a separate bowl and snack on them, unless our youngest walks away with it first. So, what apples are best for baking a dessert?
According to the International Apple Institute, apples high in texture and fiber content are best for baking and cooking. These include Rome Beauty which hold their shape well, tart and tangy Newtown Pippins and Granny Smith, Winesap, Golden Delicious, Northern Spy, Stayman, Jonathan and York Imperial.
Choose firm, well-colored apples. Whether the skin is green, red or two- toned, an apple should look healthy: Dull, faded complexions and bruises mean over-the-hill apples. Surface russeting or brownish areas are caused by weather changes and do not affect flavor or quality, however.Pat Strauss and The Morning Call, When the Brisk Winds Blow, the Sweet and Spicy Taste of Apple Desserts is a Great Way to Warm Your Heart, The Morning Call, October 24, 1984.
Those aren’t the only apples on the nice list. We also love Cripps Pink or Pink Lady apples. As CMIOrchards shares, “It has one of the longest growing seasons of any apple, requiring 200 days from bloom to maturity. Most of these apples are sold under the generic Cripps Pink variety name rather than the Pink Lady brand name. Many growers prefer to use the “Cripps Pink” name because this eliminates fees for branding and advertising. There is no difference in any quality standards between the two.” These apples are great for eating out of hand as well as for baking. That’s important in our house.
Ambrosia apples are another family favorite and, again, they pull double-duty as baking and snacking apples. For best results, combine multiple apple types. Some recommend mixing together sweet and tart apple varieties, but I love using my favorite sweet apple types and cutting down a little sugar, if I want.
Go. Play. Have fun with it. Write in your cookbooks so you can note down what you’ve done.
What are the Best Baking Pears?
The best pears to use in baking are the pears you like to eat the best. Okay, okay. Let’s break it down a better way.
Bosc and Anjou varieties are tops at holding their shape and texture. In a pinch, Bartletts and other varieties work fine, too. Avoid Comice pears for cooking. Their tender, juicy flesh tends to fall apart when baked whole or used in pies. Smaller pears such as Seckel and Forelle are fine for cooking, but take longer to peel and core because of their size.Susan Westmoreland, Pear Varieties, Good Housekeeping, August 26, 2003.
Go with the type of pears you want to keep around. If you want juiciness, make room for Bartlett pears. They get mushy, but they sure do add a little something. Or, do what I do, and combine pear varieties.
I like using a little of this and a little of that. By combining different types of pear varieties, you get the best of both worlds. I typically use Bosc red pears, green D’Anjou (pronounced ON-ju) pears, and red D’Anjou pears in my cobblers (and the like). I use Bartlett pears when I have them too. Peel them first and you’ll be fine. Pears seem to last a long time, and our sons LOVE to snack on them, so I always have pears on hand.
What are the Best Fruits to Combine for a Cobbler?
You don’t have to go with one fruit like persimmon or apple or cherry. These comfy, cozy desserts were made for a bit of mix and matching. Use up bits and pieces of fresh fruit to create a flavor combo all your own or sub in a bag of frozen fruit to (mixed or single) to fill in any gaps.
Refer to your recipe to know roughly how much fruit you need, but remember that these recipes are pretty flexible. I mean, unless you have a scale, you are likely often eyeballing the whole fruit part of it anyway, right? If you still want some sort of guide, most recipes seem to shoot for six cups of fruit for a 9 x 9 pan or to have your fruit fill anywhere from 1/2 the pan to 3/4 of the pan, before you add on the topping. Look how flexible that is!
Feel free to experiment. Need help getting started? Sweet and tart is always a good thing. You can also try these combos:
- Berries. All the berries. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries work great on their own or in any combo with each other
- Cherries and Apricots
- Pears and Apples
- Pears and Apples and cherries
- Apples and Peaches
- Peaches and Raspberries
- Apples and Apricots
- Apples and Cranberries
- Pears and Cranberries
- Nectarines, Plums, and Blackberries
- Nectarines and Peaches
- Rhubarb and Strawberry
- Rhubarb and Apples
- Rhubarb and Blueberries
- Apricot and Strawberry
Yes, pretty much any fruit you love (sweet potato is the oddball there, though I know there are tomato cobblers and so on too). This isn’t a comprehensive list. Whatever your favorite fruit, you can probably come up with some way to sneak it into these cozy desserts.
You can thaw out any frozen fruit, if you so desire, by spreading it in a single layer on a pan. Mix up the parts of your recipe you can, before you absolutely must have the fruit. Pour off the water and there you go.
Some recipes are rather plain and a bit basic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, if you want to jazz it up a little, if you feel like it needs a little something, or you just want to take a recipe to the next level; take a look at the ideas for various add-ins below:
- Zests: Lemon Zest, Orange Zest, or Lime Zest
- Juices: Lemon Juice, Orange Juice, or Lime Juice
- Hard alcohol like Bourbon, Whiskey, Tequila, or Brandy
- Spices like Cinnamon, Ground Cloves, Ground Nutmeg, Cardamom, garam masala, or Pumpkin Pie Spice
- Extracts: Vanilla Extract, Lemon Extract, Orange Extract, Almond Extract
- Slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans, pistachios, or other nut
- Fresh grated ginger
- Preserves: Peach, Raspberry, or Strawberry
What do you add to your cobblers, crisps, or other fruit-based dish to make it WOW? Do share your favorite tips and tricks in the comment below. We would all love to hear it.
Can you use Canned Fruit or Pie Filling in a Cobbler, Crisp, Betty, and so on?
Yes, but frozen or fresh fruit work the best. Fruit texture and flavor are different with canned fruit and how they hold up could vary among brands. According to The Kitchn, using canned fruit can end up with a gloopy, gloppy cobbler.
To be clear, you can use any fruit for making cobbler, but using canned fruit or, worse, canned pie filling can result in a sickly sweet cobbler with a gummy filling.Meghan, Splawn, 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Fruit Cobbler, The Kitchn, June 27, 2017.
If you still decide to use canned fruit to make your cobbler, crisp, or whatever, I would choose fruits canned in their own juices. Avoid heavy syrups or you’ll add an extra dose of sugar to your fruits. While you would likely drain out the syrup or juice, and should, it’s easier to pick those canned in their own juices to avoid over-sweetening your cobblers, crisps, and so on.
Also, check the labels regarding salt content. While it seems silly, some canned fruit companies include a jaw-dropping amount of salt. Read the label and compare brands.
Canned pineapples, pears, peaches, and apricots offer up a taste and texture closer to the real thing than other kinds of canned fruits, according to Health Research Funding.org. If you have to go the canned route, those may be the kinds of fruit you’ll want to stick to. There are recipes made for canned fruit, so you can always compare notes with canned versus fresh, and alter as needed.
Or, you could always go the frozen fruit route.
Can You Use Frozen Fruit in Cobblers, Crisps, Bettys, etc.?
Fruit is full of water to begin with. While everyone knows watermelon is full of water (some 92% water, states The Watermelon Board), the rest of the items in the fruit family still pack a juicy punch. When those fruits are frozen, that water becomes trapped.
Since cobblers, pandowdy, and the rest all have longer cooking times than, say, a pancake, you could keep your fruit frozen.
One good thing to know about using frozen fruit in your favorite baking recipe is that it doesn’t need to be defrosted before you use it—it’ll thaw on its own in the oven. But not all frozen fruit is created equal; some are just better for baking than others.
As a general rule, smaller fruits with a thicker skin tend to hold up better and release less water. That’s why we like blackberries, pitted cherries, and blueberries for almost any application, while we avoid things like strawberries or peaches for most.Alex Delany, How to Use Frozen Fruit in Your Favorite Pies, Bars, and Muffins, Bon Appetite, August 10, 2017.
Use frozen fruit in a cobbler or other homey baked good, and you’ll end up with a lot of juice. BlueApron suggests upping your thickener by 25%. If percentages make you panic, that translates to an extra 1/4 teaspoon of a thickener for each cup of frozen fruit you are using.
These recipes often use cornstarch or flour to help thicken the baking fruit’s juices. You’ll mix sugar and the cornstarch together to curb lumps (and most recipes will include that in the steps). Thickeners turn baked fruit desserts from oozing runny juices to something more syrupy in texture, in case you’re wondering.
Or, you can try tapioca. Instant, quick-cooking, or minute tapioca are the same thing. This miracle product keeps your juices clear and seems to be making waves around the Internet all over again. What’s old is new yet again.
Quick-cooking tapioca (such as Minute Tapioca) and tapioca flour give a glossy, clear finish, and sometimes a little stippling if you use larger tapioca granules or if they’re not softened enough before heating. It’s made from yuca (not yucca, which is a different plant), the starchy root vegetable also known as cassava or manioc.6 Tips For Thickening Up Your Fruit Pies, AllRecipes, July 19, 2015.
Epicurious recommends grinding instant tapioca pearl in a spice grinder to prevent “visible gelatinous bits of tapioca” in your finished product. Of course, they were talking about pie, but the same rules apply here. Save time and whir the whole box of tapioca at once to get it done, says Epicurious, as instant tapioca pearl keeps the same ground as it does in its original form.
King Arthur Flour raves about ClearJel and tapioca (to a slightly lesser extent) over the use of other thickeners:
Tapioca flour or our favorite fruit thickener, Instant ClearJel, are both good choices for thickening. Either of those, unlike flour or cornstarch, keeps the fruit’s juice clear and its flavor true as it cooks and thickens; the resulting color (and flavor) is spectacular.Easy Fruit Cobbler, King Arthur Flour, Accessed February 9, 2021.
ClearJel appears to have plenty of fans.
ClearJel is an excellent stand-in for tapioca. It stands up beautifully to both high and freezing temps, and it delivers a pie filling that’s just as clear and shiny as what you’d expect to get from tapioca. Replace the instant tapioca called for in your recipe with half as much ClearJel.Erin Huffstetler, Instant Tapioca Substitute for Pie Filling and Cobblers, The Kitchn, September 23, 2020.
Recipes for cobblers, crisps, and the rest typically involve combining the thickener with the sugar, either mixing it into the fruit or sprinkling it over the top. Not every recipe uses a thickener, however, it is worth noting that those recipes that do result in a wonderful sauciness.
Follow your favorite recipe and experiment with the different thickeners (cornstarch, instant tapioca, and ClearJel) each time you make it to see which one you prefer and why (is it texture? Color? Flavor?). Write it down. Compare your notes. See what you like best. The results may surprise you.
There’s a reason why I write in my cookbooks.
What Kind of Sweetener Can You Use in a Cobbler?
Use what you want. Knock yourself out and go wild. WIIIILD! These traditional recipes normally use granulated sugar or brown sugar (or even a combination). But, you have more options. Sweeteners suitable for crisps, cobblers, and so on include:
- Brown sugar
- Coconut sugar or Palm sugar
- Maple syrup
Depending on the sweetness of the fruit you chose, and its ripeness, you may be able to use less sugar than a recipe suggests. Taste your fruit before you use it. Over time, you’ll be able to figure out the best ratio. Just remember to keep notes of what you tried and what you thought.
Quick tip: If you use sticky sweeteners like honey, molasses, or maple syrup; give the measuring cup a quick little spritz with a baking spray like Baker’s Joy or Pam. Then, measure out your sweetener. The contents will slip right out with ease.
Can a Cobbler be Made Ahead of Time? Can You Freeze a Cobbler?
You have a couple of options when it comes to making your cobblers and crisps ahead of time. Throw the ingredients for the cobbler together and hold the fruit base in the fridge. Or, right before baking, make the topping ingredients, and then add it to the dish. Bake as usual.
Here’s a genius method to help you get all the perks of early prep, with all the flavor you expect.
Aside from an extra baking sheet, this method isn’t much different from the one you’re used to. Prepare the fruit filling and topping according to the recipe, but instead of layering the topping over the fruit, add it to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and cook according to the recipe. Once completely cooled, cover the dish with the fruit and store in the fridge; store the topping in a covered container at room temperature.
Before serving, spread the topping over the jammy fruit filling and reheat for about 15 minutes in a 350°F oven. The dessert is already cooked, but a little time in the oven will help marry the layers together, plus it will warm the fruit, and perk up the topping with an even crisper bite.Kelli Foster, The Best Way to Store Cobblers and Crumbles So They Stay Crisp, The Kitchn, July 5, 2017.
Now, if you are talking about something more long-term, such as freezer storage, let’s take a look at the options. According to the forum post below, you have two choices: bake and freeze or freeze and bake:
I have done it both ways and had it turn out fine (although, note that I don’t mind mushy cobblers – if you do, then frankly the best solution might be to freeze just the *fruit,* and assemble the cobbler when you are wanting it).
I do find that anything intended to have a crispy-ish crumb or oatmeal based topping works best for me if frozen untopped, and the topping mixed up and put on before going into the oven.Forum Post, Freezing Baked Cobbler?, The Easy Garden, September 8, 2008.
Dress it up and add a little texture with a small sprinkling of coarse sugar, toasted coconut, or your favorite toasted nut. That toasted, textural element is particularly welcome (and appealing) in any slow cooker crisp recipe (since you miss out on the crunch you’d normally get due to all the moisture). These frozen recipes are good (when properly stored) for at least a month.
If you have experimented with freezing any of these kinds of recipes, please let all of us know your best tips and tricks in the comments section below.
What Do I Need to Make Cobblers, Crisps, Grumps, and Slumps?
What is a cobbler pan? What pan do you use to make crisps and cobblers? Does this mean you need to buy something else? Don’t panic. Nothing about baking these things is all that difficult.
You can make cobbler in a mug, a crockpot, a cast iron skillet, a Dutch oven, and the usual 8″, 9″ or 13″ x 9″ pans or pie plates.
Every recipe will have a different size requirement. In case you’ve been wondering, there isn’t some special cobbler pan or Fruit Betty pan or pandowdy pan. These kind of baked goods don’t use specialty pans or tools (like waffles or pizzelle or Ebelskiver).
Baking Your Cobbler, Crisp, Crumble, and the Like
Biscuit or crisp, flaky crust or crumble, no matter what recipe you make, you expect a beautiful golden brown-topped dessert (or breakfast, whatev) by the end. Most recipes require a 350* oven and a 30-40 minute bake time. You know already that you need to heat the oven up ahead of time, before you pop in that baking dish.
If you put the dish in the oven too early, before the oven hit the right temp, different parts could finish baking at different times, resulting in a dish that’s underdone and overdone all at the same time. Weird and not what you want.
How Do You Know When Crisps and Cobblers are Done?
It drives the kids and my husband up the wall, but if they ask when something is done, or how you know something is done, well…it should look like something you want to eat.
From a slightly more technical standpoint, you should be able to see golden brown topping that’s crisp or pastry that’s firmed up. Poking a toothpick through the middle of a pastry-topped dessert shouldn’t reveal goopy dough or hunks of wet crumbs. It should feel firm, not soupy or mushy.
When you pierce a hunk of fruit, your tester should go through it with ease. It should feel softened and all those delicious liquids should be a bubblin’.
Make it Fancy
Okay; crisps, cobblers, buckles, and the rest of these baked goods will never win “most beautiful” in their high school yearbook. That’s okay though, they have personality and, with just a little planning ahead, you can up their game considerably.
Two words: Ice cream. Rare is the oven-baked crisp, cobbler, dumpling, or buckle that doesn’t benefit from a scoop (or two) of plain ol’ vanilla ice cream. Sonkers, in fact, are often served with a dip (or dip) which sounds like something way different than the milk-based sort of sauce it is.
Or, you can whip up whipped cream in mere minutes. For real.
A little heavy cream poured over the top is also good (I love it with cobbler). Though, really, let folks pour it themselves. While some like to splash it over everything, I prefer the cream only touch the fruit parts for as long as possible, so the topping doesn’t get all soggy. I hate that.
Some people even serve some of these desserts with yogurt or whipped ricotta. That’s…a little odd to me. You could sprinkle the top with a little toasted coconut flakes, toasted chopped hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, or coarse sugar for a little bling.
Why is Cobbler Runny or Gummy?
Gummy or runny couple are due to two different (and unfortunate) problems.
You see, gummy cobblers and crisps occur due to either under-baking the dish or using canned fruit (see above). If you substituted frozen fruit for fresh or canned fruit, your cobbler needs more time. Oven temperatures vary, so it’s possible your baked dish needed more time to bake than you’d expect.
While you should always shoot for checking your recipe at the low end of the time range provided by most recipes, it doesn’t mean your recipe will be completed—some take even longer than the given range.
Runny cobblers, etc. occur if you forgot to add the thickener or you didn’t add the thickener in the right amount.
How Long Will Cobbler Keep in the Fridge?
As with a fruit dessert of any kind, you probably won’t get a week out of it. You should store your cobblers, crisps, crumbles, and the rest in the fridge. Cover it up and let it chill, man.
I’ve read plenty of tales of folks leaving their crumbles and cobblers out on the counter. This is not such a big deal if you plan on eating it the same day. For longer-term storage, however, you may want to skip that one. Humid areas (even the humidity created from a covered dish) and fruit-based desserts tend to turn to mold faster than you’d think.
Go Bake a Cobbler…or a Crumble…or a Pandowdy…or a Sonker
You could make a cobbler recipe with cake mix or find a different cobbler recipe with Bisquick…but why? A cobbler recipe is easy. So is a crisp, a buckle, a pandowdy, a Fruit Betty, and the rest of the homey related dishes. It’s only a little flour, a little fat, some sugar, and a whole lot more flavor. Think of the pride and sense of accomplishment you would feel serving something that’s truly homemade.
All of these recipes are simple enough for even the most inexperienced baker. Hey, kids during colonial times likely had a hand in making many of these older recipes. If they could do it, of course you could handle it. If you need MORE recipes, you can find cookbooks devoted to crisps, dumplings, cobblers, and so on (or at least contain a good amount of related recipes).
I think these old-timey recipes would make a nice gateway dessert to the world of scratch baking.