Make Foolproof Blackberry Cobbler With 3 Key Ingredients

[Photographs and Video: Vicky Wasik]

There's nothing simpler than a fresh fruit cobbler—just a pinch of starch and sugar to bind and sweeten the best summer fruit, all bubbly and thick beneath a golden biscuit crust (maybe a dollop of whipped cream, if you're lucky). It's one of the easiest desserts around, but I've found blackberries can present a particular challenge.

Plucked at the height of ripeness and after a fantastic growing season, they're an absolutely flawless fruit. But when conditions are less than ideal and they are picked shortly before or after their prime, blackberries can be an exceedingly grumpy fruit, as bitter and sour as they come.

But with a little care, even the meanest blackberry can be mellowed into something wonderful, and that same attention to detail will make outstanding blackberries simply shine. So whether you've got a gorgeous farmers' market haul, or a plastic clamshell full of berries from the store, you can make a truly extraordinary cobbler any time of year.

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The secret is three ingredients that give those blackberries a culinary support network, either helping the berries out where they fall short, or lifting them up where they excel: raspberries, baking soda, and cinnamon. It sounds a little bonkers, but hear me out.

Raspberries bring an aromatic sweetness to the mix, with the same tart, woodsy quality inherent to blackberries. This adds dimension to mediocre fruit, while rounding out the flavor of even the best blackberries. In either case, raspberries soften the often bitter aftertaste common to blackberries without distracting from their natural flavor the way other berries might.

As with my rhubarb crisp, a pinch of baking soda will go a long way in taming highly acidic fruit. With harsh berries, this mellows excess acidity, but even with good berries it will simply deepen their overall flavor into something a little more jammy and dark.

Finally, a tiny amount of cinnamon will bring out the best in blackberries the same way nutmeg and cloves intensify banana in my banana bread, or how coriander makes my blueberry muffins and pie seem even blueberrier. If you don't believe me, try the cobbler without it and sprinkle a touch of cinnamon over just one bite—I promise you'll be amazed.

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The method for my cobbler is just like any other pie: toss the berries with all the other ingredients, then pour it all into a 7- by 11-inch baking dish. Since there's no bottom crust to worry about, it can be glass, ceramic, or even stoneware; just avoid metal, which will allow the berries to cook too fast.

The topping comes next, a type of drop biscuit made with more butter and buttermilk than you'd see in a standalone recipe. The extra butter adds richness to the otherwise lean fruit, and the extra buttermilk prevents the biscuits from baking to a crisp in the oven.

There are certainly other ways to make a biscuit topping (I use rolled and cut biscuits for the cobblers in my cookbook), but the ease and speed of a drop biscuit is hard to beat. Simply whisk everything together, smash in the butter until it's flaky and fine, then stir in the buttermilk to form a thick dough.

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It's enough to make about twenty 1-tablespoon portions if you'd like to drop the biscuits into any sort of pattern, or you can roughly plop the dough wherever you like.

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Set on a foil-lined half-sheet pan to catch the juices and bake at 400°F until the filling is bubbling in the very center and the biscuits are golden brown. If the cobbler doesn't hit 212°F in the very center, it won't thicken up like it should, so don't rush the baking process. If the biscuits are getting too dark, cover with foil and keep going.

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I like to put my cobblers in the oven just before dinner. That way they're nice and thick but warm by the time dessert rolls around. When piping hot, the filling will be runny and thin, so it can take some time to cool. Fortunately, if you lose your patience a warm and messy cobbler isn't much cause for complaint.

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Warm blackberry cobbler is a natural match for vanilla ice cream, but it's lovely with whipped cream of any sort. I'm partial to extremes, either a dollop of brown sugar whipped cream for that earthy molasses note or else lemon chantilly to make it more fruity and bright.

There usually aren't any leftovers whenever I make blackberry cobbler at home, but should you be so lucky it's one of my favorite things to have for breakfast—like a lazy version of biscuits and jam.