Fruity Desserts

Cold months call for warm desserts. At least, that's the way I see it. But what about a warm dessert that also lets you indulge in a little of summer's favorite sweet treat? I'd call that a fruit cobbler or crisp, since their soulmate in sweetness is none other than good old fashioned vanilla ice cream.

Cobblers and crisps are relatively simple desserts that are composed of a fruity filling and a topping that, when baked, becomes a warm crispy bit of heaven. What's truly wonderful about them is that the fillings and toppings can be prepared in advance, then put together and baked when the fruity dessert inspiration hits you. In fact, the two components of these fruity desserts can be as simple as a spruced up pie filling and your favorite breakfast cereal!

What's more, if you spend a little time planning them out, they can be really healthy desserts. Fruit is sweet by nature, so little additional sugar needs to be added to the filling and whole grains are easy to incorporate into most toppings. That's a double dose of fiber and a great source of vitamins and minerals. What more could you ask for?

The Basic Recipe

Rather than present a huge multitude of recipes, I'm going to start out with a basic recipe for the kind of crisp and cobbler I make. I give that caveat because there are recipes out there that have you baking the filling, then adding the topping and baking some more or others still that require changing oven temperatures or the like. That's not my kind of dessert. I want a quick dessert that spends no more than a half an hour in the oven and comes out ready to be spooned into a bowl and topped with a scoop of ice cream.

So, without further warnings, here's my ultra-simple basic recipe:

Basic Fruit Crisp or Cobbler

This recipe gives you a basic form to follow when making these fruit desserts. The fillings and toppings are up to you!
  • Filling of your choice
  • Topping of your choice

Make the filling and topping as desired. Suggestions and recipes for both follow below.

Pour the filling into an appropriately-sized baking pan. Carefully sprinkle or drop the topping onto the fruit as directed. Bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until the topping is golden and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped topping.

  • Yields: Depends on amount of filling and topping
  • Preparation Time: 35-45 minutes

That's it. Now it's time to talk about the wonderful things that can find their way into these simple and satisfying treats.

The Fillings

While you can always make a filling by simply softening your favorite fruit on the stovetop and sweetening and thickening it to your liking, I find that the best crisps and cobblers take advantage of one or more fruits. Since making the filling is going to be simple either way, I think it's helpful to pair some tried and true favorites to get flavors that add a touch of elegance to it. Here are two of my favorites:

Cranberry-Pear Fruit Filling

Use firm pears for this filling or you will end up with a very mushy result.
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 firm green pear, sectioned into 12 slices and then cut into thirds
  • 1 c. frozen cranberries
  • 1/3 c. pineapple or apple juice
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch

Heat the honey over medium heat in a nonstick skillet. Add the prepared fruit and mix to coat with the honey. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries begin to pop, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small dish, combine the fruit juice and cornstarch and mix until no lumps remain. Add the mixture to the hot skillet and mix until the liquid bubbles and thickens. Remove from the heat and place in a small baking dish, if it's to be used as a filling for a crisp or cobbler.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Mixed Berry Fruit Filling

Using three different types of berries will add a special texture and flavor depth that's just not possible with one. Be sure to use frozen berries if making a filling with tender berries or add them at the very end of the cooking process.
  • 2 T. honey
  • 2/3 c. hulled and quartered strawberries
  • 2/3 c. blackberries -- I use frozen berries
  • 2/3 c. blueberries -- Use firm berries or opt for frozen
  • 2 T. amaretto
  • 2 T. pineapple juice
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch

Heat the honey over medium heat in a nonstick skillet. Add the prepared fruit and mix to coat with the honey. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the frozen fruit softens slightly, about 3 minutes. If using some tender berries, add them to the mixture during the last minute of cooking time.

Meanwhile, in a small dish, combine the amaretto, fruit juice and cornstarch and mix until no lumps remain. Add the mixture to the hot skillet and mix until the liquid bubbles and thickens. Remove from the heat and place in a small baking dish, if it's to be used as a filling for a crisp or cobbler.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

If turning on the stove for about 10 minutes seems like too much work, crisp and cobbler fillings are still within your reach. With the huge variety of quality canned pie fillings available at your grocery store, a warm fruit dessert can be literally on your table in minutes. Some of my favorite pie filling fix-ups include:

  • 1 can peach pie filling with 6 ounces fresh blueberries or raspberries carefully mixed in
  • 1 can apple pie filling with 1/3 up regular or golden raisins mixed in
  • 1 can cherry pie filling with 1 tablespoon amaretto and 1 tablespoon sliced almonds mixed in

Feel free to try your hand at making your own homemade and "quick fix" fillings too!

The Toppings

Topping a fruit dessert is equally as simple as filling it. However, in most cases, it's actually faster to make the topping than it is to make the filling because there are no stovetops involved.

In general, crisps involve a topping that resembles coarse crumbs, whereas a cobbler's topping looks more like pieces of biscuits, cookies or the like. You can top any fruit filling with either topping, but I generally prefer topping fillings with relatively large pieces of fruit as crisps and fillings with small pieces of fruit as cobblers. Of course, there's no hard and fast rule here and you can choose whatever tastes best to you, is easiest for you to make or whatever! Here are two of my favorite toppings:

Classic Crisp Topping

Using whole wheat flour and thick-cut oats lends texture and adds fiber to this tasty topping.
  • 1/3 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. thick-cut oatmeal
  • 1/4 c. packed brown sugar
  • 2 T. finely chopped walnuts
  • 3 T. margarine

In a small bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Cut the margarine into the mixture with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse crumbs. This topping can be made ahead of time and stored for up to a week tightly covered in the refrigerator.

  • Yields: Topping for 1 large (4 serving) or 2 small (2 serving) desserts
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cookie Cobbler Topping

Dropping spoonfuls of this tasty topping over your fruit filling makes you think you're topping your cobbler with butter cookies!
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 8 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 egg yolk (use whole egg if doubling recipe)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, about 1 minute with electric mixer or 3 minutes by hand. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the dry ingredients until just combined. This topping is best made in small batches and used immediately.

  • Yields: Topping for 1 large (4 serving) or 2 small (2 serving) desserts
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Other easy toppings for your fruity desserts -- not to mention ice cream -- include shredded wheat tossed with a little brown sugar and melted butter or margarine, your favorite granola lightly sprayed with cooking spray or flaky uncooked refrigerated biscuits that have been sliced in half and carefully laid over the filling of your choice. They are quick toppings that are perfect solutions when you suddenly find yourself craving cobbler or crisp.

So now you see how easy it can be to include a warm fruit dessert to any winter menu you can dish up. Why not make your family feel special and bake one tonight?

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