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SWEET JUSTICE: SEPTEMBER 2009

Just peachy: Wrap up your summer with Chef Jud's peach cobbler with amaretto

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Photo: Chef Jud's peach cobbler with amaretto.

The all-American summer experience conjures images of barbecues, picnics and home-cooked meals of comfort foods. Being a sucker for irresistible treats—not to mention, I want to enjoy the last days as summer as best I can—I just had to take a stab at a genuine Americana dessert. While pies may be considered the most ubiquitous of these, cobblers place a close second. Cobblers are, in fact, like an inverted open-face pie: baked fruit filling on the bottom, browned shortbread dough on top. Of these, the peach version is probably the most famous and most summery, but also the trickiest to execute, due to the peculiarities of the key ingredient: the peach.

Most people think of Georgia when they hear the word peach, but they'd be surprised to learn that California is actually the greatest producer of peaches in the United States. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service—the NASS—the Golden State produced 77% of the nation's peach crop in 2008; China produced nearly eight times the volume of the entire U.S., with 8.6 million tons.

"Peaches are very sensitive and must be used for baking almost immediately after being picked."

However, the quintessential peach is from Georgia: the tangy and sweet, yellow-orange, juicy Elberta. The problem, therefore, doesn't lie with the actual availability or quality of the peach itself but with the fact that peaches are very sensitive and must be used for baking almost immediately after being picked.

I tried several times to find the right peaches, searching both organic farmers markets and major grocery stores but kept running into the same problem of the fruit not having enough flavor or getting too soft in the cooking process. At one point, I tried a packaged peach cobbler—it was so bad, I won't even tell you the name of the product. It left a disgusting, metallic taste in my mouth that nothing could remove all night. I considered abandoning my attempts to make an acceptable peach cobbler and retreat instead to a mixed-berry version. But my ever-so clever fiancé persuaded me to try frozen peaches. Incidentally, it was also her suggestion to add amaretto, which augments the almond base of the peach. You purists out there must be thinking the same thing I was, that it was impossible—or at least unconscionable—to even try frozen fruit, but in the end, it actually worked and you can make this dessert year-round.

I made my version as a two-person dessert in a four-inch ramekin but feel free to make it bigger to feed your baked-fruit desires. Also, if you do choose to head into fresh fruit territory, make sure you use a firm, free-stone fruit with yellow or orange skin—do not use the white-fleshed variety.

Peach Cobbler

Yield: 1-4" ramekin. For a 9" square pan, increase measurements by 4x

Ingredients:

4 oz frozen peaches

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp salt

1 oz amaretto

2 tbl granulated sugar

Short dough

1/2 c all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbl granulated sugar

3 tbl unsalted butter

3 oz buttermilk

(Note: if using fresh peaches, use a yellow freestone variety. Remove skins by placing peaches in a 3 quart pot of boiling water for 1 minute; submerge in ice water to cool and slip skins from fruit. Cut into quarters.)

Preheat oven to 375° F. Toss peaches, nutmeg, salt, amaretto, and sugar in a bowl and arrange in the bottom of pan. Baked covered in foil for 30 minutes (10-15 for fresh peaches). Meanwhile, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar for short dough topping, then cut in butter with pastry mixer or fork until the butter resembles small peas. Add buttermilk and mix with fork until just combined. Drop in clumps on top of peach mixture until fruit is covered, and bake uncovered for 20 minutes (30 minutes for larger pan). Serve warm.

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