By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry Arts Student
One unexpected benefit of going through pastry school is the degree to which non-culinarians are impressed with your skills outside of a professional setting. While everyone knows that pies, cakes, and other delicious desserts are things that people make every day, you begin to get the impression that the average person thinks “gourmet food” is for restaurants and television, not for “real life.”
This is why one of my favorite things to do for guests is make pantry desserts. This is an important skill pastry students develop at Escoffier during what are called “farm-to-table days” where your chef-instructor gives you a basket of random ingredients that you have to use to make a gourmet dessert of some kind. (Think Chopped on the Food Network, but only with desserts.)
I really enjoy showing off my abilities for my friends and family while challenging myself to only use ingredients we have laying around the kitchen—namely, flour, frozen/canned food, sugar, etc. Anyone can make a dessert with a shopping list and an American grocery story, but it takes skill to make do, and it’s exciting to see what I come up with!
Sarah and Tyrel, my in-laws, came down from Alaska this past week for Spring Break. We hadn’t seen then in a while, and it’s always great having them over. One of the things I love about them though is that they love food. One night while we were having some drinks and watching a movie, they asked if we’d be able to whip them up a dessert (they know Tressa and I love to show off).
What we put together was a blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream and a fruit/bourbon sauce. What we came up with could’ve been used for the school’s final (if we had only put together a garnish)! Warm cobbler still in their mouths, they looked at Tressa and I like we were a couple of wizards! While this isn’t exactly a tangible benefit of pastry school, I find it gratifying to have foodies appreciate my skills in such a personal way!
16 oz frozen berries (I used blackberries, but any frozen fruit will work)
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 ½ cup AP flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
½ cup butter (4 oz, or one stick)
½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp cinnamon (see below)
Pinch nutmeg (see below)
½ cup whiskey or rum
1 ½ tbsp. corn starch (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Place the frozen berries, sugar, and water into a large saucepan and simmer them lightly. You don’t want the fruit to fall apart, but you want it to absorb a little of the syrup. You want to err on the side of undercooked.
While that’s simmering lightly, put your butter into an 8×11 pan (I used a 9” souffle pan, but that’s because my 8×11 was full of lasagna) and put it into the oven just long enough to melt the butter. It should be about two minutes, but keep an eye out, and remove from the oven just before it’s all the way melted.
While that’s cooling, turn the heat off under the fruit. Then combine the flour, oats, baking powder, salt, sugar, milk, and vanilla. This will make something thinner than pancake batter, so don’t panic. Pour this mix into the melted butter, being careful to move the stream around the pool of butter. The butter will float to the top in a big oil slick and look gross, but don’t stir it.
Use a slotted spoon to move the whole fruit from your saucepan and into the batter/butter. Be careful to not let the fruit break apart. Then shift the pan into the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because the mix has a lot of sugar and you don’t want it to burn.
In the meantime, turn the heat on under the fruit flavored syrup and add the cinnamon/nutmeg. I include these spices because they go really well with blackberries, but in reality you can use this step to really personalize your cobbler. I’ve known people to use rosemary powder with strawberries or cherries with cayenne. Dialing this recipe in is part of the fun—just don’t go nuts with the spices or you could blow the top of your head off.
In the meantime, add ½ cup of whiskey or rum. If you want to make your sauce really thick, thoroughly mix the corn starch into the booze before you add it in. DO NOT add the corn starch in dry, as it will turn into a clumpy mess. Mix thoroughly, but be careful if you have a gas burner as the alcohol will start to boil off and you can have a flare up. Always keep a fire extinguisher handy!
Once the cobbler is baked, let it cool but serve it warm. I like to dish mine out and add a scoop of ice cream, but you can use whatever you like. Try whipped cream or dulce de leche. But make sure you drizzle your warm sauce over the top in a decorative manner. Your guests will think you’re a wizard too!