If you think pie and Fourth of July when you see cherries, you probably love picnics in the park and pies with flaky crust that is perfectly crimped and beautifully browned. You like at least a couple of fruit trees in your yard and you soak up the summer sun by working in your garden. You dream of being the best pie-maker in the county. You own a picnic basket.
If tarts come to mind when you see cherries, you are probably French, and if not, you want to be French. You love shopping for shoes. You stay thin because you know how to live on just a little taste of everything. Your shoes are always shiny and you have impeccable posture. You greet people with a kiss on each cheek.
If the sight of cherries brings a cobbler to mind, you are most likely the rustic type. You really don't care what food looks like, as long it tastes delicious. You feel best in baggy sweatshirts and comfy worn-out jeans. You like to stir fruit into your oatmeal. You love ice cream.
It's all purely observational on my part. There's nothing scientific about it. But no matter what hits you in the head when you see cherries, it's hard not to love a bowl of warm-from-the oven fruit cobbler with a puffy cloud of whipped cream or a huge scoop of ice cream.
In honor of our first president, George Washington, February has been deemed National Cherry Month. From the time I was a youngster and learned how to read recipes and use measuring cups and spoons, I've been baking something with cherries every February. This year it's Cherry Cobbler.
Cobblers take little effort to make. They normally have no bottom crust. The prepared fruit goes into a baking dish and is hidden with some sort of topping. Sometimes it's biscuit-like and sometimes it's crumbly. My cherry cobbler has a rich pastry-type dough sealing the cherries below.
Frozen cherries are tossed with some sugar, flour, lemon and spices. I use cherries right from the freezer, which produces a very juicy cobbler. The cherries can be thawed first. Drain the juice and your cobbler will have a thicker consistency.
The pastry crust is quick to put together. Use a gentle touch for the best results. The crust is a little sticky, so a short rest in the refrigerator makes it easier to roll out.
I like to roll out the crust on waxed paper, parchment paper or a Silpat so that I can easily slide it onto a baking sheet or tray to transfer it to a cool place if it needs a chill before placing it over the cherries. It only takes about 30 minutes to bake. Cherry juice will bubble up around the edges and the crust will become golden brown.
The sweet spicy fragrance coming from your oven will waft through your house, pulling everyone in to the kitchen to check it out.
The pie people will be carrying a blanket, ready for an indoor picnic.
The tart people will come with their own tiny spoon, ready for a little taste of warm Cherry Cobbler.
The cobbler people will come prepared for the pure comfort each bite of February Cherry Cobbler will bring.
They'll all be smiling with cheery satisfaction.
February Cherry Cobbler
1/2 cup hazelnuts
4 cups (20 ounces) frozen sweet cherries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Grated zest of 1 whole lemon (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, chilled
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream plus 1 tablespoon, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scatter hazelnuts on a baking sheet with sides. Place in preheated oven and bake for about 8 minutes or until lightly toasted. Immediately transfer toasted hazelnuts to a clean kitchen towel. Wrap the nuts in the towel and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, leave the nuts wrapped in the towel and vigorously roll them between your palms until most of the skins have been removed. It's not necessary to remove every bit of skin. Chop the nuts in a food processor or with a sharp chef's knife.
Butter an 8-inch square or 1-quart glass baking dish.
Turn oven temperature up to 400 degrees.
Make topping by combining flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in 2 tablespoons butter with a pastry cutter or two knives until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle 1/4 cup whipping cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, evenly over crumbly mixture. Stir with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Shape dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing filling.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the sugar, brown sugar, cornstarch, spices, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add cherries and toss until they are coated with the sugar and spice mixture. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top of the cherries. Dot with 3 tablespoons butter.
On a lightly floured Silpat or parchment paper, roll pastry into a size that will cover the cherry filling in the baking dish. If it is a little too soft to lay over the filling, slide the Silpat or parchment paper onto a baking sheet or tray and chill for a few minutes before gently laying it over the cherry filling. Brush dough with remaining 1 tablespoon of whipping cream and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes. Serve with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream. Store leftovers in refrigerator. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Tips from the cook
--After removing the zest from the lemon (the yellow skin only, none of the bitter white pith underneath), cut the lemon in half and juice it.
--Silpat is the brand name for a popular baking mat made of silicone and fiberglass which replaces the need for parchment paper when baking. It's nonstick and reusable. It also works well as a surface for kneading and rolling out dough.