Desserts with big flavors

Blueberry peach cobbler

Summer desserts should be easy. Fruit-and-batter desserts, with the magical names of cobblers and clafoutis among them, mean little mess, little time, few ingredients, and big flavor.

The major difference in the batter cobbler, a Southern favorite, and a clafoutis, a French favorite, is the leavening. With a batter cobbler, the leavening is self-rising flour (baking powder and flour); with a clafoutis it is eggs and flour. The ratio of sugar and milk can be changed around in many variations, but essentially both are quick assembly dishes with what is on hand. Better yet, a batter is easy for children to make, resulting in great pride as it comes out piping hot.

Batter cobblers have been particularly popular in the South since the mid-18th century, when baking powder was developed. Baking powder removed the necessity for eggs or yeast, supplying a cake-like batter that cosseted cut-up fruit with a broken up top crust that looks like cobblestones. The butter crisps the bottom and outside edges with caramelized juice from the fruit, competing with any fantasies of pie crusts. In fact, one of the major advantages of a cobbler is that it has nothing to melt like a pie crust, nothing to be rolled out, just dry ingredients of self-rising flour and sugar whisked around with milk and poured on top of the sizzling hot butter. A couple of cups of fruit on top and it's ready for the oven.

Clafoutis is as easy as making a pancake batter. It puffs in the oven and collapses shortly after removal. Some say it originated with leftover pancake batter poured around some stoned cherries and baked. Other fruits have stepped in, with seedless grapes being one of my favorites, and peaches and berries are equally delicious. With less milk it can be cake-like; with yolks rather than whole eggs it can be custard-like.

Fresh fruit is the best, but frozen and even canned can step in on necessary occasions.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup self-rising flour

1 cup granulated, light or dark brown sugar

1 cup milk

2 cups cut-up peaches or other stone fruit or berries

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Put the butter in a 8- or 9-inch baking dish, an 8x10-inch baking dish or iron skillet, put in the oven and let the butter melt. Meanwhile whisk together the flour, sugar and milk. Bring the hot butter out of the oven and pour the batter into the dish. Sprinkle the fruit over the top of the batter. Bake 30 minutes or until puffed and brown. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature.

Variations: Mix peaches and berries; add chopped ginger; chopped mint or other flavoring; chocolate pieces. When using all berries, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup more fruit to distribute evenly.

Lower calories: Reduce the sugar by 1/4 or 1/2 cup; reduce the butter by 1/4 or 1/2 cup.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

2 to 3 cups halved or quartered stoned cherries, green grapes or other fruit

2 eggs

1/2 cup butter

1 cup milk

2 teaspoons rum or rum flavoring

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all- purpose flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle half the sugar on top of the cherries, green grapes or other fruit. Meanwhile, beat the remaining half cup of sugar, the eggs, butter, milk and rum flavorings together, then pour onto the flour, beating. Pour into a 8- or 9-inch buttered baking dish, top with the sugared fruit and bake until set.

Variation: For more custard-like pudding, reduce eggs to 1 egg and one yolk; or one egg and two yolks; for more of a cake, use up to 3 eggs. Use up to 1 1/4 cups flour; or down to 3/4 cup flour. Other flavorings include candied ginger, vanilla extract, orange rind, a little sprinkle of chocolate chips. Vary by putting some of the batter on the bottom of the baking dish, the fruit, and then the rest of the batter.