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Cobblers, Shortcakes And Tartlets

Ed Castillo via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)

Every week when I go shopping at the farmers market I pass by the fruit stands and start wondering how I can use all those beautiful peaches, pears and plums. Not only will I be eating them out of hand, but I will be doing a little baking that will put them to use. Chef Jerry Pellegrino has three ideas for baking a little fruit into our desserts: cobblers, shortcakes and tartlets.

Let's start with the cobbler. The recipe is simplicity itself. If you've got an ordinary 7" x 11" baking pan, you're half way there. Let's assume you're using peaches. You'll want to bring a medium sauce pan half filled with water up to a simmer. Toss your peaches in, wait a minute then pull them out. Working under cold water the peach skins will peel right off.

While you're doing that, put a stick of butter in your baking dish and put that in an over that you are pre-heating to 350°. By the time you've peeled your peaches the butter will have melted. Remove the baking dish and set aside. 

Your batter is equal parts flour and sugar, a little baking powder, a pinch of salt and some milk. Beat it all together and try to get the lumps out if you can.

Now you simply pour the batter onto the melted butter and spoon your cut up peaches over that. Stick it in that 350° oven and let it bake for exactly 50 minutes. So easy, and so good.

When it comes to shortcake, strawberries with whipped cream is the default position. But just about any fruit, and I mean any fruit will do.

First, let's start with the cake. The word "short" in this case is a baking term indicating a high proportion of fat to flour; in this case butter. The shortcake is actually a sweet biscuit, intentionally crumbly. Because you use baking powder and/or baking powder, it differs from normal cake batter. Eggs are optional.

Some companion fruits are pretty obvious: peaches, nectarines and firm pears for example. But big fat juicy plums, skin and all are just fine. So are the other berries: blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Cherries, if you can find them are great and so are apples.

But here's an idea: ripe melon slices garnished not with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but with lemon sherbet and mint. For best results, keep the melon ice cold until serving so it has maximum contrast with the short cake.

As for tartlets, then only thing standing between you and these beautiful individually portioned dessert are the pans. No worries. You can easily get little 3 1/2" aluminum tart pans at the grocers, or you can use a muffin tin as a mold. But the "professional" route is to order fluted tartlet molds on the internet.

The dough for a tartlet isn't hard to master especially if you use a food processor. Flour, powdered sugar and salt go in, with chunks of well chilled butter.

Process until it's a crumbly meal, then add eggs, a bit of milk and a touch of vanilla.

Process until a smooth ball forms, then refrigerate.

When ready, take out the dough ball, roll it to 1/8" thick, and cut out circles of crust a little bigger than the little mold you're using. Press the dough in place and you're ready for the filling and fruit.

The filling, which lines the bottom of the tart, is typically made with cream cheese and sugar. Of course add-ons and variations can take the filling anywhere.

Next comes the fruit, cut up into thin bite-sized pieces for lying flat, or chunky bits to stand up. The choice is yours. Since many recipes call for combinations of fruit, the possibilities are endless.

Tartlets are a little more time consuming, but the end result is really stunning.

Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.
Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.