Just as the quiet people in your life are the ones you have to watch closest, so are the more humble-looking desserts. We all know that our quiet friends and family members make the most mischief in the long run, and I guarantee that, in the same manner, this unassuming cobbler is going to play havoc with your taste buds. After we made it, and I took my first bite, I think a very provocative, “Oh yeah…” may have slipped out. I mean, we knew it smelled awesome while it was cooking, but that still in no way prepped us for how this would taste.
I was first attracted to this recipe because it uses a cast iron skillet, and I liked the idea of presenting a dessert in one. They’re rustic and home-inspiring. I’ve had one for years but have barely used the thing. To me they were kind of synonymous with fried chicken, which I doubt I’ll ever really learn how to cook in the traditional Southern U.S. way. I knew cast iron could be used to cook virtually anything, but again, I never felt moved to use it much due to my inept fried chicken-ness. So when I saw the recipe for this cobbler, I knew I’d found my incentive. Yes, these pans are heavy, and every single centimeter of them will get burning hot (so do NOT forget to keep your potholders near and use them whenever you so much as blink at your skillet; I’ve forgotten them with regular pans and trust me, a five second touch on any oven-hot pan handle is excruciating), but in this case, it was all so very worth the extra care. It’s a little more involved than I normally do for a dessert, but the results are fabulous and there’s a time or two where you can take a break while things simmer or bake.
I was a little surprised that this recipe uses Gala apples. They happen to be my favorite at this point in life – it used to be Red Delicious or nothing – but when it comes to anything baked I suppose I always assumed it would be Golden Delicious or Granny Smith. Galas are sweeter, though, and these beauties, paired with golden raisins who later get their own surprise, really come out transformed into one of the best tongue wagglers I’ve ever had the pleasure of waggling my tongue at.
See the stuff that looks like liquid gold? That’s the apple brandy, which you can also see here. It’s my new precious. It was worth all the traipsing we did across town to find it. Yeah, we could’ve called liquor stores to see if they had the stuff, but I honestly didn’t think it would be so hard to find it. I confess, I’ve never thought buying special alcohol for a recipe was this worth it (That’s kind of a running theme today – worth it, worth it, worth it!). If you can’t find apple brandy, the best I can suggest as a substitute is equal parts apple liqueur and regular brandy. The house smelled like a distillery while the raisins simmered in it, and it made my eyes water if I lifted the lid off the pan, but that just added to the fun. Distillery for a Day – you can has. If nothing else, trust that it really adds a lot of illicit flavor to this dish. OK, so alcohol isn’t exactly illicit these days, but you get my drift.
The raisins will need a while to soak in the brandy, so while they do, you’ll peel and cut eight of the Galas and toss them with a little lemon juice. It’s busy work, but doesn’t really take much time.
Next you’ll start prepping the cast iron skillet with some melted butter. I suggest dropping in the butter and then upping the heat under the skillet to low only. I actually made this recipe twice before this post and got the skillet a little too hot the second time. I think it’s best if you use low heat at this point. Cast iron skillets tend to hold heat a lot more and much better than other kinds of pans, and often don’t need to be quite as hot as recipes call for, when they’re not specifically requesting usage of a cast iron skillet, that is. You can always slowly up the heat if needed, but if your pan is too hot from the onset, you might get some splattering, which might result in little flash burns on your skin.
Now the fun is really starting. It’s time to introduce all the main players. Sprinkle white and golden brown sugars evenly over the pan, then the raisins and what’s left of the brandy. The raisins will have been greedy and soaked up most of the brandy. This is good. Oh hells yes is this good.
Next pour all those patiently waiting apples onto the ingredients that are going to transform them into the best taste experience of your life. This is where I thanked my lucky stars that my cast iron skillet is actually a 12-incher. The recipe says to use a ten inch one, but with mine, we had just enough room for all those apples. So I say use a twelve inch skillet. Better to have enough room than too little. And you really will want all those apples when this is done, because they do cook down quite a bit.
This is what you get after the mixture has simmered on the stove – with NO stirring, how cool is that – and baked in the oven. Notice we decided to sprinkle the top of the apples with a little cinnamon. Can you believe the original recipe doesn’t have any? How you could you have an apple dessert with no cinnamon? Insanity. Now, I know this doesn’t look that impressive yet, but you’ve already seen the end results. It’s what’s on the inside, or really, the underside, of this one that counts.
So while those apples were baking, you were also mixing and preparing the biscuit topping for this cobbler. You can’t have a cobbler without a topping, right? Little rounds of dough bake up into the cutest, lightest-textured, mild goodness that pair perfectly with the sweetness of the apples and raisins.
The tops of the biscuits get brushed with a little heavy cream and dusted with sugar. It’s like fairy-dusting your cobbler with a touch extra magic.
At this point I wanted to tear into the whole thing and show it who was boss. It’d been baiting us for a while now, right? But the fact is this thing is flaming hot. You’ll have to let it sit for at least twenty minutes to cool. And that’s as it should be, because flavors usually come out stronger when the food is at the right temperature to eat, namely when it’s not scalding your tongue.
So this, uh, will give you plenty of time to admire it from all angles. Sigh a time or two in impatience. Immortalize it forever in digital. Send that digital to your friends to taunt them. Oh, you know you will. We sure are!
This is it. The moment you’ve been waiting for. Your efforts are about to be significantly rewarded, fellow forkers. The recipe calls for some extra heavy cream to serve with this, and I can see the appeal of that. But this is America, the Southern parts to boot. We eat our cobblers with vanilla ice cream and dare anyone to tell us different. OK, sure, maybe I did try it with the cream, but I’m telling you. Ice Cream. Vanilla.
This is so good I’m now hoarding that bottle of apple brandy away and saving it for Thanksgiving, because this is so good it deserves to sit alongside other great feast desserts like pumpkin pie. I found this one to be so, say it with me, worth the effort, and I hope you will, too. Enjoy, fellow forkers!
Skillet Apple Cobbler
Adapted slightly from Gourmet, February 2008
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 2 hours Level: Intermediate Serves: 8
Special equipment: 12-inch seasoned cast iron skillet; a 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter
- 1/2 cup golden raisins (we made ours a nice heaping cup)
- 1/2 cup Calvados or apple brandy (see Notes)
- 3 1/2 pounds Gala apples, or about 8
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon, for sprinkling on apples
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado such as Sugar in the Raw for sprinkling, or white sugar will do, too
Simmer raisins and brandy in a small saucepan over medium heat until liquid is reduced to 3 tablespoons for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let macerate, covered, 30 minutes. While raisins macerate, peel and core apples, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Toss with the lemon juice.
Melt butter in skillet over low heat. Once melted, sprinkle mixed white and brown sugars evenly over pan, then do the same with raisins and remaining brandy. Add apples – skillet will be pretty full at this point – and smooth them down as much as possible (this will enable the juices to reach as many of the apples as possible while simmering). Sprinkle with cinnamon. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Cook apples over medium-high heat, without stirring, until juices are deep golden and bubbling, 18 to 23 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and bake, uncovered, 20 minutes.
Make biscuit topping while apples bake:
Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt, then add 3/4 cup cream and stir just until a dough forms. It won’t quite all come together, this is OK. Gather dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Gently knead 6 times, then, using a rolling pin, roll dough into an 8-inch round, about 1/4 inch or so thick. Cut out as many rounds as possible with lightly floured cutter. Gather scraps and roll out, then cut out more rounds. Do this until you’ve used up all the dough. We got about 12-14 biscuit rounds out of it.
Assemble and bake cobbler:
Arrange biscuits on apples about 1/2 inch apart and brush tops with remaining tablespoon cream – you can use more if needed. Sprinkle with turbinado or white sugar and bake until biscuits are puffed and golden, about 15-17 minutes. Cool in skillet 20 minutes before serving – this is important as the cobbler will be extremely hot. Cast iron skillets get much hotter and hold heat longer as well. The cobbler will taste best once it’s cooled. Serve with a little cream, or better yet, vanilla ice cream.
This is best when freshly made but can be baked 3 hours ahead and reheated in a 350°F oven. I actually just served ours at room temperature about three hours after it was finished and it was divine. Refrigerate leftovers and either reheat for a few seconds in microwave or spoon into a small casserole and reheat in oven. I was lazy, used the microwave. Still good.
On the Calvados/brandy: As I noted in the picture wonderland above, the apple brandy was very hard for us to find. I was at a point where I was considering substitutes, and the best I could think of was 1/4 cup apple liqueur and 1/4 cup regular brandy. Some of the employees we talked to at the stores had no idea there was such a thing as apple brandy, but if yours has knowledgeable staff, they might be able to make a suggestion for you. One gal suggested a brand called Laird’s to us, and they did happen to have two kinds, an apple brandy and one called Laird’s Applejax. We ended up getting the Laird’s apple brandy, so worth it, especially as I’ll definitely be making this dessert again. Did I mention yet how much this dessert is worth it?
On cast iron: Be sure to let your cast iron skillet cool completely before washing it in cool water and mild dish soap. If you wash it while it’s still hot or warm, you risk cracking the pan, rendering it useless. Make sure you get all food residue off the pan, then wipe it dry – never let it drip dry or you risk letting rust form. Occasional re-seasoning might be needed over the years, especially if you haven’t used your pan in a long time. If you use your pan regularly, this will also effectively help to season the pan, and it’ll get a better and better seasoning on it the more you use it and properly care for it.
Also, any time you use cast iron, always heat it up slowly. So if you need to use it on medium-high heat at first, instead heat it slowly on low heat and gradually work up to higher heat for about 5-10 minutes. This is some advice I’ve come across over the years and I’ve been adhering to it since I am using cast iron more often these days. This also should help prevent cracking.