Straddling the fence between the essence of summer and the coziness of autumn, this dessert is just killer good. This is not a traditional cobbler, though, which bakes raw biscuit dough on top of a fruit filling. Here, I bake the biscuits separately until golden, and then I plant them in the bubbling fruit mixture and continue baking. Doing this keeps the biscuits crisp on the undersides instead of just on top, making the dish over-the-top great in both taste and texture.
When making the biscuit topping, remember that this is not a yeast dough, which requires tough and persistent kneading by the cook to create proper crumb-structure. With biscuits, you’ll handle the dough much more gently. For the tenderest biscuits, each kneading movement must be lighthearted and superficial, with the goal of just making the dough cohesive enough to be rolled (or patted) out. And, homemade biscuits are usually a bit irregularly shaped after baking. Resist the temptation to work the dough aggressively, in the hopes of making the dough very smooth. Trust me, most people would take a lopsided biscuit over a tough one any day.
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If working with a double oven, preheat one to 350ºF with the rack in the center and the second oven to 425ºF, in the lower third. If working with one oven, have the racks in the upper and lower thirds and preheat to 400ºF.
Place the sliced strawberries and rhubarb in a nonreactive bowl and add the lemon juice, sugar and cornstarch. Stir well and allow the mixture to sit for 20 to 30 minutes, too help the sugar dissolve and the berries to render their juice. (The sugar will not fully dissolve but will become wet, slushy and much less granular.) Add a pinch of salt and then fold in the 3 tablespoons of cubed butter. Transfer this to a 3 1/2-quart oven-to-table baking dish.
Place the dish in center of the 350F oven (or in the upper section of the 400F oven, with a cover slightly ajar (if there is no formal cover for the dish, place a piece of parchment paper loosely over the top. If baking at 350F, bake for 1 hour, then remove the cover and continue baking for 15 more minutes. If baking at 400F, bake for 45 minutes, then remove the cover and continue baking for 15 more minutes.
Ok, while the fruit is in the oven, assemble and bake the biscuits…
Place the biscuit mix into either a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add theextra tablespoon of sugar and whisk (or whirl) together to lighten. Add the cubed butter and, if not using a machine, cut the butter into the dry mix, using a hand-held pastry cutter or your fingertips. If using a food processor, pulse the diced butter with the dry mix. Either way, blend until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Whisk the vanilla into thecream and pour all but a tablespoon of the cream into the bowl ofdry ingredients. (Reserve the little bit of cream in the cup.)
a) If working with a food processor: After adding the cream to the work bowl, give it several quick pulses, just until the dry mix is thoroughly moistened and able to be turned out and handled.
b) If making biscuits by hand: Use a wide blending fork to gently but thoroughly combine the wet and dry ingredients without overworking the mixture. As some of the flour becomes moistened by the cream, push thatsection of the dough to one side of the bowl and continue, until the dough resembles a moist, shapeless mass. (If dough seems too dry, add theremaining tablespoon or so of cream.)
Turn the mass out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it very gently, about 8 or 9 times, until it holds together (see the introduction of this recipe for more information.) Using a wooden rolling pin, or a lightly floured hand, roll or pat the dough out to a thickness of about 1 1/2-inches. Using a floured 2-1/2 inch biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as possible, using a “straight down, up and out” motion. Lay the rounds on the prepared baking sheet and gather the scraps so you can gently knead them just to smooth the surface. Pat or roll the dough out again and cut out more rounds. You should be able to get 8 thick biscuits.
Brush the tops of the biscuits with whatever cream is left clinging to the bottom of the cup (you might need to add a bit more) and then sprinkle the tops evenly with sugar. Place the sheet either into the center of the preheated 425F oven or on the bottom of the oven with the fruit (which would be at 400F if baking together) and bake until risen high and golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. (The biscuits will need the longer baking time, if baked at the lower temperature.) Remove the sheet from the oven and place the biscuits on a wire rack, allowing them to cool while the fruit continues to cook. If using the higher temperature to bake the fruit, once the biscuits are out of the oven, reduce the temperature to 350F.
Once the fruit has cooked covered for the specified time and then uncovered for the last 15 minutes, open the oven and place the biscuits on top of the hot fruit (which, by now, should have thickened and should be bubbly). Push the biscuits down into the fruit so half of them is submerged and the other half is fully exposed. The biscuits should have a bit of space in between them. Continue to bake the cobbler for 15 more minutes.
Allow the cobbler to cool to just warm and serve with sweetened crème fraiche. You can also bake earlier in the day and then reheat in a preheated 350F, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, just to warm things up.
For each batch of biscuits, mix 2 leveled cups unbleached, all-purpose flour with1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk well and follow the previous recipe instructions above. (Note: there is an extra tablespoon of sugar being added to the dough for these particular biscuits.)