When making baked desserts, know your cobblers

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Food & Dining

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I have recently been alarmed to learn of the indiscriminateness with which the general public uses the term "cobbler." I partially blame Paula Deen, whose ostensible cobbler recipe is the top result when you Google "peach cobbler." Deen's recipe is a buckle in disguise: She calls for spooning cooked peaches on top of a thin cake batter and then baking until the batter rises above the fruit.

But Deen is not the only offender: Southern Living, doing its best BuzzFeed impression, offers us "14 Crazy-Good Fruit Cobblers," among which are three pandowdy recipes (fruit topped with pie crust), two crisp recipes (fruit topped with streusel), a variation on Deen's buckle, a fruit bar recipe, and a bloody shortcake recipe.

So, what, then, is a cobbler? A cobbler is a dessert consisting of sugared fruit topped with a sweetened biscuit topping and baked until the fruit is tender and the topping is golden. The bottom part of the topping sinks into the fruit and sops up its flavorful juices, acquiring a dumpling-like texture; the top part gets brown and firm; the middle part arranges itself into a light, spongy crumb. Meanwhile, the rest of the fruit's juices mingle with the sugar and whatever thickener you've added to it to form a hot, sticky syrup that is best appreciated when juxtaposed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The cobbler is, in short, a tremendous dish.

Peach Cobbler

Yield: 9 to 12 servings; Time: About 1 hour

3 pounds fresh peaches, sliced, or 2 pounds frozen sliced peaches

Juice of 2 lemons

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup all-purpose flour

1¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

⅔ cup buttermilk

½ teaspoon almond extract

Vanilla ice cream for serving

Heat the oven to 375 F. Put the peaches, the lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the cornstarch, the cinnamon and the nutmeg in a large bowl; toss to combine. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch square pan and bake for 10 minutes.

Combine the flour, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, the baking powder, the salt, and the baking soda in a medium bowl. Add the butter and blend with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the buttermilk and almond extract and stir just until combined.

Remove the pan from the oven and drop the batter in large, evenly spaced dollops on top of the peaches. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over the batter. Continue baking until the topping is golden brown and the peaches are tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.