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News / Life / Clark County Life

The slow road: Although a breeze to assemble, slow cooker dessert only a partial success

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 28, 2024, 6:00am
3 Photos
This ooey, gooey dessert needs only a few ingredients (and a few hours).
This ooey, gooey dessert needs only a few ingredients (and a few hours). (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

I’ve always wanted to try a slow cooker cobbler, an assemble-it-and-walk-away dessert that bypasses the fuss of pans and ovens. However, I’m not convinced that it’s the best way to go, especially since a cobbler cooked in the oven is ready two or three hours sooner. Who wants to put more distance between themselves and delicious cobbler?

Technically, this is a variation on the rather ingloriously named dump cake, in which fruit pie filling is topped by a boxed cake mix then drizzled with butter, but dump cake sounds unappetizing, so I’m calling it cobbler. This particular version combines cherry pie filling, crushed pineapple, dry cake mix, ½ stick butter, a little cinnamon and a sprinkling of pecans and coconut, because coconut makes everything better. Besides, coconut and pineapple together is practically a Hawaiian vacation, if you were also in Hawaii and on vacation.

I’ve never tried baking in a slow cooker, so I was mighty skeptical about this recipe. Aren’t a slow cooker’s temperatures too low for baking? Wouldn’t the cobbler turn out to be a soggy, mushy mess? I came very close to baking this in the oven but my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to go the slow cooker route.

I dumped in ingredients with the breezy insouciance of someone who’s done this a hundred times. It was fun to skip all the measuring and mixing and bowls and spoons. I drained a 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple and reserved the juice, then poured the pulp into the pot. Then I added a 21-ounce can of cherry pie filling, complete with sticky cherry goo, which I admit I licked off the spoon. On top of the cherries, I spread a whole 15.25-ounce box of dry yellow cake mix and patted it down. Because I can’t resist the urge to add spices where none are called for, I tossed about a half-teaspoon of cinnamon over the cake layer.

Next, I thinly sliced a half-stick (1/4 cup) of butter and placed the butter-pats evenly across the cake mix, then I dumped the reserved pineapple juice over the whole shebang. Then, the piece de resistance: ¼ cup shredded coconut and ½ cup crushed pecans. (My husband doesn’t like pecans, but I like to sneak them into salads and baked goods. When he asks for seconds, I raise an eyebrow, adopt a “gotcha” smile and tell him exactly what he’s just enjoyed. It’s the little things that make a marriage last.)

The variability of this recipe is appealing. You follow the basic formula — pie filling, cake mix and butter — but you can mix that up any old way. I’d like to try apples with spice cake, strawberries with strawberry cake or peaches with vanilla cake. Top it with any kind of nut or leave the nuts out altogether. (You could even go full tropical and add coconut and crushed macadamia nuts, but that might push it over the edge into pure mayhem.) I also changed the amount of butter from a full stick to half a stick, and nothing was lost except for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Recommendations for cooking time vary from two to four hours. I checked after about two hours and was surprised to find that it had indeed cooked, although there was still a lot of liquid in the pot. I took a tentative spoonful and the cake layer was less gluey than I’d expected. The cherries had bubbled through the cake in several places, giving the dessert the look of a classic cobbler.

I checked again at the four-hour mark and found that the cake was starting to burn on one side, dark brown and stodgier than mortar. The rest of the cake seemed fine. I took the lid off and let it cool for half an hour then scooped some into a bowl and topped it with ice cream.

Here is my verdict: It worked, sort of. I probably cooked it an hour too long, although the burnt part didn’t actually taste too bad. Otherwise, the consistency of the cake was somewhere between cakey and gooey, similar to a steamed dessert like sticky toffee pudding, but with pockets of juicy fruit. I would classify this as “goomey,” as in gooey but also a little yummy. But even if this recipe can be done in a slow cooker, does that mean it should be? I think not. Next time, I’m baking this in the oven like a normal person.

But the big question is: Did my husband object to the pecans? He never even noticed them because he was too busy deciding whether to be put off by the cherries, which he also dislikes. He’s not that fond of coconut, either. But he ate a small bowl and said, in a restrained way, “It’s good.” What can I say? I hugged him. His deeply ingrained British politeness is utterly disarming to me, a person who never disguises a single opinion. I figured I’d save my “gotcha” for another day.

Slow Cooker Cobbler

1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained and juice reserved

1 21-ounce can of cherry pie filling

1 box white or yellow cake mix

½ stick butter, cut into thin slices

Optional add-ins: ½ cup each shredded coconut and crushed pecans and ¼ to ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Put drained pineapple into slow cooker, followed by cherries and cake mix. Pat cake mix down until even and sprinkle 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, if desired. Distribute butter pats evenly atop the cake mix. Top with 1/4 cup each shredded coconut and crushed pecans. Cook in slow cooker for 3-4 hours on high or put in oven at 350 for 45-60 minutes.