Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Fruit and Custard Cobbler

When we were in England, we had the most delicious rhubarb crumble with soy cream at the Warehouse Cafe in Birmingham. Creamy, fruity, cakey, it was everything you could want in a dessert, and I've been toying with the idea of making something like it since we got home. Then I learned something both shocking and delightful: Bird's custard powder is vegan! Yes, it's true. Apparently it was invented in 1837 by Alfred Bird, whose wife was allergic to eggs; all I can say is I hope she appreciated him. Talk about a catch, right? You can read about it in depth right here if you're really, truly interested:'s_Custard.

Or you could just take my word for it and move along to what I proceeded to do with this exciting information. Since summer is here, beautiful fruit is in plentiful supply, and I've been buying a lot of it lately; I took it in my head that my fruit crumble idea could only be improved by the addition of custard, and so this recipe was born. It's basically a cobbler, with a layer of custard between the fruit and the topping. I happened to have peaches, strawberries and wild blueberries on hand, but it would work with pretty much any combination of fruits, or even just one if you're a purist. Making it was a nice way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, and eating it an even nicer way of whiling away the ensuing evening. The best part is that the inclusion of oatmeal in the topping makes it the breakfast of champions!

Summer Fruit and Custard Cobbler

The Fruit
Mix the following in a bowl and transfer to a greased 9 x 13" baking dish:
~ 8 cups assorted sliced fruit and/or berries. I used more or less equal quantities of peaches, blueberries and strawberries
~2 tbsp. corn starch
~2 tbsp. brown sugar
~1 tsp. cinnamon

The Custard
~ 6 tbsp. Bird's custard powder
~ 4 cups vanilla soy milk
Prepare according to package directions and set aside

The Topping 
~1 cup rolled oats
~1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
~1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
~1 tsp. cinnamon
~1/2 tsp. nutmeg
~1/4 cup agave nectar
~1/4 cup vegetable oil
~2/3 cup soy, almond or rice milk
~1 tsp. vanilla extract
~1/2 tsp. almond extract
~1/2 tsp. lemon extract

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
~ Mix the dry ingredients together in a largeish bowl, making a well in the center. 
~ Mix the liquid ingredients in a separate bowl, then pour into the dry. Mix thoroughly until just combined, it's okay if it's a little lumpy.
~ Pour the prepared custard over the fruit in the baking dish. Put the filled baking dish inside a larger casserole before placing in the oven. Once they are safely in place on the center rack, pour about an inch of water into the larger pan; this water "bath" will help ensure that the custard doesn't stick. 
~ Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the custard starts to firm up.
~ Remove the pan from the oven. You can set aside the water bath now; the custard should be firm enough that you don't need it anymore.
~ Gently spoon the topping batter over the custard, being careful not to smoosh it. It doesn't have to be particularly smooth or even, just try to make sure it covers most of the custard; it will spread out as it bakes.
~ Return the baking dish to the oven, raise the heat to 400 degrees, and bake another 15 minutes, until the topping is brown and crisp.

Allow to cool as long as you can stand it. The more you resist the urge to slice into it, the better the texture will be, and we all know that good things come to those who wait! That said, this is not a tidy dessert, so you can expect it to ooze delectably all over your plate when you finally serve it up. If you like, you could have some extra custard on the side, or even some soy ice cream if you were really going for the gusto, but we think it's delicious just the way it is.

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