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The Gourmet Cookbook is a survey-style tome covering a little bit of just about everything. I’ve cooked maybe half a dozen recipes from it but refer to it often for inspiration and guidance, and I’ve worn out the blackberry cobbler recipe on page 815. When our blackberry bushes are exploding, I make it almost weekly; my husband and I both love the dumpling topping. Love. Tender, just sweet enough, and the perfect mix of biscuit and cake– those dumplings are dessert perfection. Sometimes I add blueberries to make a black & blue cobbler, sometimes I add rhubarb for extra tartness. Last week, I was craving the cobbler, but we are miles away from blackberry season. I decided to check the freezer, having recently noticed that I’ve barely dented the fruit I froze last summer “to get us through winter”– and here we are in March already. Sadly, I didn’t find any blackberries… but I did find yellow plums. Plum trees are abundant in Seattle and some years I get so overwhelmed with them, I just halve, pit and throw them in the freezer to deal with later. Thank goodness for that! I found Italian prune plums, yellow plums and beautiful red plums. The prune plums and red plums are so nice in jam, I decided to use the yellow plums for this.

The cobbler I am sharing with you today is adapted from the Gourmet blackberry cobbler and inspired by my favorite Christmas jam: plum with vanilla and star anise. It’s sweet, warmly spiced and topped with those fantastic dumplings– a lovely winter cobbler to get you through the last stretch without fresh fruit. After all, rhubarb and strawberries are not so far away, and then it will be blackberry season before you know it.

winter plum cobbler with star anise and vanilla

Winter Cobbler with Plums, Star Anise & Vanilla

(adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)

  • 8 c. frozen plums, thawed overnight*
  • juice and zest of one lemon (I used a medium-sized Meyer lemon)
  • 2 1/4 c. sugar, separated
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 3 T. cornstarch
  • 1/3 c. cold water
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 c. boiling water

Put the thawed plums, lemon juice and zest, 1 1/2 c. sugar, cinnamon stick and star anise into a 7 qt Dutch oven or similar large pot. The pot must be able to go stovetop to oven. Allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for an hour or, for a stronger spice flavor, in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.

When you’re ready to proceed, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and remaining 3/4 c. sugar in a large bowl. Use a sharp knife to scrape the vanilla beans and add the paste to the flour mixture; put the spent beans into your fruit mix. Use a pastry cutter, fork or two knives to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients until it and the vanilla are distributed evenly and no larger than pea-size pieces show. Add the boiling water and stir until you have a loose, soft dough. Set aside.

yellow plums and spices for winter cobbler

In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and cold water. Bring the plum mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat. Remove the cinnamon stick, vanilla beans and star anise from the fruit and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Remove from the burner and dollop the dumpling dough around the top of the hot fruit. You should have 7 or 8 dumplings; each will be just smaller than a tennis ball. Carefully move the cobbler to the preheated oven and bake for 35 mins., until the dumplings are cooked through (carefully pull apart one if you need to check) and golden brown and the fruit is thick and bubbling. Allow to cool for about 15 mins.– that bubbling fruit is molten– and then serve plain or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Leftover cobbler will keep for several days in the refrigerator and is completely acceptable as a breakfast option.

winter plum cobbler with star anise and vanilla, topped with whipped cream

*If you don’t have frozen plums, blackberries, cherries, rhubarb or blueberries can be substituted, individually or in combination. You can add fresh fruit to the mix, of course; just keep your total amount of fruit to 8 cups.