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A few years back was what I liked to call the "Cook's Illustrated Christmas", when more than a few family members got a copy of the America's Best Lost Recipes cookbook. I've made several recipes from the cookbook—the Monkey Bread is a perennial favorite—but one recipe has always intrigued me: the Peach Puzzle. It's a seemingly magic dessert involving a pie plate, peaches, biscuit dough, and a ramekin that collects the syrup in the cooling process and looks downright gorgeous when served.
Submitted by Lois Schlademan, the "Peach Puzzle" was the grand prize winner in Cook's Country's Lost Recipe contest. The process couldn't be easier. Take a 9-inch pie plate, butter it, and place a large ramekin or tea cup in the center. Surround the cup with 6 to 7 peaches then pour a brown sugar syrup on top. Drop the biscuit dough over the peaches and bake until golden brown. The magic in the recipe happens during cooling when all of the delicious peach syrup gets sucked up into the cup or ramekin. What appears to be a boring, lumpy biscuit-topped mystery dessert gets an instant makeover when you invert it. The voila moment of flipping the plate to show off the peaches is a crowd-pleaser for sure. This isn't your mama's peach cobbler...or is it?
In the recipe notes the Cook's Illustrated editors proclaimed, "As you might imagine, Lois's recipe is unique—in our research, we failed to come across a single recipe like it. Lois says that her mother made peach puzzle back in the 1940s or 1950s and that it has been a family favorite ever since."
Yet I was researching some seasonal fruit recipes in a couple favorite old time cooking resources: The Malone Cook Book, put out by the ladies of the First Congregational Church in Malone, NY and American Cookery, volume 22, from the Boston School of Cooking, and both of them had a peach cobbler that did the teacup-syrup trick! American Cookery says to "invert on a deep plate and the cup will be filled with a delicious syrup, to be used for sauce. Any juicy fruit may be substituted."
What?! When I think of peach cobbler, I think of a biscuit-topped, deep dish dessert with sliced fruit, not this biscuit on the bottom, whole fruit version. Could it be that once upon a time, our great-grandmas made their peach cobbler with the biscuit on the bottom? In these earlyish 20th century versions—from 1917 and 1918 respectively—the writers instruct cooks to sprinkle the peaches liberally with sugar rather than create a syrup as Ms. Schlademan did in her recipe. Regardless of who originally came up with the concept, I assure you that you'll tip your hat to all cobbler pioneers when you try this ridiculously simple and oh, so satisfying summer dessert.
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Got a favorite classic American dessert recipe you'd like to see featured here? Email us with the subject: "American Classics."
About the author: Alexandra Penfold is mild-mannered children's book editor by day, food ninja by night. Never one to skip dessert she's the Brownie half of Blondie & Brownie and a Midtown Lunch contributor. You can follow her on Twitter at @blondiebrownie.