100 Techniques

Technique #39: Bake Juicy, Never Watery, Fruit Cobblers and Crisps

From filling fixes to topping tips, you'll master these classic desserts in no time.

Published Sept. 23, 2023.

This is Technique #39 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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Cobblers and crisps made from juicy, impeccably ripe seasonal fruit are among our favorite desserts. They’re often considered “easy,” but anyone who’s ever made one has probably had at least one disappointingly soggy experience.

Typically that wonderfully fresh fruit sheds all its juices in the oven, leaving the filling soupy, the fruit mushy, and the topping anything but crisp. Plopping any old raw topping onto room-temperature fruit may be easy, but it will likely lead to a soggy mess.

To achieve a cohesive filling with concentrated fruit flavor and a crisp topping, you'll need to master a few easy techniques.

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Cook Off Excess Liquid

To combat a soupy filling, some recipes call for drawing out moisture by sprinkling the fruit with sugar and letting it drain in a colander. But loads of flavor drains away with all that juice.

Instead, to thicken fruit without losing any flavor, turn to a skillet.

Sautéing fruit to release their juices and then cooking off the liquid results in buttery-sweet fruit with concentrated flavor. For particularly juicy fruit such as peaches, set aside some uncooked fruit and add it to the filling just before baking to ensure a fresh texture. As a bonus, stirring in dried fruit such as cranberries to a crisp before baking adds another layer of texture—they hydrate by absorbing some of the remaining juice from the fresh berries.

Add The Right Thickener

Cooking off the liquid is a great first step, but to achieve a cohesive filling, adding a thickener is key. Sprinkling in some flour is standard in most recipes, but we found that it leaves a starchy taste. Instead, reach for cornstarch or tapioca. Adding a modest, balanced amount of the right thickener proves invaluable for great texture.

Topping Tips

We typically love buttermilk biscuits as a cobbler topping, but when made using the usual method of cutting up cold butter to blend in, they fall to pieces on the hot filling. Switching to melted butter makes for sturdier biscuits that remain intact and don’t turn gummy when baked on top of the fruit. 

For a fruit-crisp topping that stays crisp and doesn’t sink, keeping it moist and cohesive (rather than powdery and crumbly) is key, so process the topping ingredients in a food processor and pinch the resulting buttery mixture together into sturdy, peanut-size clumps.

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Desserts Illustrated

Part cookbook, part handbook, Desserts Illustrated is the last word on the last (but definitely not the least) course. Learn how to make all types of candies, custards, frozen treats, and fruit desserts in addition to a bounty of baked goods.

Step by Step: How to Make Cobbler Filling

Choose your fruit and follow these simple steps for making juicy, never watery, filling.

Step 1: Prepare Fruit

Prepare fruit by peeling, removing pit or core, and cutting into pieces.

Step 2: Cook Some of Your Fruit

For very juicy fruit, such as peaches, set some fruit aside to add later. Cook remaining fruit in skillet with butter and sugar, covered if directed, to release juices.

Step 3: Caramelize Some of Your Fruit

Uncover and simmer until juices evaporate and fruit begins to caramelize.

Step 4: Stir in Remaining Uncooked Fruit

Add reserved uncooked fruit to skillet and cook until heated through.

Step 5: Add Thickener

Whisk lemon juice with a small amount of cornstarch and stir into filling.

Watch Executive Editor Elle Simone Scott demonstrate how to make a Pear Crisp.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Now that you've learned the science behind what makes the perfect cobbler or crisp, try it yourself with one of these recipes.


Skillet Peach Cobbler

A watery filling and soggy cobbles are just two of the more common problems with this classic summer fruit dessert. We set out for a solution.
Get the Recipe

Cranberry-Apple Crisp

Although it's hard to imagine that apple crisp needs much improvement, we liked the tartness and texture cranberries added to one of our favorite standard desserts.
Get the Recipe

Pear Crisp with Miso and Almonds

Literally easier than pie, and better-tasting, too.
Get the Recipe

Skillet Cherry Cobbler

A fleet of tender biscuits on a sea of sweet, saucy cherries⎯a good cherry cobbler can hold its own against other fruit desserts, especially when it comes together in just a few quick steps.
Get the Recipe

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Don't let spring pass by without making this easy, foolproof seasonal dessert.
Get the Recipe

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