Blackberry Fonio Cobbler With Toasted Benne

December 13, 2021
1 Ratings
Photo by MJ Kroeger. Prop Stylist: Alya Hameedi. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens.
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

I’m the furthest thing from a baker (a trait I got from my grandma), but working in the culinary industry, I make sure that my pantry is well equipped to throw together a loaf of bread, tray of brownies or biscuits, or one of my favorite desserts: fruit cobbler (it’s really hard to mess up). I’m sure you already have most of these cobbler ingredients on hand, like flour, butter, sugar, and berries; but I’ve also added in heirloom ingredients like benne, the sesame seeds from West Africa that are commonly used in Gullah Geechee and Low Country cooking. They have a particularly nutty flavor and smell, and work wonders as a topping for desserts and veggies alike, but also used ground into a powder as a thickener in soups and stews, or to make sauces and dressings. Fonio is a tiny ancient grain, known by some cultures in West Africa and ancient Egypt as the “seed of the universe.” It has some amazing health benefits, but for me, one of the best things about fonio is that it's super versatile and only takes 5 minutes to cook. You can use it to make savory or sweet dishes, as a whole grain or ground into flour, and you can even make it into smoothies and drinks. Here, I use fonio to bulk up my dumpling dough, working alongside the benne to provide a nutty, toasty flavor to the dish.

When I was growing up, I would walk across the street to a large, empty field to pick berries. My fingers would be stained purple from picking (and eating), and I would take them back to my grandma for her to make into dumplings. Hers are more of a traditional flour-based dumpling, slightly sweetened and full of fresh berry flavor. I haven’t had her dumplings since I was a kid, but learning early on where to look for fruit, which berries were edible, and when to pick them is knowledge I'm glad I picked up. I believe in using fruit and other ingredients as seasonally as possible, but I also believe in being able to have good food whenever you so desire. So while this cobbler is perfect to grub on as the weather gets cooler, this recipe also works perfectly for spring and summertime stone fruits, or any of your favorite fresh or frozen berries. —Amethyst Ganaway

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 cup uncooked fonio
  • Softened unsalted butter or neutral oil, for greasing the pan
  • 4 pints fresh or frozen blackberries (about 8 cups)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon Morton kosher salt, divided
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (or a 1:1 gluten-free flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/3 cup milk of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon toasted benne or sesame seeds, plus more for serving
  • Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving (optional)
  1. In a small saucepan with a lid, combine the fonio and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then reduce the heat to low. Stir and let cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and cover. Let steam for 4 to 5 minutes, then uncover. Fluff with a fork, transfer to a medium bowl, and let the cooked fonio cool completely (you’ll have about 2 cups, and it will have the texture of fluffy sand).
  2. Heat the oven to 375°F and butter or oil an 8x8-inch cake pan or casserole dish. In a large pot, combine the blackberries, ½ cup of the sugar, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, vanilla extract, lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg with ¼ cup water. Stir to incorporate. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and stir. Cover partially with a lid and cook for 30 minutes, stirring often, until the berries have softened. Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the berry filling cool to room temperature.
  3. In a food processor, combine the cooled fonio, the flour, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, and baking powder by pulsing a few times until incorporated. Add in the cold cubed butter and lightly pulse until the butter is incorporated and gritty in size and has the texture of couscous. Alternatively, do this by hand in a medium bowl. Transfer the dry mixture into a bowl and stir in half of the milk, then add the rest until a shaggy dough forms. Refrigerate until ready to bake.
  4. Transfer the cooled berry filling into the prepared pan. Using a spoon, cookie scoop, or your hands, add large dollops of the dough to the top, leaving a bit of space between each piece of dough (they’ll expand as they cook). Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle the benne seeds over the surface of the cobbler. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving warm with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired, and additional toasted benne seeds.

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