Never heard of a sonker? You’re not alone. This dessert is beloved in a particular part of the South—Surry County, North Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, to be exact. Cookbook author Nancie McDermott hails from the Piedmont region of North Carolina, yet had never tasted a sonker. “It’s amazing to me that there could be something so distinctive and so wonderful that flourished within a half day’s drive from where I grew up, which I would not even know about until my work as a culinary detective got me sleuthing around the regional South,” she said. Those who know the dessert agree that it must be baked in a large, deep pan (big enough to feed hungry farm hands) and topped with a creamy vanilla sauce called “dip.” This is where the agreements end, however. Opinions vary as to how it is made: some declare it has to have a bottom crust; others argue it only needs a top crust; the rest insist that a true sonker is made only with sweet potatoes—everything else is simply a cobbler.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup ice water
9 cups fresh blueberries (about 2 1⁄2 lb.)
7 cups fresh blackberries (about 1 3⁄4 lb.)
5 cups fresh raspberries (about 1 1⁄2 lb.)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup uncooked quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
2 cups half-and-half
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
How to Make It
Prepare the Crust: Add flour, powdered sugar, and salt to a food processor, and pulse until combined, 2 to 3 times. Add butter; process until mixture resembles coarse sand.
Whisk together egg yolks and ice water in a small bowl. With processor running, pour egg mixture through food chute, and process until mixture begins to clump.
Transfer to a lightly floured surface; knead until dough is smooth, 2 to 3 times. Shape dough into a 7- x 5-inch rectangle, and cover with plastic wrap. Chill 1 hour.
Prepare the Filling: Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all berries in a large bowl. Stir together sugar, tapioca, nutmeg, and salt in a small bowl. Add to berries; toss gently to coat. Scoop berry mixture into a 14- x 10- x 3-inch baking dish (or a 13 1⁄2- x 9 5⁄8- x 2 3⁄4-inch disposable aluminum pan). Dot top of berries evenly with butter.
Roll dough on a lightly floured surface into a 16- x 12-inch rectangle. Use a 3⁄4-inch round cutter or base of a piping tip to cut holes all over dough, leaving a 2-inch border around edges. Place dough on top of berry mixture; fold dough under edges of pan and crimp. Whisk together egg yolk and water; brush dough evenly with egg mixture.
Bake in preheated oven until Filling is bubbly and Crust is well browned, 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Cover top with aluminum foil, if needed, to prevent overbrowning.) Let stand on a wire rack at least 2 hours before serving.
Prepare the Dip: Combine half-and-half, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium; bring to a gentle boil. Stir together cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl until smooth, and stir into half-and-half mixture. Cook until mixture is thick and bubbly, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes. Strain Dip through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a small serving pitcher, and stir in vanilla extract. Serve sonker warm, and drizzle each serving with warm Dip.