Apple Pandowdy may very well be better than apple pie…and I’m someone who really likes apple pie.
It’s not an elegant dessert—I think the name speaks clearly to that. But it’s the name, “Pandowdy,” that first got me hooked, and the baked dessert lives up to it every inch.
I first learned about this American classic when I was researching for our “Pie Week” last year in anticipation of Thanksgiving. That’s when I saw the name…Apple Pandowdy. Pandowdy. It’s so friendly, so down-to-earth, so American sounding. Like, Howdy, neighbor, c’mon in and have a slice of this warm pastry fresh from the pan.
If the name didn’t sell you like it did me, just listen to what it means:
A pandowdy is a dish of cooked fruit, typically apples, baked under a crust of pie or biscuit dough. … The origin of the name is unknown but may refer to the act of “dowdying” the pastry—slashing or breaking the partially baked crust to submerge it in the juicy filling as it finishes baking. (Joy of Cooking, “American Fruit Desserts: Pandowdies.”)
So what exactly is it? Apple Pandowdy is made from sliced apples mixed with spice and sugar or maple syrup (I use a combination), dotted with butter, and topped with pastry. Midway through cooking, the crust is slashed and pressed down into the juices so that the filling bubbles up and over as the pastry finishes browning. The end result is a bed of sweetly spiced soft apples with a crust both chewy and crispy, soft on the underside and shattering on top. It’s a pure American delight.
[For the crust:]
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
4 oz (1 stick) cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt*
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
3-4 tablespoons ice water
*reduce to 1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter
[For the apple filling:]
2-2.5 pounds apples (about 4 medium-large apples)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup sugar (white or brown)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
Prepare the crust. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Add in the cold cubed stick of butter and, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse sand. Dribble ice water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, and blend until it just begins to come together into a dough. Give a few good kneads against the bottom of the bowl to pick up all the loose flour, shape into a disk, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (You can also use a food processor to make the dough: pulse to combine dry ingredients in the processor, add cubed butter, pulse until it resembles coarse sand and a few pea-sized butter bits remain, dribble in water a tablespoon at a time, pulsing in between, until when you take a pinch of dough it sticks together. Proceed as directed above.)
Shape Crust. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge. On a generously floured surface, roll the dough out into a square 10x10 inches and roughly 1/8-inch thick. Place on a baking sheet and return to the fridge to keep chill while you prepare the apples.
Prepare filling. Peel and core apples and cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Combine apples with maple syrup, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and salt, tossing mixture well to evenly coat the apples. Pour into an ungreased 8x8-inch baking pan and spread evenly. Dot the top with cubed butter.
Assemble. Remove the 10x10-inch square of pastry dough from the fridge. Gently lift and place on top of apples in pan. Trim edges if necessary so that there is a 1/2-inch overhang. Tuck in the edges of the pastry all the way around so that they fit flush against the inside of the pan. With your fingers press the pastry gently down against the apple filling only around the edge.
Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until the crust begins to brown lightly. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350 degrees. With a sharp knife, score the pastry into 2-inch squares. Submerge the slashed crust into the bubbling juices by tilting the pan, or use the back of a spoon to press down gently. Don’t worry about crushing the pastry! The shattered crust adds to the charm of the dish, and you really want to encourage those juices to bubble over.
Return the pastry to the reduced oven temperature and bake for another 30 minutes, until the filling has thickened and the crust is a deep golden. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.
Serving suggestions: top with vanilla ice cream, heavy cream, whipped cream, or yogurt.
Make ahead: store, covered, in the fridge. To reheat, cover with foil and place in oven at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.
Sugar: The classic Pandowdy is sweetened with maple syrup alone. I couldn’t bring myself to use a whole 1/2 cup of maple syrup, so I compromised and used half sugar, half maple syrup. Feel free to substitute using what sweeteners you have on hand—maple syrup, brown sugar, white sugar, or a combination.
Pastry: I listed above for the pastry my favorite all-butter pie dough, but feel free to use a half recipe (or for one crust) of your own favorite pie dough. If substituting a gluten-free crust, you can make the filling gluten-free by swapping out the flour for 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking.