If you’ve been playing along at home then you’ll know that I’m on a quest to learn about all the cobbler variations. This is #3 in my series and I have a few to go. Life has interfered and it’s taking me longer than I had hoped but I’m making slow but steady progress. I’ve already knocked off rolled and drop biscuits so now it’s time to move on to some others. So pandowdy it is. Pandowdy. What the hell is that? I only realized tonight that it’s pan-dowdy not pan-downy. It helps to know what you’re making, I suppose.
So let me tell you about this one. Pandowdys are uniquely American desserts, which is funny because they sound sort of old-Englishy to me. Pastry Chef Richard Sax described it as “no-frills Yankee fare” and I like the sound of that. It typically consists of a dish of fruit, usually apples, sweetened with molasses or maple syrup, topped with a pastry or bread crust and baked until the dough starts to brown. Then the pastry is cut up into squares (“dowdied”) and pressed back down into the fruit. Then the whole concoction is baked some more until everything comes together with the fruit juices saturating the dough. I’ve seen recipes that use a biscuit dough but to me, this cries for a flaky, crispy pastry and Mr. Sax agreed.
Now here’s what I think. As best as I can tell, to “dowdy” something is to ugly it up. Which makes sense because this is not the most attractive of dishes. Pretty and delicate this is not, which is why I think it’s PERFECT for those of us who struggle to make a pie. If you are pastry challenged, this is the dish for you. It’s damn near impossible to screw it up. How’s that for building your confidence? “Hey! Make this! You won’t screw it up because it’s supposed to be ugly!” Not exactly a ringing endorsement or self-esteem booster at first glance but then again, maybe it is because this thing is damn delicious. And you can say “Hey, it’s supposed it to look like that.” How often do you get the chance to do that?
To “dowdy” this particular thing, you half bake the pastry crust then cut it up into squares and smoosh it back down into the juices of the filling. Then pop it back into the oven and bake until golden brown and those juices bubble up over the crust and make it all gooey and crunchy. Ugly or not, I’m telling you its damn delicious.
You can use any fruit here; I used peaches because I was still trying to work my way through that case I was gifted. Good lord, the things never end but even wrinkled and spotted they were amazingly delicious. Careful what you wish for, I suppose. I do realize we’re reaching the end of peach season if you haven’t already in your area, so hurry up and make this or substitute another juicy fruit. This recipe is very adaptable – use what you have. From what I read, apples are very traditional and the recipe I based this on used pears. I imagine both would be quite nice.
As this was the first time I’ve made this particular dish, I learned a few things I would change a few the next time around. I had a touch too much thickener so the juices weren’t as loose as I would have liked and I think it will be better in a deeper dish so there’s more room to smoosh down that crust. I’ve made my changes to the recipe below and will do it this way the next time I make this. Which will be very soon, let me tell you.
I based this effort on a recipe from Richard Sax in Classic Home Desserts. This is a great book. Seek one out if you like homey classic American desserts. It looks like it’s out of print but you can still find it in book stores and there are certainly good used copies kicking around. As I mentioned, his pandowdy recipe used pears so I varied that up but used his pie crust recipe. It’s mostly butter with just a little shortening for texture and ease of handling. It’s quite nice and easy to work with so don’t be afraid.
I continue to be astounded at the sheer variety in the cobbler family. The more I read and the more I bake, the more is learn. Unfortunately, my to-do list is getting longer and longer. Expect a lot of apple stuff over the next few months. This one, though not technically called a cobbler, follows the basic formula – fruit with a baked topping of some sort. In this case that’s a classic pie crust. But since the crust is only on top and smooshed in at that, it definitely isn’t a pie though it certainly is leaning in that direction. What I’m getting at is that Willie can bite me.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: FIVE STICKY SMOOSHED STARS. This discovery is huge from a stress baking viewpoint. News flash! It’s supposed to be messy and unattractive! Think of how therapeutic it is to squash down that crust into the bubbling goo beneath! You get to ruin it on purpose. This is fantastic! And the best part that I didn’t even get into? Those juice bubble up and sort of caramelize on the crust making for some really tasty bites. Oh hell yeah.
PEACH PANDOWDY – based on a recipe by Richard Sax in Classic Home Desserts
makes one large 9”x9”ish casserole dish that serves probably 6-8 people with cream or ice cream
for the filling:
2 ½ pounds peeled pitted peaches – about 10
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
for the pastry crust:
1 ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon sugar
pinch of kosher salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small 1/2″ bits
1 ½ Tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold and cut into small 1/2″ bits
3 Tablespoons cold water
- Preheat oven to 400°F and butter a 9″x9″ Pyrex of other deep baking dish.
- For the peaches: Toss the sliced peaches with the lemon juice, brown sugar, salt, cloves, cinnamon and cornstarch.
- Pour the peaches into the prepared baking dish and dot with the 2 Tablespoons of butter.
- For the pastry: Combine the flour, sugar, salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.
- Add the cold butter and shortening and pulse a few more times until the butter/shortening is the size of peas and the mixture is crumbly.
- Add the water and pulse until the mixture just begins to clump together.
- Turn the mixture out onto a work surface and knead ever so gently to incorporate all the dry bits.
- Flatten slightly into a disk and chill for 30 minutes (or up to a day-freeze up to 2 days if desired.
- To roll the pastry: Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/8” thick and about the length/width of the baking dish.
- Lay the pastry ever so gently over the peaches and trim it flush with the edges of the baking dish.
- Brush the pastry with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut a few vents into the pastry.
- Bake until the pastry is lightly golden, about 30 minutes.
- Remove the dish from the oven and cut the pastry into 1” squares.
- “Dowdy” the pastry by gently pushing it down onto the fruit, letting the juices come up over the pastry.
- Return the dish to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 more minutes.
- Serve warm, in bowls, with ice cream, heavy cream or whipped cream. I highly recommend a dose of cold cream.