Okay first things first. What’s a pandowdy? Or is it pan dowdy?
And does “dowdy” mean what I think it means? Antiquated? Homely? Unfashionable? Dingy? Drab? Frumpy? Shabby? Unkempt?
Firstly, I’ve seen it spelled both ways. So take your choice. I prefer the one word spelling.
Secondly, dowdy does indeed imply all these things, but in the context of this dessert it simply means homey, uncomplicated, unfussy. And with an ironic twist, the act of cooking it in an old-fashioned cast iron skillet and serving it bubbling hot from that same skillet may have been simple and homey in it’s day but it’s high glamor today. If I had a restaurant, that’s how I’d serve it. In individual cast iron skillets.
Okay, back to basics. A pandowdy is typically described as a deep-dish, spiced apple “pie” or “cobbler” sweetened with sugar, molasses, and/or maple syrup, and covered with a rich, tender crust. All true.
It’s also an easy, casual dessert that arose from the hard working character of the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s. There’s nothing fancy or expensive about it. And yet it has character for days. Layers of evocative flavor and satisfying texture. Food for the heart. And the soul.
Add homemade ice cream and you may never want traditional, two-crust apple pie again.
Pandowdy gets its name from the method used in its construction. In its earlier form, an apple-based filling was baked in a crust-lined casserole and then after baking, the crust was “dowdied” or broken into pieces. As the “pie” cooled, the broken crust absorbed the apple juices, creating an almost pudding like concoction. This comfort food classic was served right from its baking pan.
It may still be done this way in some homes across America (definitely the serve it straight from the pan aspect) but the version I grew up with flipped the crust from the bottom to the top of the apples. This enables a crunchy-crisp crust on top with only a bit of juice absorption on the portions of the crust that come into contact with the apple juices beneath.
You can of course top the caramelized apples with a simple round of short-crust pastry and call it good. But that’s a tad too elegant for this homespun desert. I like to cut the rolled pastry into squares or triangles and overlap them slightly on top instead. If you want to be cute, use a flower cookie cutter. If you want your pandowdy to scream Homespun, cut the pastry helter-skelter into a hundred tiny, irregular pieces with a pizza cutter. Let your muse run wild.
Regardless, what you’ll end up with in your hot cast iron skillet is tender baked apples in an aromatic, bubbling brew of deeply spiced caramel, topped with buttery, caramel kissed pastry.
Seriously, why aren’t you in the kitchen?
Apple Pandowdy (Juicy Caramel, Upside-Down, Broken Crust Skillet Pie)
What’s great about this thickly juicy, intensely apple skillet pie, besides the terrific taste and homey look, is how easy it is to make. No bottom crust, and no fussy edging on the top crust.
Optional: Follow basic recipe, adding ½ teaspoon baking powder to the flour measurement
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened apple cider
3 tablespoon cornstarch
1½ tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
3 pounds (4-5) medium-large baking apples, such as Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Jonathan, Braeburn, Cortland, Fuji, Zestar, and/or Elstar cored, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and each piece cut lengthwise into three 1/2-inch at the base slices. About 6 cups prepared.
2 tablespoons heavy cream
vanilla ice cream (optional)
- Position rack in the middle of the oven. Heat oven to 375°F.
- To complete dough, after chilling, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 2 hours, on a lightly floured surface, roll dough a scant 1/4-inch thick and trim edges to make a 9-inch square.
- Cut dough into 3″ squares; chill until ready to use.
- To prepare filling, in a 10 1/2 -inch, cast-iron skillet, combine butter, sugar, cider, cornstarch, molasses, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and apples. Cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
- Arrange dough squares over apples and brush with cream. Carefully (the pan is hot!) transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Using a spatula, press crust into filling.
- Continue baking until the crust is golden, 18–20 minutes.
- Carefully remove from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before cutting into wedges or scooping to serve. It won’t be neat and tidy. That’s perfect.
- If desired, accompany with vanilla ice cream.
Copyright 2021 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.