Vail’s High Altitude Baking column: Apple pandowdy
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Want a tried and true dessert? If so, consider an Apple Pandowdy; they’ve been an American classic since the 1800s. In this version, a layer of sliced apples, flavored with a mixture of brown sugar, maple syrup, apricot preserves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, is crowned with a sugared pie crust. Soft, warm, sweet apples bend beautifully with the tender pastry in each delicious bite. The essence of simplicity, this combination has charmed fruit-dessert lovers for generations.
I’ve found there are several things that contribute to its success: First, select a mixture of baking apples for the filling; I often combine Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, and/or Honeycrisp. Second, make certain that the apple slices are not thicker than the recipe states or they may not be fully baked when the rest of the pastry is ready to come out of the oven. Third, it’s important to use crust dough that is pleasing in both taste and texture; it contributes a lot to the overall success of the pandowdy. My favorites for this dessert are a flaky cream cheese pastry dough or a shortbread pastry dough. Lastly, serve this little gem warm.
To create some visual interest, I used three different-sized flower cookie cutters when making the crust. If you don’t want to make a crust with the cookie cutter cut-outs, simply roll the dough one-eighth of an inch thick and cut it into a square or circle about an inch larger than your pan. Lay it over the filling, tuck it into the pan between the pan sides and the apples, cut a few venting slits in the top, glaze with the cream/milk, and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
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(Adjusted for altitude; make in an 8-by-8-inch baking dish or an 8-inch round ceramic or glass baker with sides that are at least 2 inches tall.)
Your favorite crust for a single-crust pie
1⁄4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg
1⁄4 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B or Deep Amber
3 tablespoons apricot preserves
6 medium baking apples
2 tablespoons butter, preferably unsalted
1 tablespoon cream or milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Make the crust and refrigerate it.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with a rack in the lower third position. Grease or butter the baking pan and set it aside.
Make the filling: In a large bowl, place the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg and whisk to combine well. Add the maple syrup and apricot preserves and whisk/stir until all the ingredients are blended and smooth. Peel, core, and cut the apples into quarter-inch slices. Half the slices horizontally, put them in the bowl, and toss until all are well coated. Set this aside.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it stand until it is soft enough to work with, and then roll it to a thickness of one-eighth of an inch (no thinner or the cut-outs won’t hold their shape). Using a cookie cutter (or several cutters), cut out as many cookies from the dough as possible. If the dough softens, slide the cut-outs onto a baking sheet and freeze until firm enough to handle with ease. Pour the apples, and any remaining liquid in their bowl, into the prepared baking pan and level them. Dot the apple mixture with the two tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces. Place the dough cookies on top of the filling, overlapping them, and pushing those that touch the side of the pan into it, so they adhere. Leave some small spaces between the overlapped cookies to vent steam from the filling as it bakes. If you don’t have enough cookies to cover the top, re-roll the dough and make some more.
Brush the crust lightly with the cream or milk and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. Place the baking pan on a cookie sheet (to catch any drips) and bake until the crust is golden brown (this takes about 25 minutes in my oven). Reduce the oven temperature to 350, tent the baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent the crust from browning further, and bake until the apples are tender (check by sticking a toothpick or skewer through the vent holes into the fruit) and the liquid is bubbling thickly. This can take from 30-45 minutes. Remove the pandowdy from the oven and let it cool for at least twenty minutes before serving. Though best served on the day it’s made, it can cool completely, be stored in the refrigerator, covered loosely with foil, and reheated in a 325 degree oven until warm to the touch. Serve with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.