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Pandowdy, sometimes written as pan dowdy, is a dessert with an unknown origin. The name however, has long been fun to use, and the dessert to many is the ultimate in comfort food desserts. Some traditions suggest early European settlers of the Americas created the dessert, and most believe the fruit used for the first renderings of the dessert was apples. Hence apple pandowdy is the most commonly featured type.
The name pandowdy may be a reference to the “dowdy” or rumpled appearance of the dessert in finished form. A layer of sweetened and spiced fruit is given a thick top crust, usually made with pastry or piecrust. As the dessert cooks and the crust hardens, the crust is pushed and broken into the fruit with a fork, which allows the juices of the baking fruit to somewhat cover the crust. Some recipes merely suggest breaking up the crust after the pandowdy is removed from the oven. When a pandowdy recipe uses a traditional pastry or piecrust, it typically calls for you to make enough crust for a two-crust pie, but to roll this amount out into a thicker crust to lay on top of the fruit.
There are some inaccuracies online regarding recipes and descriptions of apple pandowdy. A few websites mistakenly refer to the dessert as an apple upside down cake, or where the fruit is baked on top of a biscuit like, or cake like crust, then inverted before serving. Most recipes for this fruit dessert do not suggest this method, and perhaps these other accounts are mistaking the dessert with other fruit concoctions like clafouti or buckles.
Instead, the pandowdy most resembles a deep-dish pie, with the addition of breaking up the crust, or to some people who make cobbler with piecrust instead of biscuit dough, the dish would just be cobbler. It should be understood that traditional cobbler uses a biscuit or dumpling dough rather than pastry dough. Another part of the name pandowdy may refer to the fact that the dish is usually assembled in a pan or skillet, rather than a in a pie dish. Actually, you can be pretty liberal in choosing your pan or dish for the dessert, and you can even make this dessert in big oblong or square pans. Fortunately you don’t have to be particularly skilled with rolling out crust, and a few holes won’t matter since you’ll break the crust up before serving it.
While this dessert may look a bit worse for the wear, many people attest to its delicious taste. Some recipes can get a little dry, especially if you break up the crust during the cooking process. It’s suggested you don’t add too much flour to your fruit, since this can cause less juices to flow.
Using ripe but not overripe apples can also help, as apples tend to get a little dry as they age; if you’re using older apples add a little apple juice to moisten up the fruit. Though many people use sugar to sweeten the fruit, there are a number of recipes that call for sweetening with molasses. This would give the fruit a heartier taste, and molasses goes well with apples. Sugar may be a better choice for pandowdies made with peaches, apricots, or berries.