Monday, September 5, 2011
In my mom and dad's house there is a rule about cooking in the summer - the oven stays OFF. Weekly menus aren't planned until the weather forecast has been consulted, and if it's going to be hot enough to run the air conditioner, dinner better come off of the stove top. Or be a BLT sandwich. You don't want to heat up the house, right? If Thanksgiving happened in the summer, the turkey at my parents' house would have to come out of either a slow cooker or an electric roaster. And pumpkin pie? You might as well just eat the filling out of the can because you ain't makin' a pie in my momma's oven. Not when it's 100 degrees out and a thousand percent humidity. (I know a thousand percent makes no mathematical sense, but you spend a summer in St. Louis and tell me it's not possible.)
So if you are anything like my parents, I would like to submit peach pandowdy as a really good reason to crank your oven up to 500 degrees in the dog days of summer. Yes, it's still summer, even if Labor Day weekend is the "unofficial" end to summer. I prefer to let the autumnal equinox tell me when fall has arrived, not a three day weekend. So go to your farmer's market or grocery store and get yourself some late summer peaches, let them sit on your window sill for a couple of days and make this dessert. You will not be sorry, even if you sweat while it's baking.
This recipe represents one of my prouder culinary moments because I researched about 50 old recipes - for apple pandowdies and betties, peach pie, peach dumplings, peach cobbler, peach custard pie, peach shortcakes, peach crisp and peach cake - took my favorite ideas from a bunch of them, and turned out this beauty. On the first try. I was snapping pictures of my portion as my husband was digging into his. He didn't say anything for a while, so I said, "Well, how is it?" With his mouth full, he mumbled, "Do I have to stop eating to answer?" I took that as a good sign.
A pandowdy is like a pie but with only a top crust. The crust gets poked down a bit (this is the dowdying part) so that the juices bubble up from the bottom and kind of spill over the crust. Every old recipe I looked up was for apple pandowdy, but as I said, I was still in summer mode, so I went with peach. I did find one old cookbook that included a bottom crust. I immediately decided to steer clear of the bottom crust idea for several reasons, the most convincing of which was that I wanted a really juicy filling, and that would have just made a soggy, gross bottom crust. A lot of the old recipes used some sort of baking dish or casserole dish, but I opted for a skillet. Apple pandowdies tend to be baked a long time to give the apples a chance to soften and break down a bit, but I wanted to preserve as much of that luscious fresh peach flavor as possible so I kept the cooking time just long enough to bake the crust. A very hot oven makes the crust brown up beautifully and gets it out of the heat quickly. We finished ours with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but a dollop of fresh whipped cream would be wonderful, too.
You really need to use a traditional skillet here, not a nonstick. The oven needs to be so hot that it's not safe to use nonstick. If you don't have a 12-inch traditional skillet, transfer the peach filling to a baking dish after you've heated and thickened the saucy part, and just roll your pie dough out in a rectangle to fit to fit your dish instead of rolling it out into a circle. I have no good advice on how you would adapt this recipe to use frozen peaches because the peach peels added such a huge amount of flavor to the sauce. I think fresh is really the way to go for this recipe. Don't roll out the pie crust until the very last minute, when the oven is preheated and the filling is totally ready to go. With an oven that hot, your kitchen will be too warm for pie dough to survive outside of the refrigerator for very long.
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 Tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. butter, cubed
4 Tbs. shortening, cubed
4 to 6 Tbs. ice water
6 cups peaches, peeled and sliced about 1/4" thick, about 6 to 7 peaches
Peelings from peaches
2 cups water
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Place the cubes of butter and shortening on a plate and freeze for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pulse the flour, salt and 1 1/2 Tbs. sugar in a food processor until well combined. Sprinkle the very cold shortening cubes over the flour mixture in the food processor and pulse until the mixture appears crumbly. Add the butter cubes and pulse again until mixture once again looks crumbly. Place the flour mixture into a bowl. Sprinkle ice water into the mixture and, using a rubber spatula, stir the water into the flour until it forms a ball. Start with 4 Tbs. of water and only add more if the mixture is still very dry and crumbly. Turn the ball of dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, form the dough into a disk and wrap up tightly in the plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator until ready to use. (You can do this part well ahead of time if you like.)
Place the peach peels and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar until no cornstarch lumps remain. You will need to decide how much sugar based on how sweet your peaches are. Mine were quite sweet, so I went with 1/3 cup. If yours are a bit tart, go for 1/2 cup.
Move an oven rack to the top middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Strain the peach peel / water mixture from the saucepan into a 12-inch skillet. Discard the peels. Put the skillet over medium-high heat and whisk the sugar and cornstarch mixture into the peach juice until the sugar dissolves. Bring the peach juice to a boil and continue whisking until the mixture thickens. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the sliced peaches, stirring until all the peaches are well coated with the sauce.
Mix the final 2 tsp. of sugar and the cinnamon together in a small bowl and set aside. Flour your counter top, rolling pin and hands well and place the disk of pie dough on the counter. Roll out into approximately an 11-inch circle. Place the pie dough over the filling in the skillet. It does not have to be pretty. In fact, I like that mine looked kind of rustic. Brush the top with the beaten egg and then sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Take a knife and cut through the dough. I made three cuts in one direction, then turned the skillet 90 degrees and made another two cuts.
Place the skillet on the rack in the top middle position and bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is very well browned. Cool for 15 to 20 minutes and serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
This is still great left over. Just nuke it for about 30 to 45 seconds on high in your microwave. YUM.