On Sunday morning I lay in bed, warm and relaxed. Half awake, or maybe half asleep, I was thinking about how much I love the end of daylight savings. A whole extra hour. How should I use it? Maybe I would stay right there and spend it luxuriating in sleepy dreams and fancies. Why, I mused, do we have to stop with just one hour? What if we could fall back one day, or one year instead? What if we could fall back to last Tuesday, or to 1988, or even further? What could we do with the extra time, with the opportunity for a do-over? Daylight savings is sort of the every-man’s time machine, although we only travel an hour backwards or forwards in time.
It’s funny how just one more hour is enough to stretch out the day until it feels infinite in its possibilities. I surely spent that surplus hour sleeping in, then again eating pancakes, and once more playing with the new kitten, and still by afternoon there seemed to be plenty of time to create a dessert for the Amazing Race dinner party that night.
The weekend before, I had picked up some beautiful Bartlett pears at the farmer’s market. These sat ripening to mellow perfection all week, just waiting to be transformed into dessert. I hadn’t yet decided what form this dessert should take. Ever since I set forth on my dessert initiative at the beginning of 2010, I have been turning to Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson for inspiration. And this trusty cookbook did not let me down this time.
However, I tinkered so liberally with their Gingered Pear and Raspberry Pandowdy recipe that it was scarcely recognizable in the end. I eliminated the raspberries all together, substituted brown sugar for white, and whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose flour. The original recipe called for cornstarch, but I don’t like cornstarch much, and used all-purpose flour in the fruit filling. And so on, tweaking and nudging until I had the dessert I was looking for.
What is a Pandowdy, you may ask? Basically, it is sliced fruit baked with sugar and spices, in a deep dish or skillet, with a thick, crumbly top crust. It is not to be confused with a pie, which would require some special talent or skill at making a fine flaky crust. Rather, it is a hearty, wholesome, simple dessert.
The pandowdy was a snap to make—little more than slicing and stirring was required. And when the cast-iron skillet came out of the oven, all brown and nubbly with thick syrup bubbling up here and there, the scent of pears and sugar was well-nigh irresistible.
We scooped out portions into bowls with a big spoon, and topped them with ice cream. The pears had gone silky soft in the caramel-brown syrup made from their own juices. The crust was bumpy and humble, tender and crisp and shot through with bits of candied ginger.
If you have an extra hour, you could do worse than spending it making a Gingered Pear Pandowdy.
Gingered Pear Pandowdy
(inspired by Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies and More by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson)
- 1 Tbsp butter, at room temperature, for pan
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 6 large pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
- 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 4 Tbsp plus 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 10 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes
- 1/3 cup chopped candied ginger
- 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold buttermilk
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.
To make the fruit filling, combine sugar and flour in a large bowl, then add the pears and lemon juice and toss until evenly coated. Transfer the fruit to the prepared pan. Distribute the butter atop the fruit.
To make the biscuit, whisk the flour, 4 tablespoons of the sugar, the baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Add the butter and toss until evenly coated. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the size of large peas. Stir in the candied ginger, then pour in the 2⁄3 cup buttermilk and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
The dough will be crumbly, with large pieces of butter still visible. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured piece of waxed paper and gently press the dough together, then press it into a 9-inch circle.
Carefully place the dough atop the fruit. Brush the dough with the 1 tablespoon buttermilk, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake in the lower third of the oven for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the juices are bubbly and thick.
Allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving.