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Picture Imperfect Tastes: The Apple Dowdy

Aunt Hanner's Apple Dowdy

I wasn’t going to write about my little weekend adventure into historical cooking, but then I caught this post which, in addition to being very moving in its broader terms, included a kicker towards the end: “I sometimes worry that commoditized simplicity will become fetish, and ultimately an over-stressed trend.” Ah, yes, that back-to-basics lifestyle showcased so perfectly on many a Pinterest board transformed into a danger all its own? I took her point.

Here I’ll offer a flip side to the situation, however. Ever since devouring Della Lutes’s The Country Kitchen (Little, Brown, and Company, 1936) during a road trip last summer, I’ve meant to go back and actually try to cook some of the classically imprecise recipes sprinkled throughout the text (though Lutes does go the extra mile in trying to help the reader get a handle on how things were done if classic biscuit ratios aren’t already ingrained). It was the current chill that finally got this project accomplished, however, and in the end I settled on making the Apple Dowdy: “not a dumpling, a pudding or a pie–deep-dish or otherwise. It is just a dowdy–sort of common, homely, gingham-like, but it has character.”

The Country Kitchen

Now, as I have likely mentioned before, I hate to measure. Reading and then correctly following instructions goes against my genetic makeup. As a result, baking often terrifies me. But in this recipe, I felt a permission to follow instinct that your typical, weighed out in grams baking situation doesn’t encourage. Portions where emotional (“with generous judgment”) and relaxed (“a slight scattering”). Plus, with a suggested cook time of 3 hours (!!) there would be none of this “at 18 minutes it’s baked through, at 20 minutes it’s burned” stress. I exaggerate, but you’ve been there, right?

Not having a “deep earthen pudding dish” on hand, I used a ceramic pie plate. This turned out to be too large, requiring that I roll my dough thinner than the indicated 3/4 inch and, as a result, reducing my baking time to 2 hours. I suppose I could have tented it with foil to prevent over-browning, but it smelled so good that I could wait no longer. I’ll try and follow the directions more carefully next time, but served warm out of the oven with a splash of cream, this dowdy was straightforwardly delicious. I hesitate to get into any additional cliches of “classically simple” and “old world,” but maybe because its construction was so basic (pantry staples!), its assembly so laid back (15 minutes, inspiration to oven!), it was a truly fine and satisfying way to warm up the house and the spirit on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Aunt Hanner's Apple Dowdy

Aunt Hanner’s Apple Dowdy

for the filling

4 or 5 medium apples, tart and firm, peeled and quartered (I used an apple slicer/corer and so ended up with 8 slices per apple)
brown sugar (sprinkle enough to suit your apples)
nutmeg (“a slight scattering”)
cinnamon (“a little less”)
salt (“dash”)
butter (“with generous judgment,” about a teaspoon per serving)
1/2 cup warm water

for the crust

1 cup AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk

Heat oven to 325°F.

Fill your baking dish with prepared apples and scatter sugar, spices, and butter over top. Pour in water at the side.

In a medium bowl whisk flour, baking powder, and salt, and cut in butter. Add milk and stir just until dough comes together. Roll out on a floured counter until about 3/4-inch thick and just large enough to cover apples. Fit and crimp down over top and slash top to vent.

Aunt Hanner's Apple Dowdy: Unbaked

Bake for three hours, watching to make sure crust does not over-brown. Serve warm straight from the oven with a splash of cream and extra sugar if desired.

Falling Into the Season: Maple Apple Bars


I didn’t post about the fact that my pal Marie and I cooked a bushel and peck worth of apples last weekend, ran them through (a freakin’ hand-crank) food mill, and put them into jars. But we did. We even added caramel to some, and calvados and cardamom to others for an adult-rated version. It was quite a delicious project, not terribly backbreaking when all was said and done, and should keep us in applesauce and apple jam for the foreseeable future. But more than that, it was an afternoon of fun in that way good work with close friends can turn out to be. Company in the kitchen is an important ingredient that shouldn’t be overlooked.

As it turns out, however, this applesauce also now connects me to a new acquaintance far beyond my kitchen walls. Thanks to the RSS/Twitter feeds streaming through Wonderland, I feel as if I have “met” a small army of amazing cooks who have so generously invited me into their homes and thoughts through their online writing. Amie Watson reached out to me after connecting with Wonderland Kitchen though a friend and suggested a recipe trade. I thought this was a most excellent idea.

Apples for Maple Apple Bars

Once she told me she was going to make my cereal bars gluten free (an adaptation I’m excited to share), I thought–since I’m so into coconut oil these days–that perhaps I could completely anti-dairy and non-glutenate her Honey Almond Squares. But on reflection (and the realization that my chickpea flour cupboard was empty), I decided that was the opposite direction to take things. Considering the above-mentioned applesauce, plus the crisp weekend weather, I would add the wheat back in, swap in some deeper and darker sweet notes, and see what I got. I perhaps got completely carried away, but Amie’s recipe seemed welcoming to adaptation. Use an apple! Or use a pear! I like this approach; it’s much more in line with how I like to cook, and also where I tend to fail when baking. When the recipe offers guidelines as to where variation is possible, that’s my best chance for success right out of the gate.

And I don’t think I’ve ruined Amie’s recipe in the process! I like to think of this version as just the opposite side of the same dessert coin. Where her bars, with their higher honey, mango, and almond notes, would make a perfect welcome to the warming temperatures of spring, here we say hello to the brisk snap in the fall air. It’s a rich, moist, spicy cake, and it practically begs you for a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you’re feeling super decadent (and not lactose intolerant–sorry Amie!).

Maple Apple Bars: Baked

Maple Apple Bars
adapted from “Honey Almond Squares” as seen on Amie Watson’s Multiculturiosity

For the cake batter

1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup applesauce
1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 apple, cubed
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

For the streusel topping

1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp rolled oats, coarsely ground
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup butter, cubed

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Butter an 11″x7″ glass baking dish and set aside.

2. Measure dry ingredients for streusel topping into a bowl. Using your fingers, work in butter until the mixture is roughly incorporated and crumbly.

3. Using a stand mixer or in a large bowl, cream butter and maple syrup. Beat in the egg. Next, stir in the vanilla extract and apple sauce.

4. Measure dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add to the liquids and stir just until all ingredients are incorporated. Fold in walnuts and apples, then spoon batter into prepared baking dish, smoothing it out evenly with a spatula or the back of a spoon.

5. Sprinkle streusel topping over the top and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing and serving.