In our culture, hospitality has evolved from a routine act to a celebratory one for a hundred reasons, all of which prove that sharing your table feels hard. It’s easier, isn’t it, to manage hospitality by concentrating it like a laser on the occasional dinner party, a performance of effort and care and thought. I love a grand gesture and the sparkle of silver catching candlelight around a full table as much anyone. But hospitality only exercised one way feels hollow.
Apples return to the trees just when kids return to school—a season where it’s all too easy to be swallowed by busyness and find the thought of guests impossible. Do it differently this year. Let the overflow of apples you bring home from your annual apple-picking trip prompt you to open your home on an ordinary night. Open your cabinet and set out your baking dish. Open your oven and let the fragrance of warm apples and cinnamon forgive any real-life clutter your guests might see. Open your hands and offer the simplest apple dessert of all, the pandowdy.
It’s not fancy—far from it, this treat that was invented by “dowdy-ing” up apple pie. A large casserole dish filled with warm, caramelized apples topped by golden, flaky scraps of pastry, the pandowdy is perfectly sized for a party. Plonk the dish in the center of the table with a fistful of spoons, a stack of plates, a carton of vanilla ice cream. No performance here—just humble, homey apple pandowdy and all the warmth genuine hospitality brings.
Yield: 6–8 servings
6 Tbs. unsalted butter
4 lbs. Pink Lady and/or Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1-inch-thick slices
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
Granulated sugar (for sprinkling)
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Cook butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling often, until bubbling and golden brown, about 5 minutes; set aside.
2. Add apple slices, dark brown sugar, 3 Tbs. flour, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt to a large bowl.
3. Grate zest of half of the lemon over apples. Cut lemon in half and squeeze juice from zested half over apples, catching any seeds.
4. Stir apple mixture until combined, and then transfer to a shallow 3-qt. baking dish. Drizzle all but 2 Tbs. brown butter over apples.
5. Dust cutting board with a light coating of flour and unfold puff pastry on floured surface. Dust top with flour. Cut puff pastry into irregular 1-inch squares.
6. Arrange pieces of puff pastry over apples randomly, overlapping but spreading to cover almost completely. (You may have some unused scraps of leftover pastry.) Brush pastry with remaining brown butter. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.
7. Bake pandowdy until pastry is puffed and golden around edges, 25–30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and continue to bake until juices are thick and bubbling and pastry is brown all over, 30–35 minutes longer.
8. Let cool slightly and serve with vanilla ice cream.
Recipe slightly adapted from Claire Saffitz