Friday, April 17, 2015

Strawberry Rhubarb Pandowdy

Spring and summer are all about rustic pastries and desserts made with fresh fruit.  Pies, cobblers and crisps are without question something we crave as we head into this amazing seasonal parade of berries, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and figs.

I’ve picked up some beautiful fresh strawberries and rhubarb and worked these into a pandowdy.  This is an old-fashioned deep-dish spoon dessert that is topped with a thick layer of pie dough rather than a dumpling or biscuit used for cobbler.  The fruit is thickened only slightly to produce lots of juices. The topping is traditionally broken up and pushed down into the fruit once it’s formed a crust during the baking process so it may have gotten its name from the crumpled appearance. 

This pandowdy has a crumbly, nutty, topping and a combination of sweet and tart fruit.  The topping is kind of a cross between pie dough and a biscuit.  It has a perfect balance of flour and brown sugar combined with finely ground almonds and oats, which add a wonderful taste and texture.  I didn’t carry out the traditional breaking up of the top crust because I didn’t want this tasty topping to lose its crisp texture and I wanted to keep the fruit juicy.  The topping comes from a recipe for Raspberry Rhubarb Pandowdy from Williams-Sonoma.  I used strawberries instead of raspberries and almonds instead of pecans. 

This is a really delicious alternative to cobbler.  For an extra note of luxury, add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Bench notes:
- I like to use sliced almonds because they are easier to process to a fine meal. 
- Toast sliced almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 5 - 8 minutes. Watch them closely as they will burn very, very quickly.
- Taste your strawberries for sweetness and add sugar to your own taste.  
- Add the zest of 1/2 orange and/or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract to the fruit for a variation in flavor.  
- I cut out the dough with 2 1/4" square and 2 1/2" round cutters and got 14 biscuits.  I used 9 to top the fruit.  I baked the remaining 5 on a separate baking sheet for about 22 minutes.  They’re delicious all on their own.  

Strawberry Rhubarb Pandowdy
adapted from Williams-Sonoma
Serves 6 - 8

1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) sliced almonds, toasted
3/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) oats                               
1 cup (5 oz) flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 oz (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” pieces        
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk

1 1/2 lbs fresh strawberries
12 oz rhubarb (about 5 stalks), cut into 1/2” slices
1/4 cup - 1/3 cup (1 3/4 oz - 2 1/2 oz)) granulated sugar, to taste
2 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) cornstarch
For the topping, place the toasted almonds, oats, flour, brown sugar, baking power and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until the almonds and oats are finely ground.  Add the cold butter pieces and pulse until the mixture forms coarse, uniform crumbs.  Add the milk and pulse just until mixture comes together and forms a soft, sticky dough.  Place on top of a piece of plastic wrap and pat into a flat disc.  Cover with another piece of plastic wrap and roll the dough out to a 9” square about 1/3” thick.  Slide onto a baking sheet and chill until firm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the filling, hull and halve the strawberries and place in a large bowl.  Cut the rhubarb into 1/2” pieces and add to the bowl.  Whisk together the granulated sugar and cornstarch and toss with the fruit to coat.  Pour into an 8” square baking dish and distribute evenly.

Using a cookie cutter or a sharp knife, cut out shapes from the dough and arrange over fruit.  Place the pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips.

Bake until the topping is golden brown and the fruit juices are bubbling, about 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

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