I blame the media.
For the past month, my New York Times has arrived later and later each morning. Because I’m a gal who needs to read while eating breakfast, I began perusing The Essential New York Times Cook Book with my coffee.
And there, on page 828, was Mrs. Hovis.
I blame the media. Sure, I’ve leafed through the Cook Book — a compendium of 150 years’ worth of NYTimes recipes — many times. But I’ve never studied the recipes. They can be long (Danish pastry). And involved (mulligatawny). And sometimes downright strange (turducken). But without the daily newspaper to keep me and my bagel company, I started combing through the book’s 932 pages, luxuriating in each recipe’s background and technique.
I blame the media. Were it not for late delivery, I would never have stumbled on this recipe from 1984. It’s a rustic apple tart, reminiscent of France’s famed tarte tatin. But in this version, a shortbread crust stands in for the usual puff pastry, and the oven does most of the work. (No stovetop coaxing of sugar into caramel!)
True, with almost a pound of butter, Mrs. Hovis’s Hot Upside-Down Apple Pie is a fat bomb. (I blame the media.) But its combination of butter, apples, brown sugar and booze makes it a perfect autumn dessert.
You probably have most of this pie’s ingredients on hand. If not, you can play with it! I may make it again with pears, or I may tuck raisins in with the apples. It’d be fun to play with the liquor. While I used golden rum this time, I may try brandy next time. Or Calvados. Or the bourbon the recipe calls for.
Mrs. Hovis wasn’t one to stand on ceremony. Instead of carefully mixing ingredients and slicing her apples paper thin, she has you throw everything into a cast-iron skillet, then top the mess with her buttery shortbread dough. The pie emerges from the oven with a golden sheen, sticky caramel spilling over the edges. A quick cooling, then you invert everything onto a platter.
One note: Inverting is kind of scary. (I blame the media.) But have faith … that cast-iron skillet is a culinary wonder! (https://dinnerbysusan.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/scrambling-eggs-in-a-skillet-souvenir/) My pie released beautifully, in a swirl of apples and burnished-brown caramel. The crust was flaky, but sturdy enough to support the fruit and sauce; the apples were tender and redolent of lemon and rum; the outside edges of the pie were just this side of hard caramel candy.
Mrs. Hovis, you were a gifted baker. Your hot upside-down apple pie is going into my dinner-party rotation. It may even find its way onto my Thanksgiving table. I thank you.
And I thank the media.
Mrs. Hovis’s Hot Upside-Down Apple Pie (The Essential New York Times Cook Book)
Whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) of cold, diced, unsalted butter until well blended. Add 5-6 tablespoons ice water and gently toss until the dough can be formed into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Melt 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of unsalted butter in a small bowl. Pour the melted butter into a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup packed dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons cornstarch.
Peel 2 pounds apples. (I used Empire; Golden Delicious would be nice, as would Granny Smith. Just be sure you choose apples that are going to hold their shape during baking and not turn into sauce.) Cut each apple into quarters; remove the core; then cut each quarter lengthwise in half.
Arrange the apple slices in circles over the brown sugar mixture. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons bourbon, rum or brandy.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1/4-inch thick. Carefully place the dough on top of the apples. Trim it to 1/2-inch beyond the edges of the skillet. (Save the extra dough for another use.)
Gently fold over the dough’s edges, toward the skillet’s center. Press down all around to make sure the apples are completely covered.
Bake in a 400-degree oven for 45-55 minutes. (Check after 40.) Remove from oven and let the pie cool for 5 minutes.
Run a knife around the inside rim of the skillet. Place a large platter over the pie. Quickly invert the pie onto the plate. Serve hot or at room temperature … preferably with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!