Pioneer Skillet Cake – Apple Pandowdy

Pioneer Skillet Cake Recipe bakethiscakeHow about something different from the traditional apple pie but just as scrumptious WITH a flair for the dramatic? What could be more thrilling than baking an historic Americana dessert in a big ole’ heavy skillet and then banging it out on the holiday tablescape to the amazement and delight of your friends and family?  Yeah, I thought so.

overview of pioneer skillet cake by bakethiscake photo by

Maybe you’ll WILL want to try an upside-down apple pie this holiday season. It’s made with sweet biscuit cake dough, apples, apricots, molasses, honey and cinnamon AND just dribbling with juices. Did I mention it’s served warm to your guests with a hefty dollop of sweet whipped cream?  And it’s EASY! Bring it on!

Kinda like pie but kinda like cake…

Photo by

The Real Deal: Get out your grandma’s heavy black skillet and scrub ‘er down — cause we’re about to fire it up in a hot oven with this simple and historic apple dessert that will make your mouth water and charm your family and friends with its vintage appeal.

History Alert: Aside from ancient skillet cooking, Chaucer-era pies and all that, we’re talking mostly here about the homestead days in America before the oven and the cake pan came along for the ride. This skillet cake would be cooked over an open fire. Later, of course, it might even be lidded-up in a Dutch Oven with hot coals on top. Think: Campfire Peach Cobbler, Summertime, Yosemite. 🙂 Then someone of brilliance figured out that flipping the whole dang thing upside down makes it pretty and layers the juices down all around the cake. In fact, it gets the Cool Vintage Cake Award.

Naming Traditions: The flipped fruit skillet cake goes by various names and a bazillion variations but can be called Pandowdy (or Pan Dowdy or even Pandoughdy). Okay, even Puddin’ Pie (meaning bread pudding pie for this purpose).  And it can be chocked full of any number of fruits from plums to peaches to quince to pears, you name it. You can also serve it un-flipped and mess with it different ways. In fact, we made 3 different versions of this vintage wonder before we landed on our favorite. (Check out the photos for an alternate unflipped version below.) We think we’ve got it down, starting with some simple pioneer recipes that have been tweaked a tad for this season’s simple-to-elegant vintage food party.

It’s not hard: We’re going to prep some fruit, pre-bake the fruit a bit, make some dough that will chill for an hour (if you have time), roll it into one big circle to top the skillet and bake it all up. Easy peazy. 🙂

Tools Needed:
10″ heavy cast iron skillet (or other heavy baking dish)
Large bowl(s) (for fruit mixing and dough mixing)
2 Medium bowls (for whipping eggs and butter and mixing dry ingredients)
Wooden spoon
Electric mixer
Rolling pin
Knife (for cutting away dough edges)
Fork (for piercing the dough)
Wax paper (optional, for transferring the rolled dough to pan)
Aluminum foil (or other wrap for refrigerating the dough)
Measuring cups and spoons

Let’s head to Granny Vi’s house and get the counter locked-and-loaded with our ingredients…

Fruit Filling Ingredients:
4 cups, about 5 to 6 large tart green apples, sliced
4 to 6 apricots, sliced (really, for decoration and a hint of apricot taste)
1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 Tablespoon honey
1/3 cup hot water

Dough ingredients:
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (for greasing the pan, see more butter used below)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (finely chopped, teeny tiny)
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for sprinkling)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
6 Tablespoons butter, room temperature*
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
*Butter tip: Butter should be room temperature but still hold its shape. Even slightly chilled is good. We are not looking for a melted bowl of butter.

Pioneer Skillet Cake overhead by BakeThisCake Photo by LifeforcePhotos

Apple and Apricot Pioneer Skillet Cake Directions:

Heat oven to 400, setting oven rack to center position.
Rub large round 10″ black iron skillet pan with:
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

The first step is a set-aside task for use in the dough recipe below:
Zest 1 fresh medium lemon to produce:
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (loosely packed, finely chopped)

Slice in half and juice the lemon to produce:
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Peel, core and slice (while listening to cool music):
4 cups tart green apples, sliced (5 to 6 large tart green apples)
4 to 6 apricots, sliced

Place apple slices (without the apricots) in a large bowl and gently stir in:
Prepared fresh lemon juice

Arrange apple slices in the buttered pan, dotting with apricot slices.

In a small bowl, mix together:
1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle sugar mixture over sliced fruit and set aside.

In small bowl, stir to mix:
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 Tablespoon honey
1/3 cup hot water

Drizzle the hot molasses syrup over the sugared fruit.

Bake uncovered (with just fruit in skillet) at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (or you can just simmer the fruit stovetop for the same amount of time).

Remove from oven and set aside while dough is being prepared.
Tip: Pan should be cooled down slightly before covering fruit with rolled dough.

Prepare the dough:
In medium bowl, beat on high until pale (about 2 minutes):
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature or slightly chilled

Beat into butter on high for 1 minute:
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix in the prepared 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk until fully incorporated:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 Tablespoon light brown sugar, tightly packed
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Use a fork to fold into the egg mixture and quickly stir to fully incorporate:
1/2 cup milk
the prepared flour mixture

Now flour up your fingers and knead the dough gently and quickly until all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Form the dough into a fat roll shape.

Tip: To keep dough light and fragile, very little kneading is needed. 🙂

Wrap the dough in aluminum foil (my favorite, but other wraps will do).

Refrigerate the wrapped dough for an hour so that it is not so  sticky and dough gets a little “bonding time”. 🙂

Prepare a sheet of wax paper larger than the pan opening and sift flour over it.
Alternate method: Flour the counter-top.

Turn the dough ball out onto floured wax paper, sprinkle dough and rolling-pin with flour and roll out to size and shape of baking pan.

Apple Pandowdy Rolling Out the dough on floured board bakethiscake

Tip: Most 10″ skillets are 11″ or wider at the top so make your dough circle as big as the opening of the widest part of the pan. Use all the dough for your circle. Dough will be about 1/4″ thick.

Flip wax paper with the dough circle over the fruit-filled pan.

Alternative method: Roll up the dough and then unroll it over the skillet filled with fruit.

Place the dough fully on top of the fruit.

Cut away any extra dough pieces from the edges of the pan, making sure the dough edges sit directly on top of the fruit (not like a pie crust that rims the outer top edge of the pan).

Tip: Since we are seeking a vintage feel for the cake, perfection is not required for this step and patching of broken dough is fine – cause we’re going to flip it anyway. 🙂

Prick the dough with a fork every few inches.

Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes until lightly golden.

Skillet cake in the oven bakethiscake

This is what the cake would look like if served in the skillet unturned. You could serve it this way and crack into the crust for serving.

Photo by

For the flipped version…

After the pan has cooled to the touch for at least 10 to 15 minutes, place the serving dish over the pan and carefully invert pan onto serving plate.
Tip: Serving plate should be at least 2 inches larger than pan diameter and slightly bowl-shaped to hold the juices. Although the skillet should be warm to release juices easily, it should not be so hot that you have to wear oven gloves when you flip the pan.

An amazing thing happens right before your eyes. The apples are easily released because of the fruit and juices at the bottom of the pan and they are beautifully molded to the shape of the pan — and they hold their positions until serving time. 🙂  If your able to coordinate the time of this, you might even consider taking this step at the table with your guests as your audience.

Serve each slice warm, if possible, on small plate or in shallow bowls with a little of the sweet sauce drizzled over each serving and topped with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

Sweetened Whipped Cream: (makes about 2 cups so double this if you want more) 🙂

In medium deep bowl, beat on high until fluffy but not stiff:
1 c heavy whipping cream

Add and beat on high until gently stiff peaks form:
2 T sugar
1 t vanilla extract, fine quality

Dollop a little whipped cream on each serving or pass the cut-glass bowl and let your guests add cream as desired.  And if you’re like most folks in my family, you’ll be serving a fresh pot of coffee right along side it. 🙂

We made the same recipe in an old-fashioned baking tin and served it right-side-up (unflipped) and rolled the dough a little thinner. Check it out and see what you think. 🙂

We hauled an old baking tin out of mom’s storage cupboard to play with…

We arranged the apples in the bottom of the baking tin, just like before, and dotted it with apricot slices, sprinkled it with the sugar mixture, drizzled the hot molasses syrup and pre-baked the fruit…

We kicked it up a notch and served the variation cake on mom’s silver platter. Ooo la la! 🙂

So, there you have it. Upside down or right side up, you’ll be bringing home a great dessert from your great-grandparents’ day for the pleasure of your guests.  I so hope you consider giving it a whirl.

Vintage pioneer skillet cake with whipped cream lifeforcephotos for bakethiscake

A very happy holiday season to you all and thank you ever so much for all your encouragement and kind words. I love hearing from you in the comments section or on our Facebook page. You guys are awesome!



Granny Vi taste testing the Apple Pandowdy

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