After reading Pat Conroy’s new Charleston-set novel, South of Broad, Ronit Feldman and Stephanie Bowen, two assistant editors at Doubleday, had a hankering to check out his cookbook, which was just released in paperback. The volume includes recipes for all the mouthwatering recipes Conroy’s Southern characters might eat, as well as personal stories about the people, places and great meals he’s experienced. We attempted the apple cobbler recipe from Chapter 16: Oyster Roasts, in which Conroy imparts the sage advice that to an oyster roast, “you should invite only those friends who have never heard of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. It is not a milieu that induces euphoria among highbrows and intellectuals.”
We agree. Conroy’s apple cobbler was just the sort of thing that lends itself to a big, rowdy crowd—it’s messy, delicious, and serves about 12! Flavored with brandy and preserves, it’s a spicy twist on the classic pie that is even more scrumptious than it looks.
For The Apple Filling
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and each cut into 8 wedges
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1/2 cut apricot preserves
1/3 cup brandy
For The Biscuit Topping
3-3/4 cups self-rising flour (preferably White Lily)
6 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1-3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons chilled heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream (not chilled)
The recipe calls for eight pounds of Granny Smith apples, which turned out to be about 16 apples.
Since this is by far the longest part of the process, we started peeling right away. Next, we cored and cut the peeled apples into quarters and then eighths. We were left with a mountain of apple slices (from which we might’ve snuck one or two to taste).
Finished with the preparation, we turned to the recipe itself. It instructs you to divide the butter between two wide, heavy 5-6 quart pots. Unfortunately, the closest thing Stephanie had to those was a Dutch oven and a heavy saute pan. While Stephanie heated the butter over medium-high heat until it foamed, Ronit took an orange and grated the peel for the orange zest.
When the butter’s foaming had subsided, we divided the zest and sugar evenly between the pots, and added the apples, sauteing them until slight soft. Pat says this will only take about 5 minutes, but we found that it took about 7 minutes, most likely because of our improvised pots. Apparently Stephanie enjoyed doing this step, judging by her enormous grin.
When the apples were soft, Ronit scooped them out of the pot using a slotted spoon, and into a greased baking dish. (Note: the recipe calls for two baking dishes, but we only used one. This recipe makes two batches of the cobbler, so this is a great dish for a party—it’ll feed everyone!).
Then Stephanie combined the yummy leftover apple juices from each pot into one and stirred in the brandy and preserves (Stephanie only had peach preserves, but they worked nicely instead of apricot), and boiled it. Once it boiled, she poured it evenly over the apples.
We stuck it in the fridge for about 20 minutes, to cool it to room temperature, and turned to the biscuit topping.
For the biscuits, we combined the flour, salt and 6 tablespoons of the sugar in a bowl. The recipe calls for self-rising flour, but since we didn’t have that, we substituted regular flour with baking powder and salt (for one cup of flour, add 1-1/4 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt). To increase the flavor, we added a little cinnamon, ground cloves, and nutmeg. Then we blended in the butter until the mixture looked like fine crumbs. (For those of you who are vegan or who have a milk allergy, we used Smart Balance margarine instead of butter, and it worked fine.)
Tip: The recipe recommends using a food processor, but if you don’t have one, a mixing bowl and a pastry blender or an electric mixer with beaters work fine.
We moved the mix to a larger bowl to avoid an avalanche of flour and butter onto the floor, and added the cream, folding it in with a spatula until a sticky dough formed.
Then we transferred the dough to a floured surface and kneaded it gently (about six times).
Make sure you coat your hands with a lot of flour—the dough is very sticky!
We spread out the dough using the heels of our hands until it was about ¾ of an inch thick, and cut the dough into rounds for the biscuits, using the rim of the peach preserves jar as a makeshift cookie cutter (yay recycling).
Then we removed the baking dish from the fridge and placed the rounds on the apples in the dish.
A sprinkle of sugar crystals on each for extra sweetness!
We stuck them in the oven for 40 minutes, testing the dough in between to make sure it was cooking through.
After 40 minutes, you have 12 perfect portions (or in our case 20) of golden brown apple cobbler!
Recipe excerpted from The Pat Conroy Cookbook by Pat Conroy. Copyright 2004 by Pat Conroy. Excerpted with permission by Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.