Apple pie gets all the press, but when it comes to a simply adorable dessert, consider the apple dumpling.
A plump purse of tender dough encloses a whole apple oozing with cinnamony syrup. Adding some pastry "leaves" to make it look like an actual apple is a piece of cake (excuse the expression).
Yes, this dessert is a whole pastry-encased apple, but we took some steps to pare down some of the richness and sweetness. Many apple dumpling recipes call for frequent basting with a sugar syrup while baking. We didn't care for the resulting sogginess, or the extra calories. We dispensed with the syrup and never missed it.
Dumplings are best when made with smallish apples, no more than 3 inches in diameter. Good varieties include Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Jonathan, Braeburn or Ida Red, which hold their shape while baking, yet aren't overly firm.
We also favored a biscuity pastry crust over the usual pie crust, finding it a more tender envelope for the apples and also easy to work with. The dough needs to chill before being rolled, anywhere from 45 minutes to overnight, so plan ahead.
A few other tips: You'll need to scoop out the inner core of the apple; the best tool for this is a melon baller. Also, after you've scooped out the seeds (being careful not to break through the bottom) turn the apple over and make a shallow scoop to remove the little remnant of the blossom. No reason for your last bite to include dried foliage.
The usual filling is a mix of brown sugar, cinnamon and butter. We like to add a few gratings of nutmeg, but you can add a few tablespoons of raisins, chopped nuts, some crystallized ginger or chopped dried fruit to the mixture. We also prefer the slightly more caramel flavor of cane sugar, available in the baking sections of most groceries.
Speaking of caramel, you can finish off your dumpling with a drizzle of your favorite syrup, or simply serve warm with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche. A dumpling is a nice dessert to share, as well, if it just seems too much.
Or do what we do: Virtuously eat only half the dumpling, intending to save the rest for breakfast, then slowly pick at the remaining half until, lo and behold, it disappears!
Makes 4. The dough needs to chill for at least 45 minutes before rolling, so plan ahead. Good apple varieties include Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Jonathan, Braeburn or Ida Red.
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
1/2 cup buttermilk