Wrap it up -- I'll take it
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
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
4 apples, no larger than 3 inches in diameter
1 egg white, slightly beaten
Decorative, or sparkling, sugar
WHISK together in a medium bowl the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and shortening and, with a pastry blender or your fingertips, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles small crumbs.
ADD the buttermilk and stir until it comes together in a soft dough. With your hand, knead and squeeze the dough a few times in the bowl until it holds together. Shape it into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill for at least 45 minutes. Overnight is OK too.
MIX together in a small bowl the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. With your fingertips, work in the butter until crumbly. Set aside.
HEAT the oven to 425°. Remove dough from refrigerator to take off the chill.
PEEL the apples, then using a melon baller (or working carefully with a paring knife and small spoon), remove the core and seeds from each apple, being careful not to go all the way through. Remove the blossom end from the bottom of each apple. Place one-quarter of the filling in each apple. Set aside.
ROLL out the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13-inch square, checking often under the dough to make sure it's not sticking and adding a bit more flour as needed.
CUT the dough, using a ruler and a knife or pizza cutter, into four 6-inch squares. Reserve the dough remnants.
PLACE an apple in the center of a pastry square. Lightly brush the edges with the beaten egg white. Bring each corner up to the top of the apple, trying not to stretch it too much. Press corners together to secure, then pinch the seams to enclose the apple. Repeat with remaining apples.
SET dumplings on a rimmed sheet pan. With a paring knife, cut leaf shapes from the dough remnants, using the blade to make vein lines. Attach two leaves to each dumpling, then brush with remaining egg white and sprinkle generously with sparkling sugar.
BAKE for 20 to 30 minutes, checking the apples' doneness after 20 minutes by inserting a small knife into the dumpling. The apples don't need to be soft, but there should be some "give." Bake until golden and the apples are tender.
SERVE warm with ice cream, whipped cream or crème fraîche. Add a drizzle of caramel syrup, if desired.