~ Old-Fashioned, Pennsylvania, Apple Dumplings ~
October is National Apple Month and nothing takes the chill out of the Autumn air like a warm, old-fashioned, apple dumpling. Hailing from a section of Northeastern Pennsylvania in close proximity to the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, I could not conceive of a better recipe to kick-off my October posts with other than this one. When I was growing up, once October rolled around, apple dumplings popped up on almost every restaurant and diner menu, not to mention dinner tables everywhere. At my Hometown Elementary School's annual Fall Festival, I remember apple dumplings being sold as a fundraiser alongside apple pies and apple cakes. While my grandmother made awesome from-scratch apple dumplings, my mom would buy them on Saturday mornings from Tamaqua, PA's, Wenzel's bakery!
We ate them warm for dessert, adorned with vanilla ice cream, some store-bought caramel topping and chopped pecans. We also ate them reheated the next morning for breakfast with warmed half and half drizzled into the warm, opened up, pastry cavity. I would sit and wait for the pastry to soak up the cream and get all pasty before eating mine. Personally, I like apple dumplings better than apple pie... probably because it is like getting an apple pie all to myself!
1 cup apple juice
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon each: ground cloves and nutmeg
1/2 stick butter, kept cold and in one piece
~ Step 1. Place all ingredients except for the butter in a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat off, add the butter, in one piece, and stir constantly until the butter has melted into the liquid. Set aside, at room temperature until the apples are baking or baked. Note: Some cooks baste the apples with the syrup/glaze at 10 minute intervals during baking process while others like to drizzle it on after the apples are baked and allow it to make its way down into the bottom of each bowl. I am of the latter persuasion, as opening and closing the oven door while the apples are baking plays games with the oven temperature.
A lot of people reminisce about their grandmothers making apple dumplings from leftover pie dough, but, I don't remember that being the case in my Baba's kitchen. She never made apple dumplings on apple pie baking day. They had their own day and the dough was made just for them. In fact, I've made a lot of apple pies on my own days, and I can't imaging having enough dough left over to make apple dumplings. Another way to state this is: One would have to bake a lot of pies on one day to make 4-6 apple dumplings. Here's why: To make one apple dumpling you need a round of dough large enough to encase and seal the entire apple. As it turns out, this is a piece of dough only slightly smaller than that of a pie crust, about 8 1/2"-9"!
Do I think apple dumplings are easier to make than apple pie? Absolutely... if you're only making 4-6 of them. When I was raising boys, this was a dessert they loved and it was a dessert I loved to make for our family of five. When my boys turned into young men, I was occasionally asked to make enough to feed a few their friends too. So, when I was making 8-10 of them, it became a labor of love. When I was asked to make forty, for a Fall fraternity celebration, I said to myself, "What's love got to do with it... What's love but a second hand emotion"...
... I wanted a big shortcut with little compromise to this delicious treat. I started thinking out of the box. Not making pie pastry from scratch was not an easy decision, because my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ works perfectly for apple dumplings (and the recipe is in Categories 6, 15 or 22). This choice is still yours. To make 4 dumplings, using boxed pastry, here's what you'll need:
2 1/2 boxes Pillsbury Pie Crusts, 5 crusts, at room temperature
5-6 tablespoons cinnamon-flavored baking chips
5-6 teaspoons chopped and lightly-toasted pecans
2 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
~ Step 1. Peel the apples. Using an apple corer, cut through to the bottoms of the apples and remove the cores. Before discarding the cores, cut a small 1/2" "plug" from a meaty section of the bottom of each core.
Set the apples aside. Immediately:
~ Step 3. Holding each apple over each crust, generously coat it with cinnamon-sugar and seat it on the bed of chips.
~ Step 4. Fill the center of each apple to within 1/2" of top, alternating chips, pecans and chips.
~ Step 5. Add and plug the top of each apple with 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter.
~ Step 6. Lift and place the front of the crust (the side closest to you) up and over the apple. Do the same with back (the side farthest away from you). Do your best to form a packet that looks just like this. Gently press the top to seal.
~ Step 8. Spray an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish, or, four, shallow, 4" ramekins, with no-stick cooking spray.
~ Step 9. Gently lift and transfer the apple dumplings to prepared baking dish or ramekins. Note: Technically, the dumplings are ready to be brushed with egg wash and baked, but I like to fancy them up just a bit:
~ Step 10. Unroll the fifth pastry crust. Using a sharp paring knife, cut/form sixteen leaf shapes, each approximately 2" long. Lift the excess pastry away from the leaf shapes and set aside. Using the back, or blunt side of the paring knife, lightly press down on each leaf shape and make a few marks that resemble the veins of a leaf.
~ Step 13. Using a pastry brush, working one apple at a time, brush the entire surface of the dumpling with egg wash. Don't worry if some drips down into the baking dish/ramekin. Place four leaves on top and brush the leaves with egg wash. Take a small piece of leftover dough and form a stem shape. Place it on top and brush it with egg wash. Repeat this process three more times until all dumplings are decorated.
~ Step 15. Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 35 minutes, or until golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick slides easily in, through and back out of the apple. That being said, do not over bake: there is nothing worse than a mushy apple dumpling. The dumplings will be bubbling/oozing in spots. They may have cracked a bit in a few spots and that is exactly what you are looking for.
~ Step 16. Remove from oven, transfer to a cooling rack and cool 20-30 minutes, or longer, prior to serving warm or at room temperature drizzled with some optional syrup/glaze. Serve/pass leftover sauce at tableside. Completely cooled, unglazed dumplings can be covered with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature overnight. Transfer syrup/glaze to a food storage container, cover and store it at room temperature overnight as well. Both reheat well in the microwave!
Old-Fashioned, Pennsylvania, Apple Dumplings: Recipe yields 4 apple dumplings and 2 cups of the optional syrup/glaze, or, 4-8 servings. These are quite large and each one makes a romantic dessert for two, so consider making them for your next Fall dinner party!
Special Equipment List: 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan (optional); vegetable peeler; apple corer; paring knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish, or, 4, shallow 4" ramekins; pastry brush; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack; plastic wrap (optional)
Cook's Note: All apples are not created equal. Choose from Granny Smith's or tart, red-skinned apples that are suitable for baking. I do not recommend red delicious. Once you've decided upon what kind to use, choose apples that are even-sized and well-formed, meaning: you want apples that sit straight from bottom to top, not ones with cores positioned at an angle. It is also important to choose 6-7-ounce, medium-sized apples. The additional time it will take larger apples to bake through can and will cause your crust to burn. It is also noteworthy to say that larger apples will require a larger piece of dough!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)