Apple pie gets all the press, but for 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.
Yes, this dessert is a whole pastry-encased apple, but a few simple steps pare down some of the richness and sweetness.
Many apple dumpling recipes call for frequent basting with a sugar syrup while baking. That may be traditional, but it also results in sogginess and extra calories. You can dispense with the syrup and never miss it.
We 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.
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 but aren't overly firm.
A few other tips: You'll need to scoop out the inner core of the apple and the best tool for this is a melon baller. If you don't own one, consider this your best excuse to spend a couple of dollars on this handy tool.
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 creme fraiche.
A dumpling is a nice dessert to share, 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!
•1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
•2 teaspoons granulated sugar
•1 teaspoon baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
•2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
•1/2 cup buttermilk
•1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
•1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
•Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
•1 tablespoon warm unsalted butter
•4 small apples
•1 egg white, slightly beaten
•Decorative or sparkling sugar
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and shortening and work into small crumbs.
Add the buttermilk and stir until it comes together in a soft dough. Knead and squeeze the dough a few times until it holds together. Shape it into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes. Overnight is OK, too.
Mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Work in the butter until crumbly. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and remove dough from refrigerator.
Peel the apples. Remove the core and seeds using a melon baller (or a paring knife and spoon). Be careful not to cut through. Remove the blossom end from each apple, fill and set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry dough to a 13-inch square, checking often under the dough to make sure it's not sticking and adding flour as needed. Use ruler and a knife or pizza cutter to cut out four 6-inch squares. Reserve the dough remnants.
Place an apple in the center of each pastry square. Lightly brush the edges with the beaten egg white. Bring each corner up to the top of the apple, press together to secure, then pinch the seams to enclose the apple.
Set dumplings on a rimmed sheet pan. Cut leaf shapes from the dough remnants, using a paring knife to make vein lines. Attach two leaves to each dumpling, then brush with egg white and sprinkle with sparkling sugar.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Check after 20 minutes by inserting a small knife into the dumpling. There should be some "give" in the apple. Bake until golden and the apples are tender.
Serve warm with ice cream, whipped cream or creme fraiche. Drizzle with caramel sauce if desired.