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It’s happened. It’s here.
This weekend, we’ll all spend a few last, glorious days frolicking on beaches, drinking beers and eating barbeque in backyards, and sunning like there’s no tomorrow. The good news is, after Labor Day, there is a tomorrow—and it, and the foreseeable tomorrows after it, are beginning to be the wonderful autumnal kind. Go ahead and mourn the loss of summer. I hear you, I really do. I’ll miss drippy peaches and plums and spitting watermelon seeds and having plenty of excuses to eat ice pops. But if I’m being honest, I’m already one foot into fall. I’ve got my oven turned on (and suddenly, that doesn’t require the constant blasting of A.C.) and a whole bunch of cinnamon just waiting on standby.
One of the first things on my September baking to-do list is always apple dumplings. You’ve probably heard of apple dumplings—whole apples, lightly sweetened and seasoned, then wrapped in dough and baked. Chances are even better that you’ve made or eaten them, too (and if you haven’t, I strongly suggest you read on to find out what you’ve been missing).
I’ve always felt that apple dumplings are a seriously under-appreciated dessert. They’re so simple, adaptable, and deliciously comforting. They’re easy enough to pull off for an after-school snack or a weeknight dessert. But throw them in the oven at a dinner party, and your whole house will smell like a million bucks and guests will be ready for dessert before they finish their salads. I’ve got a few tips and tricks for my favorite apple dumplings—but like so many great desserts, this recipe is eagerly awaiting your own personal touches. Read on for the easiest, tastiest, fall-iest dessert, sure to get you over your end-of-summer blues.
Here's What You Need to Know:
- Ingredients and components.
- Extra dough steps.
- Shaping the dumplings.
- Finishing! (And eating.)
One of the best things about apple dumplings is the short ingredient list. In fact, depending on how you opt to make them, it’s really not as much about ingredients so much as components. First, you’ll need a dough. The dough could be a variety of things—biscuit dough is a common choice, and puff pastry always works. You can even use phyllo dough for a crazier (and crispier) option. My choice, not surprisingly, is pie dough. I have a trick for making it a bit special for this preparation (but more on that later).
After you work out your dough choice, it’s time to think about the interior. The main component of the filling is an apple. I love Honeycrisp apples, but any kind of good baking apple (Johnagold, McIntosh, Baldwin, Fuji, Rome, Winesap) works. The point is to use an apple that will hold its form in the oven, so you still have the shape and texture of a whole apple after baking.
The apples should be peeled and fully cored for dumplings. They should also be lightly sweetened, and of course, spiced (we gotta get that fall thing going on here). I opt for a little bit of regular granulated sugar, with a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. But you do you here; brown sugar with ginger and cloves, maybe with a touch of honey or a bit of cardamom, would be great. There are no wrong choices, just so long as the moisture content inside the dough doesn’t get too high; this can make the inside of the filling more liquidy, which could prevent the ratio of crisp exterior to soft interior from happening the way you want it to. Note: I also usually add a small pat of butter to each apple, just before wrapping, for a little richness. This is optional, much like adding a few pieces of butter to the top of pie filling.
Many apple dumpling recipes add liquid to the pan as well (water with a little brown sugar, apple cider or other fruit juice, or, in some Midwestern or Southern traditions, a hefty splash of ginger ale or Mountain Dew). I prefer to keep liquid out of it, and keep the exterior of the dumpling crisp and crunchy. I do usually add sauce later, so it’s not too dry. More on that below.
I like to make sure my pie dough is extra flaky for a preparation like this, so I add a few extra steps when I make it so it turns out particularly special. If you’re using another dough (or just don’t feel like adding any extra time), you can totally skip this part. But it makes a really nice texture, and since the rest of the dessert is so simple, I think it’s worth it!
To start, I mix the pieces of butter slightly larger than I usually do in my All-Buttah Pie Dough recipe. I usually say to mix the butter until it resembles the size of walnut halves. That still stands, just err on the side of a touch bigger (and not much smaller) than that. The reason I leave the butter chunks so large is because I opt to fold the dough. The folding process will continue to shingle the butter and make it smaller and smaller while you work, so it’s best to leave the chunks as big as is possible to avoid over-working them during the folding. Once I’ve mixed the dough, I form it into a rough rectangular shape and chill it thoroughly (at least 30 minutes—it should be firm).
Then, I roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface. Try to keep the dough somewhat rectangular in shape while you roll, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Roll it out to 1/2 inch thick. Fold the left edge of the dough 1/3 of the way over the dough. Fold the right edge 1/3 of the way over the dough as well, resting on the piece you just folded over. Think of it like folding a piece of paper to fit into a standard-size envelope.
Repeat this process two more times, for a total of three folds. If the dough is nice and cold when you start, you should be able to perform all three folds back to back—but if it starts to feel soft or sticky at any point, throw it in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes before continuing. When you’re finished, wrap the dough and chill it for at least 30 minutes before beginning to shape the dumplings. This process is actually one of the steps used to make puff pastry (just simplified and cut down a lot). The point is, it adds layers by folding the dough and dispersing the butter via those folds! You can also apply this trick to dough for pies for a little bit of extra flakiness.
Shaping the dumplings is very simple. Start by rolling out your chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. It’s important not to go too thin with your dough, as you want the apple fully covered so it will steam-cook itself inside once the whole thing is in the oven (you also want a good crust to apple ratio). Once the dough is rolled out, use the apples as guides to cut the dough into circles. The dough needs to be cut into circles large enough to fully wrap up the apple, with the excess forming pleats on the upper part and top of the apple. While the exact size will vary, 4 to 5 inches in diameter is a good starting point.
Cut out enough dough circles for each of your apples, and have your sugar mixture and butter pats (if using) ready to go. Place one dough circle on your work surface and an apple in the center of it. Sprinkle the sugar mixture around the outside of the apple and down through the center where the core was. Place the pat of butter, if using, on the top (or down in the core) of the apple. Then it’s time to wrap it up.
Start with one area of the dough, and gently stretch it outward and up around the apple, holding it with your finger at the top, where it touches the apple. Pick up another piece of dough and repeat. The dough will naturally "pleat" while you work, kind of like when you fold the edges around a galette. Allow each piece to fold over the others at the top, and then pinch gently to seal. Repeat on all the apples, then transfer to your prepared casserole dish.
If the dough feels soft or sticky at this point, you can refrigerate it for a bit before baking. You can also refrigerate it at this stage if you’re making it ahead, but not for more than a few hours (2 hours, tops)—the sugar will pull moisture out of the apple if left for too long and can make the dumplings soggy! If anything, it’s good to pop them in the freezer (again, no longer than 2 hours—but you can bake directly from frozen). I like to finish my dumplings with a brush of egg wash and a generous sprinkling of turbinado sugar.
Because of the dough around the apple, you want to use a higher oven temperature to make sure it gets evenly crisp and golden (and, if applicable, flaky). I like 400° Fahrenheit: It’s hot enough to be nice for my dough, while still making sure the inside bakes evenly.
Bake the dumplings in a greased casserole dish. You can grease lightly if you’re adding liquid to the pan, but if you are liquid-free, like me, really butter that thing up. Transfer the dumplings to the pan. I like to leave a little space around them, but it’s not strictly necessary. (If they touch, they may not be perfectly perfect when you portion them out, but that’s okay, too—and should disaster strike, cover it up with sauce and no one will be the wiser.)
Bake the dumplings until the dough is golden and crisp, and the apple is soft on the inside. I like my apple to still have some texture, but it should easily cut with a fork-and-knife combo, so let that be your guide. You can test doneness of the apple by sliding a sharp paring knife into the top to see how easily it pierces (like testing potatoes). Exact baking time will depend on the size of your apples, but 35 to 45 minutes is a good guideline. Remember, you want to serve the dumplings warm, so use the bake time to help prepare any finishing components you’re planning on using.
Like so many desserts, finishing them can be the most fun part—and another great way to tweak this recipe to your tastes. My favorite way to finish these dumplings is with whipped cream (obviously) and a hefty drizzle of cider caramel (see recipe, below). Caramel sauces of any sort make a great choice—but so does chocolate sauce, fruit sauce, or anything else you can think of. I’ve been dreaming of trying a version doused in honey balsamic sauce. Or try dousing your dumplings with warm crème anglaise or, if you prefer a hot-and-cold combo, opt for making it à la mode. The only thing to remember is to keep the dumplings warm when you serve them. They’re at their most perfect 10 minutes out of the oven.
- 2x recipe All Buttah Pie Crust (https://food52.com/recipes/24928-all-buttah-pie-dough), made as one batch, formed into a 1 inch thick rectangle, wrapped in plastic and chilled
- 6 Honeycrisp apples, peeled and cored (or other good baking apples)
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons unsalted buttter, cut into six 1/2-tablespoon pats
- Egg wash, as needed for finishing
- Turbinado sugar, as needed for finishing
Apple Cider Caramel / Finishing (optional)
- 1 quart apple cider
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Hefty pinch salt
- Vanilla extract
- Whipped cream, as needed for serving
Tell us about your most favorite fall tradition (and/or apple dessert!) in the comments.