Isn’t it amazing how the smell and taste of something can bring you back to a specific time and place? Many years later and all you have to do is inhale deeply, put a bite in your mouth, close your eyes and you’re there. Better and faster than “Beam me up, Scotty” or clicking your ruby slippers together. Memories come flooding back, filling you with a bit of the long ago happiness, the touch of a hand on your cheek or the wistful yearning for that distant past. These apple dumpling had me standing at the counter, thinking and feeling a late night many years ago. The ex and I were coming home from a Grand Prix racing event in Watkins Glen, NY which was a good 5 to 6 hours from our home. We went up for the weekend, sleeping in the back of the van (we were young..) walking ourselves to death around the track in cold, drizzly rain. Of course the main event was on Sunday afternoon, making the journey home a long and dark one. After driving for 3 hours or so, we decided we needed coffee and food, so we took the next exit off the highway into a very small town that was mostly closed and dark. Just when we were going to turn back and try another exit, we saw a small diner, shining like a cheesy old movie set on the side of the road. Cars were parked outside, the windows slightly fogged with warmth, the light beckoning us in. We sat at a scarred and scratched old table, drank coffee and ate burgers. The waitress came over, asked if we wanted anything else and without waiting for an answer said, “You should have our apple dumplings, we make them everyday, and they’re really good”. We had one. Warm, with vanilla ice cream melting down into a puddle around it, pastry shattering under our spoons. Spicy and sweet, we couldn’t scoop it up fast enough, our spoons clicking and pushing each other for the next bite. Happy, with warm bellies, the rest of the trip didn’t seem as long or as cold.
I’m pretty sure I haven’t had an apple dumpling since then, but the bowl of apples on my kitchen counter kept murmuring “make me an apple dumpling”. So I did. There’s a thousand apple dumpling recipes out on the net, some with a saucy drizzle, some with raisins, almost none with nuts. I checked a few for oven temps and baking times, then just winged the rest. It’s an apple dumpling, nothing fancy, certainly nothing trendy, almost instinctive to make. They’re homey, a little slumpy and misshapen. This is what I did, I hope you try it. You never know what you might see with your first bite.
I made two of these, so just double or triple the quantity to make enough for what you need. I’m not going to give you a recipe for pie dough, use your favorite or the pre-made kind. If you use a double crust recipe, you’re going to need about 1/4 of that for each medium to large apple. Roll it out to about 1/4″ thickness. I made a regular pie plate size and cut it in half. I found that rolling it big and cutting it was easier for me than trying to roll individual sized pieces. I just pulled and folded it to make it fit.
Heat your oven to 375. Make the sauce first and let it cool while you put the rest together.
Mix together in a sauce pan 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of water, 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/8 or several grates of fresh nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon of lemon zest. Bring to boil, remove from heat and whisk in 1 tablespoon of cold butter. Set aside until cooled and ready to use.
Mix 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/8 cup of walnuts, and 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon together in a small bowl. Peel, cut in half, and core 2 apples. Take care not to break apple halves, use a melon baller or teaspoon to take the core out in a rounded shape. I put the halves in lemon water to prevent browning until I was ready to use them. Dry them well before filling each side with brown sugar mixture. Press sides together and sit apple in the middle of your dough piece. Top with a pat of butter.
Gently pull and fold the dough up around the apple, gathering at the top. Set apple in baking dish ( I used small individual ones, but putting them in the same dish is actually better. I didn’t have a dish the right size. Just keep them about 1″ apart.) Drizzle 1/2 sauce over each apple and dust with granulated sugar.
Bake approximately 45 to 50 minutes, but check at 35 minutes. They should be golden brown, with the sauce bubbling, thick and caramel colored around it. Let them cool only a few minutes and then remove them to serving dishes or sit them on wax paper in a shallow bowl. Pour the sauce over each one and let cool for another 10 minutes before eating them. The sauce will harden and you won’t be able to move them easily if you wait more than a few minutes.
It’s okay if they slump to one side or settle a bit. It means the apple is soft and lovely inside. I think it only adds to their appeal. Serve as is, or with ice cream, whipped cream, or cream fraiche.