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Some recipes are easy. You read them, you make them, they're good. Some recipes are...well, a bit difficult. Such was the case with my search for an apple dumpling recipe.
Apple dumplings, on the face of it, sound fairly easy. You take an apple, peel and core it, maybe stuff it with a few raisins and some sugar, surround it with pastry crust, and bake. Easy, right?
Wrong. My first attempt ended with a mess of collapsed apple and crust in the bottom of the pan; it looked like some surreal desert road project, all sandy-colored upheavals and potholes. My second attempt was worse than the first -- more collapsed apple and exploded crust. My third attempt -- well, let's just say that the apples didn't collapse quite so much, but the crust was soggier than wet cardboard. My fourth attempt was fair, but after expending all this effort I was looking for something better than fair; I wanted wonderful.
I called my mother in Florida (Hi, Mom!) and mentioned my apple dumpling problems to her. Well, it just so happened she'd eaten the most delicious apple dumpling of her life that same week. She described it in glowing terms: huge, crusty and sugary, with a tender, flaky crust. Could she get the recipe for me? In a hurry?
The next day she called me at work -- I was sulking from yet another dumpling failure -- and dictated the following recipe to me. I had one apple left; I wouldn't ordinarily heat up the oven for one apple dumpling, but as you can surmise, by now I was desperate. I cut the recipe to the appropriate size for just one apple, made it (easy to make), baked it (easy to bake; no basting), took it from the oven, and glory be! It looked lovely. The apple was in one piece, as was the crust; and the taste, the tender, flaky crust... wonderful! So thank you, Mom, and thank you, Nancy Long of Gainesville, Fla., for the following apple dumpling recipe. You've restored my sanity.
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 drops red food coloring (I omitted this)
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup milk
6 apples, peeled and cored
cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, butter
For Syrup: Combine granulated sugar, water, spices, food coloring, if desired, and butter. Heat to boiling; remove from heat and set aside, stirring occasionally to melt butter.
For Dumplings: In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening, then stir in the milk till mixture forms a soft dough. Divide dough into six pieces. Roll each piece into a 1/8-inch-thick square. Set apple in center of square. Sprinkle apple with some cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg; place a small pat of butter atop apple, if desired.
Moisten edges of pastry square, and fold up over apple, sealing at the top. Repeat with remaining five apples. Set prepared dumplings in an 11 x 7-inch, or similar-sized, pan. Pour syrup over dumplings. Sprinkle with additional granulated sugar.
Bake dumplings in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 minutes. Don't let them bake too long -- they'll collapse. Remove pan from oven and, using a spatula and knife or spoon, quickly lift each dumpling from pan onto serving dish (if you don't work quickly, the syrup will harden and cement the dumplings to the baking pan). Serve as is, or gild with whipped cream or ice cream. Makes 6 good-sized dumplings.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. II, No. 9, September 1991 issue.