Fulfilling an apple dumpling destiny

Why do we prolong the things we want most? I’ve read that fear keeps us at bay from fulfilling the dreams we desire most intensely, and that being fearful of the thing is proof that it is the thing we should be doing.

I don’t know that I have been scared of apple dumplings (really, who in their right mind would be scared of apple dumplings?), but I have longed for them for an eternity and yet, until recently, had never made them. It’s not an item you can buy, for sure, so making is the only option. I knew, even before attempting to make any, that an apple dumpling would be a dessert of my dreams, delicious and simple (at least in tasteful components). I also knew that I needed the right recipe, and all the other elements (like having good apples, etc.) needed to align as well. There’s that time thing, too. Nothing about apple dumplings says immediate. So, tired of having apple dumplings on my baking wish list annually and not getting to them, I prioritized this year. And I was not sorry!

Earlier in the year, I had watched Martha Stewart’s baking show “Martha Bakes” on PBS (one of the best shows about baking, I think), and she made apple dumplings, one of a few Pennsylvania Dutch recipes featured on the show. I liked that the recipe was just about the dumplings, no baking the dumpling in a fruit broth, etc., just a juicy tart apple, left mostly whole and its core cavity filled with sugar, cinnamon and raisins, baked in a pouch of buttery pastry dough (which Martha embellished with little pastry “leaves”). The thing about Martha is, like many TV cooks, she makes it look easy, and, not only that, she compels you to do it. So, I had no choice.

I also fell into some apples (not literally) from a neighbor’s tree — sweet, juicy, softer-fleshed Golden Delicious — one of my favorites. There were a number of them (some of which I immediately turned into a pie); from the others, I saved out six that would work. I figured the fact the apple is whole inside a dumpling, a Golden Delicious might cook more thoroughly. I also amployed my corer, peeler, slicer device that completely removes the peel and core and slices the apple, but leaves it in its whole form. I thought this might help ensure the apples’ even doneness for the recipe, too.

Martha’s dough for the dumplings is a pate brisee, a very buttery French version of pie pastry, used for tarts, pies, and other goodies. Her recipe has both a high amount of butter (three sticks) and sugar (five tablespoons), but yields a high amount of dough, which is good (sometimes more is better, in case of error or mis-estimation). The dough comes together quite easily in the food processor.

The pate brisee is divided into three “squares” and given a lengthy chilling time. I did mine overnight.

The next day, I assembled my filling — raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, a little salt. I peeled and cored my apples and dressed them with a little lemon juice to add flavor and keep them from browning while I got my pastry ready.

I am the first to admit that I’m not an exact person, so recipes that require any kind of precise or even measurements, in terms of dimensions (two or three), may not be quite perfect under my hand. However, I found the dimensions in this recipe, first rolling the crust into a long rectangle and then cutting that into two uneven triangles, a bit confused. It’s likely I confused something, but when it came time to take the apples and place them on the triangle and seal the triangles around them, I was left a little befuddled. It’s a good thing I’m not a seamstress nor an architect.

I made it work anyway, filling the apples and sealing, cinching or even molding the very forgiving pate brisee pastry about each apple. Some, of course, looked way better than others, but I was optimistic all would be tasty (I’d work on the dough dimensions when I made them again in the future).

One of the cutest components of this recipe is that some of the ample batch of pate brisee is turned into little apple tree leaves (I used a little cutter and a sharp knife to create “veins”). These were placed on the apple dumplings last with a little egg wash as glue.

I had a wee bit of sanding/sparkling sugar left in my pantry, so I decided to add this twinkle to finish each dumpling.

I adjusted my cooking time for these dumplings, since Martha’s recipe has you poaching the apples first, which I did not do — my apples where uncooked when I swaddled them in their dough. I gave my dumplings a baking at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, then lowered the temp to 350 for about 20 to 25 minutes (total baking time of 40 minutes). The dumplings came out a beautiful golden brown and seemed evenly cooked, with a little juice drizzling out of some of the seams.

I was so happy when I took my first bite — these delicious little apple pie pouches lived up to every hope I might have had in my many years of longing. The pastry was tender, buttery, flaky and flavorful. The apples were cooked to perfect tenderness to absorb the brown sugar and cinnamon from the inside out. I now know apple dumplings, not from my dreams, but from a place on the plate and a sure spot in my recipe box.

Apple Dumplings
From “Martha Bakes” (https://www.pbs.org/show/martha-bakes/)
Makes 6 servings

A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dessert, these apple pastries are spiced with cinnamon and studded with raisins. Martha made this recipe on episode 708 of Martha Bakes.

For the Pate Brisee
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 teaspoons granulated sugar
3 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup ice water

For the Apples
6 firm, tart apples (such as Rome) with stems (8 ounces each)
1/4 cup light- or dark-brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons raisins
Zest of 1 lemon, cut into very thin strips
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Make the pate brisee: Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor
until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse
crumbs with some pea-size pieces remaining. Drizzle with ice water
and pulse until mixture holds together when pinched. If dough is too
crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time; do not over

Divide dough into thirds. Transfer to 3 pieces of plastic wrap; knead
once or twice. Form into squares and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at
least 1 hour and up to overnight, or freeze up to 3 months; thaw
overnight in refrigerator before using. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll each square of dough into an 8-by-14
inch rectangle. Then cut each square into two 9-inch triangles and
some leaves. Use the back of a knife to make the vein markings on
the leaves. Keep the pastry chilled and covered with plastic wrap, on
parchment-lined baking sheets, until ready to use. 

For the apples: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel apples without
removing stems. Working from bottom of each apple, use an apple
corer to remove core to within about 3/4 inch from the top. To remove
any remaining seeds, use a 1/4 teaspoon. Mix together sugar and
cinnamon. Add butter, raisins, zest; stir until thoroughly incorporated.
Divide mixture evenly between the cavities of apples. Place in a 13
by-9-inch baking dish along with 3 tablespoons water and bake,
basting occasionally with pan juices, until just fork-tender, about 1
hour. Transfer baking dish to wire rack and let cool completely.

Place an apple onto the center of each pastry triangle. Whisk together
egg yolk and cream. Brush edges of pastry with egg wash. Bring
edges of pastry together and pinch or press to seal, leaving stems
exposed. Garnish dumplings, as desired, with leaves moistened with
egg wash to adhere. Return dumplings to parchment-lined baking
sheet. Mix together egg yolk and cream. Lightly brush dumplings with
egg wash and chill until firm, reserving egg wash.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush dumplings again with egg wash,
and bake until nicely browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly
before serving. 

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