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Apple dumplings are a classic type of sweet, filled pastry. The traditional recipe involves wrapping a cored and peeled apple in pastry dough, coating it in syrup or brushing it with egg wash, and baking it until the pastry is browned and crisp and the apple has softened and become very sweet. Cinnamon, brown sugar, butter and nutmeg usually are placed inside the apple dumplings, or sprinkled on the outside. As the apple dumplings bake, the hot juices from the apples mix with the spices and sugar to form a thick glaze or sauce that slowly reduces in the oven. The finished apple dumplings can be served as a breakfast food or as a warm dessert that can be topped with ice cream or whipped cream.
Nearly any variety of apple can be used to make apple dumplings. A good number of recipes call for Granny Smith apples, because they withstand baking well and have a tart flavor that turns sweet after baking. Rustic recipes use whole apples that have been peeled and cored, with the hollow space in the core being used to hold the butter and spices that help to form the thick sauce. Other recipes use slices or quarters of apples, creating more compact dumplings.
The dough that frequently is used is common pie crust dough made from flour, baking powder, salt and some type of fat, such as butter, lard or suet. Puff pastry dough also can be used, especially if the dumplings will be on the smaller side. In most recipes, the dough is cut into squares so the apples can be placed in the center and the sides taken up to make a sealed package.
The basic assembly of apple dumplings involves placing a square of dough on a flat surface and placing a cored apple in the center. If slices of apple are being used, then they should be layered in a mound in the center of the dough. A piece of butter, some cinnamon and a little nutmeg are sprinkled over the apple or placed on the sheet of dough. Each of the edges of the dough are then lifted over the apple and sealed with water to form a tight package around the apple.
Once the dough package is sealed, the outside of the dumplings can be brushed with an egg wash to assist in browning or syrup made from water and sugar can be poured over top to create a sweet coating that will partially pool in the bottom of the pan to help sweeten any juices that leak out of the dumplings. The apple dumplings are then baked in an oven until the apples are tender and the dough has turned golden brown. When served, the apple dumplings can be presented alone on a plate or accompanied by whipped cream or ice cream.
The recipe my mother uses for apple dumplings was passed down from her great-great grandmother and predates the American Civil War. She cooks the apples down, into a chunky applesauce, then fills piecrust rounds with the mixture and draws the edges together like a little purse. She dots them with butter and then bakes them.
It's the sauce that really sets her dumplings apart. It's a cooked milk-based sweet sauce that you spoon over the hot dumplings. The sauce itself is good on nearly everything -- even ice cream. It's wonderful stuff. Apple dumplings are a special occasion dish around here, but they are wonderful.
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