Lovin’ Fresh is a series of recipes
designed to showcase produce gathered
from local farms or grown in my own garden.
I love cooking with my mom. She’s got all this amazing know-how that you just don’t find in cookbooks. And she has a couple of recipes that I don’t dare mess with on my own. I’m talking about those childhood favorites that never taste the same when you attempt to recreate them yourself as an adult. For starters, I rarely make mac & cheese on my own.
It’s a shame really because I love mac & cheese, but only get to eat it once in a long while when I’m visiting my parents. See, my mom makes the best mac & cheese…with raw cows milk from my family farm, lots of velvety cheese and then this amazing bread crumb topping that gets all crusty and golden. And she bakes it in the same casserole dish every time, which seems to be the perfect size for what is a precise ratio of chewy golden pasta bites around the edges and melt-y cheesy bites in the middle. Pardon me while I wipe this bit of drool off my keyboard.
But that savory dish isn’t on the menu today, as the pictures might suggest. Instead, I wanted to share another of my mom’s stand-out recipes of the sweet nature; one to use up the last of the local apples that held over the winter. Homemade old-fashioned apple dumplings were a thing of sheer indulgence during my childhood. We didn’t have them all that often, but when we did, it meant life was good. The apple dumplings of my childhood were large – gianormous really – made with a whole apple brimming with cinnamon sugary delight and snuggled down in a flaky sugary crust.
It wasn’t until recently though that I roped my mom into teaching me all about apple dumplings using the recipe she got years ago from a Pennsylvania Grange Cookbook. I’m glad I went to the source for the original recipe. Left to my own devices, I would have likely used a basic pie dough recipe for the pastry. Turns out the dough for the dumplings has the addition of milk, making it more elastic and granting greater forgiveness when pulling it up around the apples. Overall though the apple dumplings turned out to be pretty simple and, thanks to the little motherly tutorial, I’m now confident in recreating this childhood favorite on my own now.
Now for a quick word about the apples themselves: I snagged mine from the lovely folks at Three Springs Fruit Farm that have the best apples! For these dumplings, I selected a large sweet baking apple, Cameo, from their many crates. My mom also made a second batch with Granny Smiths at the same time we made these. Both varieties turned out delicious dumplings. Use whatever variety you have though. The only rule of thumb here is to use solid apples that will hold their shape once baked. Avoid soft eating apples like Red Delicious as they’ll sag and likely cause the pastry crust to crack and cave in.
Childhood memories were never so sweet as this batch of apple dumplings was for me. What’s your favorite childhood dish that equals the ultimate comfort food for you today?
OLD-FASHIONED APPLE DUMPLINGS
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
2/3 c. butter (still cold)
1/2 c. milk
4 large apples
6 T. white sugar
3 T. ground cinnamon
2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 c. dried cranberries (optional)
1 1/2 c. white sugar
1 1/2 c. water
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 F. Peel apples and, using a kitchen gadget or sharp knife, remove all of the cores. Slice off just a small amount at the top and bottom of each apple to flatten them out so they’ll wrap in the dough easier. Rinse off the apples in cold water and dab dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter, using your hands to squish everything together, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour in milk all at once and stir to form a dough. Add a little more flour if needed to make the dough less sticky. Do not overwork the dough as you want it to remain light and tender. Split the dough ball in half and on a floured surface, roll out one half to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into two 6″ squares.
Place a whole apple in the center of a dough square. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg listed under “Apples” above. Generously dust each apple with this mixture and fill the core with cranberries and a little more sugar mixture. Moisten the edges of the pastry square with a finger dipped in cool water and bring the corners together at the top of the apple. Press edges together to seal and pinch together any tears in the dough around the apple.
Repeat the rolling out of the second half of the dough and creating the other two dumplings. Place all four dumplings in a baking dish, one inch apart, and decorate with dough cut-outs of leaves or any other creative flare you can think to use.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the ingredients listed under “Syrup” above. Bring to a boil then remove from heat to cool slightly. Pour the syrup over the dumplings and sprinkle with additional sugar (this forms a delectable golden crust once baked). Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, until apples are tender (use a fork poked into them to test) and dough is nicely browned.
Best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Can be stored in fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat in the oven at 200 F for 15 minutes.