I think the first time I tried to make an apple dumpling I was about 26, give or take a year. I don’t remember cooking much during that particular time in my life, but what I did cook has stayed with me — for better or worse. A successful pot of chili verde qualifies as one of my better accomplishments, and apple dumplings one of my worst.
At the time, my two older boys were just out of toddlerhood and I had a part time job requiring a 3 am wake up. Several days a week, I’d fumble to quiet the huge wind-up Big Ben I kept stuffed in the lingerie drawer in my bedside table, shrug into my uniform and stumble downstairs for a hit and miss application of mascara and foundation. I’d tip toe back up to my boys’ room and their sleepy snuffling, lifting each to carry him down to the car and buckle in for the 20-minute drive to my mother’s house. Not quite over the river and through the woods — more like merge onto northbound I-5 and speed past the mall — but once there, I’d lift my sleepyheaded boys from the car, cross the damp lawn and try to sneak into the house to tuck them into the double bed in my old bedroom. I always thought I might be able to make it out of the driveway before my mother knew I’d been there, but that was a rare occasion, if ever. Usually, she met me at the door and did the tucking in honors herself because she’s like that — never quite asleep and always ready to help. Another 15 minutes of driving would find me in the empty parking lot of the grocery store where I worked with no hint of sunlight yet beyond the mountains directly to the east. I’d wait outside the glass door for someone to notice I was there and unlock the door for me, leave change for a cup of coffee, then head back to my area to put on my big coat and gloves to head into the freezer where I’d spend a majority of my shift. Oh, the memories.
Clearly, sleep deprivation and that crazy routine are what kept me from the kitchen on most days! But I did cook.
If I remember correctly, the first time an apple dumpling caught my eye, it was in Good Housekeeping. Or was it The Ladies’ Home Journal? Regardless, I thought, How cute! Sure, I can make that. Generally, I feel that way about most things in life, so what’s an apple dumpling? Pie crust. Some mixed nuts and fruit. An apple.
Evidently, an apple dumpling was beyond me then, because my effort was a colossal failure. Think rock hard apple, soggy crust, and nowhere near anyone’s idea of the perfect bite of spicy apple goodness, and you’d have it just about right. I think they hit the trash. There was no attempt to give them a second chance by chopping and putting them in the skillet with a bit of this and that.
Recently, I saw some enormous Honeycrisp apples at the market, and I thought apple dumplings, because everyone does, right? Perhaps not, but I bought four Honeycrisp apples that day — which is ridiculous because each weighed more than 10 oz. and there are only two of us, so clearly, I’d have to have something beyond apple dumplings in mind. Eating them raw? What a concept. I have to say, Honeycrisp are probably the best apple I’ve enjoyed just taking a bite of. They’re sweet, and so crisp they snap as you bite into them.
But would they hold up in a good old fashioned baked dessert? One made entirely from scratch and with ingredients as wholesome as possible? One that if you only baked one special dessert to celebrate the arrival of Fall and be completely satisfied with the effort?
You’ll need to start these apple dumplings in a very hot oven so preheat it to 450 degrees F. But don’t worry, it will be turned down soon after the apple dumplings go into the oven.
And the dough is really not fussy at all. No need to do anything but pinch the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients — which includes some cinnamon.
It only takes a minute or two to pinch the ingredients into fine crumbles that look a bit like oatmeal. When you dig your open hands under the crumbles and lift, they should fall easily between your fingers.
See? Look at those crumbles. Easy peasy. When you pour the cool water into the mix, just toss it around to get it moist and you’ll see big clumps begin to form. Pour it onto a lightly floured board and press it together into a crude ball before pressing it down and rolling it into a thick rectangle you can cut into quarters. I only made two apple dumplings, so saved the rest of the dough.
Do you have an apple corer? They’re pretty handy kitchen tools. I got mine at a Pampered Chef party years ago and it’s pretty easy to use. But this Cuisipro Apple Corer looks like it would be more comfortable. Either way, an apple corer saves you from having to use an old fashioned potato peeler (did you know that’s why they’re curved? — for coring apples!) or a paring knife. Both take a bit more effort, but will get the job done.
To make the filling you’ll need some dark brown sugar, cinnamon, an orange to grate zest from, some dried apricots — about a half of one per apple, some dried cranberries, and some walnuts. If you don’t like walnuts, then pecans are just as good, but I treated myself to the walnuts and warned my husband before he cut into his dumplings. Walnuts and apples are a match made in heaven if you ask me. If you don’t have the cranberries and apricots, then use raisins or currants. Dried cherries would also be very nice. I used the nutmeg my good friend brought back from a trip to the Spice Islands. I’d never seen it in its shell before, so had to give it a whack with my rolling pin to get the nutmeg out. What a heavenly scent freshly grated nutmeg has…
You’ll need to widen the openings of the apples as well but don’t throw those pieces out. Toss them in with the other filling ingredients and they’ll help make a nice juice. Don’t fill the apples quite yet because you’ll need to roll out the dough for each apple dumpling first.
Give each quarter of dough you’re making a few turns with the rolling pin to make a square large enough for each apple dumpling.
Each corner of the dough needs to be able to reach up and over that apple.
Once you’re sure the square is the right size for your apple, you can fill the apple, and if you want, trim the edges of the dough with a fluted wheeled pastry cutter. It makes a pretty edge and gets the job done quick. Save the scraps so you can roll them out for leaf cut outs if you want to decorate the apple dumplings.
To wrap the apples, bring up one corner at a time and dab a bit of water on the corners to help them stick together.
Before you add the leaf decorations, cup your hands around the dough covered apple and gently press to flatten the folds. If you want, you can also brush a bit of water in the folds to help them stick, but I didn’t. They’re pretty secure.
Dab a bit of water on the dough to stick the leaf cut outs on and if you want, roll a bit of dough between your fingers to create some nuts. With the edge of a butter knife, press a vein into the leaves if you want for a bit of detail.
To make the basting sauce for the apple dumplings, you’ll need to brown some butter, filter it to get the dark pieces left in the bottom of the pan out, then mix it in a skillet with some brown sugar and freshly squeezed orange juice from the one you zested for the filling. It only needs to be heated long enough to get the sugar to dissolve.
Place your apple dumplings in an oven proof dish — a skillet, metal or glass baking dish will work just fine. Brush each of the apple dumplings with the sweet browned butter sauce making sure to cover the entire thing. Put the apple dumplings into the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, remove the apple dumplings and turn the oven down to 325 degrees F. Baste the apples with the sweet browned butter sauce again and put them back in the oven for about 35 minutes more. Every 10 minutes for the remainder of the baking time, you’ll need to remove the apple dumplings and baste them. Look how gorgeous they are after all that basting!
Depending on the size of your apples, the baking time will vary. Mine needed an additional 10 minutes. Notice that gorgeous sauce that has pooled in the dish as the apple dumplings have baked? To make sure they’re done, use a wooden skewer to test by inserting down through the apple making sure you aren’t in the core where the filling is.
Let them cool about 10 minutes and if you’d like pour a bit of cream over the top. It will mingle with the sauce in the bottom of the dish and it makes a lovely caramel like flavor to enjoy your apple dumpling with.
You can cut right into the apple dumplings just like you would a pie. The Honeycrisp apples have held up perfectly!
The combination of the apple, filling, crust, and that heavenly orange scented sweet brown butter sauce is truly excellent. Fork tender, too!
- (for each apple made)
- 1 T dark brown sugar, packed
- ¼ tsp. cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ dried apricot, minced
- 1 tsp. dried cranberries, minced
- 1½ tsp walnuts, chopped
- ½ tsp. orange zest
- chopped apple from the widened core
- Browned Butter Sauce
- (enough for two large apple dumplings)
- ½ c. dark brown sugar
- ¼ c. orange juice, freshly squeezed
- ¼ c. browned butter
- (enough for 4 large apple dumplings)
- 1½ c. all-purpose flour
- 1¼ c. stone ground whole wheat flour
- 6 T unsalted butter
- 7 T shortening
- 1 tsp. raw sugar
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- 6 oz. cool water
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Make the dough first by adding the dry ingredients to a large bowl and whisking to combine them.
- Add the butter and shortening to the dry ingredients in pieces, then using both hands, "pinch" the ingredients together until the mixture resembles oatmeal.
- Pour in the water and with a fork lightly pull everything together into moist clumps.
- Scrape out onto a lightly floured surface and with your hands, bring the dough together into a ball.
- Pat flat, then with a rolling pin and a light dusting of flour, roll into a loose rectangle, turning from time to time.
- Fold the dough over onto itself and roll out again. Set aside.
- To prepare the apples, remove the core and discard. Then widen the opening another half inch or so the top third of the apple by running a paring knife around the interior. Save the apple pieces removed.
- To make the filling, add all ingredients along with the saved apple pieces to a small bowl and toss lightly. Set aside.
- To make the sauce, heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium and allow to cook until the foam subsides, it has darkened in color a bit, and has a nutty aroma.
- Remove from heat and pour the browned butter through a very fine-meshed strainer or coffee filter to remove the dark solid pieces. Discard those.
- Combine the remaining sauce ingredients with the browned butter and return to the heat briefly, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
- Return to the dough and cut into quarters.
- Working with one quarter at a time, roll out into a square.
- Place an apple in the center of the square to help judge the size you'll need -- make sure each corner of the dough can extend up and slightly over the top of the apple.
- Trim the edges and save the pieces for ornamental leaves if desired.
- With an apple placed in the center of the square, fill the cavity with the spicy fruit and nut mixture. Drizzle any collected juices into the cavity as well.
- Pull the corners of the dough up to the center of the apple, dabbing with a bit of water to secure the pieces as you go, overlapping them, and pressing down the flaps on the side.
- If you're using the scraps for leaves, reroll them and press on the top of the apple with a bit of water.
- Place in an oven-proof dish and brush some of the butter sauce over the dough.
- Bake for 10 minutes, brush again, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and return the apples to the oven to bake for an additional 35 minutes, removing apples to baste in the sauce every 10 minutes.
- Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the apples, so check for tenderness with a wooden skewer inserted into the apple (not the filling) during the last 10 minutes to judge.
- To serve, allow to cool about 10 minutes, then pour just enough cream over the top of the apple dumplings to mix with the buttery caramel in the bottom of the dish.
Baked Apple Dumplings with Sweet Browned Butter Sauce Recipe Notes
- I love apple desserts — they’re my weakness and it has little to do with Fall. Thankfully, I only eat those desserts if and when I make them and that isn’t often. This was one of those occasions and you might laugh if you saw how much I fussed over it all, but I enjoyed being in the kitchen and finally having a hint of fall weather to bake in.
- About the quantities in the recipe: I had four apples, so started out planning for that — hence, a dough recipe for four. And I didn’t want to make too much filling so started small and multiplied. It was easier for me to go in that direction. Hope that’s not confusing to you!
- In an effort to cut back on the unhealthy aspects of this dessert as much as I could without taking away the basic idea of the recipe, I added whole wheat flour into the crust, allowed the filling to generate its own juice instead of adding butter to it, ignored the corn syrup present in many recipes and used brown sugar instead (I know — sugar is sugar), cut back on the butter and the brown sugar quantities as well.
- One of these apple dumplings is easily shared with two people. Maybe four depending on your appetite. They’re delicious, but huge.
- Have fun with the filling. I make a salad in the fall with apples, dried apricots, dried cranberries, oranges, nuts…so it’s no surprise that I would combine those flavors into this dessert. Mix and match the nuts, fruit, and spices you like, but definitely scrape out more of the apple to mix with those ingredients. If you let it sit after you mix it, juice will be there. And the flavor is SO tasty.
- For those who are dough worried: I adapted this dough from the recipe I used for Cornish Pasties because it is so fail free. No need to chill anything before or after it’s made — so no wait time! But you can make it ahead if you wish, and store it in the fridge or freezer until ready to use. Just make sure it’s well wrapped. If it’s been frozen, allow it to thaw in the fridge.
- I added whole wheat which does change things up a bit, but I wanted something sturdy and hearty for this recipe. It worked. There’s none of the fuss or muss that comes with other doughs. Give it a shot. You may amaze yourself! It’s a perfect excuse NOT to use store-bought pie dough, or biscuit dough from a can.
- Since I zested an orange for the filling, I decided to squeeze it to use for the syrup instead of using water so many recipes call for. The syrup is so delicious, dipping a finger in it is a worthwhile endeavor. Trust me. And after it slowly cooks with the apple dumplings? Oh, my goodness.
- On the oven temperature and basting: The hot oven in the beginning helps to set the dough, so make sure not to skip that. The size of the apples will determine how long you bake the dumplings for the remainder of the time. For an average small apple, I’d say you may need only 15 minutes additional baking after reducing the heat, but I haven’t tried that, so be aware.
- If you don’t have Honeycrisp apples available, then try Granny Smith, Pippin, Rome, or visit this guide from Eating Well. It will help you decide which apples are best for baking.
- For what it’s worth, we tried these not too long after they came from the oven and I poured a bit of cream over the top — it was wonderful. Much better than adding ice cream which would melt into a pool quickly. The cream gives it a caramel finish which is very nice.
- I reheated one after it had been cooled at room temperature. My microwave has a sensor heat feature, and it’s pretty thorough, so I’d say less is more. But it did soften the apple some if that’s important to you. The crust also softens when reheated.
- If you put one in the fridge after it cools, then heating it will have the same effect as described in the bullet above. Everything softens. It’s still very tasty, but not as pretty. No one cared, however. They went right down!
More Apple Dumpling Recipes from Around the Web
(Who knew there could be so many different ways to make an apple dumpling!)
Baked Apple Dumplings with Cider Sauce — The Bitten Word
Apple Dumplings — Kitchen Confidante
Baked Apple Dumplings – The Fresh Fridge
Baked Apple Dumplings with Gooey Caramel Sauce — Tracey’s Culinary Adventures
Apple Dumplings Recipe — Hoosier Homemade
Apple Dumplings — The Pioneer Woman
Baked Apple Dumplings — The Kitchn