I really miss my grandmother, for a lot of reasons. She was kind, helpful, loving, talented, smart, and never had a bad word to say about anything or anyone. Well, except for that one time. But that’s a topic for another blog. Anyhoo, she also made a mean apple dumpling. She wasn’t your typical grandmother who cooked all the time and baked cookies and pies. In fact, she didn’t cook or bake much at all, but she did have three specialties: Coffee cake, orange jello salad, and apple dumplings.
My grandmother died almost 11 years ago, and therefore it has been almost 11 years since I’ve had a decent apple dumpling. A decent apple dumpling meaning you peel the apples and slice them, and sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar and pat them with butter and wrap them up in a delicious dough. None of this whole-apple-stuffed-with-crap kind of dumpling for me, no sir! They’re just not the same. You have to slice the apples so you get a better dough-to-apple bite ratio, and sliced-apple dumplings are just easier to eat in general. I mean, come on, people, put a little effort into it. Either make them properly or don’t make them at all.
So, since it’s been so long since I’ve had a decent apple dumpling, and since I tend to have a fair hand with all goods baked and pastry-like, I decided that I could make my own apple dumplings. How hard could it be, right? Other than peeling and slicing all the apples, which I’m not complaining about because I’ll reiterate that that’s the only way the dumplings are good, it seemed like it would be a fairly easy task. Hehehe. No. Not easy. Not even the least little bit.
I pulled out my mom’s cookbook, and then I pulled out the enormous, red, Betty Crocker cookbook that was probably printed in 1935 so that I could compare the recipes that had been written down in each. Both recipes were about half complete. No specifics, no baking times, just ingredients and basic instructions, but I figured I’ve been baking long enough that I should be able to figure it out, so I started making the dough.
It’s a fairly straightforward dough – flour, shortening, some baking powder to make it rise, a little salt, and some milk. I recently figured out the secret to making pie crust, so I basically just used the same method – cut the shortening into the dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients. Then you have to roll out the dough a piece at a time and stuff it with apples and then fold it all up. Well, every time – every single time – I rolled out the dough it fell apart. It stuck to the well-floured rolling pin, it stuck to the well-floured board, it stuck to itself. When I did finally manage to successfully roll out one piece, it fell apart as soon as I added the apples, so I put that one aside and tried again. I managed to roll out the dough, and stuff it with apples, and then as soon as I tried to fold it all up the apples fell out the bottom. So that was it. I was so upset and frustrated that I lobbed the entire dumpling, apples and all, across the room, where it landed all too quickly with a thud that had an eerie sense of finality to it. I could tell that the dough wanted me to give up, but since I had an enormous bowl full of sliced, browning apples and since I’m not really one to give up that easily, I stepped away from the table and consulted my faithful friend, Google.
Google led me here, a website which is special in and of itself, and I found the same exact recipe I had been using, except for 3 small details: the dough uses twice as much milk, this guy adds nutmeg to his syrup, and he uses whole apples to make his bastard dumplings. I sat around for a minute and then got up to try again, and when I used more milk the dough was perfectly lovely and light and elastic, and not once did it fall apart. I was finally able to finish the dumplings, and I have to admit, they were damn good. Not quite as good as my grandmother’s, but I think with a little tweaking and a little more practice, they’ll get there. The only problem with the making of the apple dumplings is the excessive eating of the apple dumplings, but I think I’ll risk it.
And so, my quest continues…..