Salted Plum Caramel Apple Dumplings

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Bah, it’s fall now! What are we doing here, 2016? I still have a pair of denim cutoffs that I never got to wear this summer! Even though summer is rapidly disappearing, the weather is perfect right now. Fall is absolutely my favorite time. Fall in Chicago is especially wonderful, but so short-lived. We’re dealing with it fine. We’re making apple dumplings.

We’re making apple dumplings today for several reason. First, we went to an apple orchard over Labor Day weekend and we still have a buttload of apples that seem to somehow be in perfect condition. Maybe they aren’t, but that’s an even better reason to cover them in caramel and pie crust and bake them in the oven.

Secondly, I have been meaning to try Food 52’s fruit caramel recipe since I saw it. I am skeptical, intrigued, and very curious, and nothing can satisfy my curiosity except for trying it out for myself. So, I’m making it, adding some pink Himalayan sea salt, cooking apples, wrapped it all in pie crust.

Thirdly, today is JOHNNY APPLESEED’S BIRTHDAY! Did you guys learn about Johnny Appleseed in elementary school? I LOVED learning about tall tales when I was little: Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan (specifically Babe, the Blue Ox), John Henry, and, of course, Johnny Appleseed (and I’m not the only one reminiscing this week). But it was a happy surprise when I got home from school, eager to tell my parents about Johnny Appleseed, and they told me that he was, in fact, a real person. AND! He lived, died, and is buried in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is about 20 miles from where I grew up!

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(Wikimedia Commons / Kevin M. Brooks)

There is even a Johnny Appleseed Fest. In fact, it took place just the weekend before last. Very cool, very cool.

Remember this post where I talked about going down a Shel Silverstein rabbit hole? Well, it happened again, but this time with Johnny Appleseed. I was Googling away and learning fascinating things. Specifically that Mr. John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman (1774-1845) was a strict follower of the Swedenborgian religion, a pacifist, who did, in fact, wear a tin cap on his head. Fort Wayne’s minor league baseball team even changed their name to the Tincaps in 2009, in his honor. While he did live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, just like in the elementary school myth, he was not just casting apple seeds willy-nilly. He was actually a shrewd business man who was buying new land in the Northwest Territory, planting nurseries, and selling the land back to settlers who were moving into the area. (He was like the Steve Jobs of apples! Wait a minute…) I also learned that the type of apples that Johnny Appleseed would plant would not likely have been eaten. They would have instead been used to make hard cider. Cider, it turns out, was a huge part of early American culture that, until very recently, did not really made a comeback after Prohibition. Also, many of Johnny Appleseed’s orchards still existed in the early 1900’s, but during Prohibition, most of them were destroyed so that people wouldn’t be tempted to make their own moonshine. In fact, there may only be one tree left known to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed, in Nova, Ohio. That’s real history. And pretty infuriating. But I digress, because I’m not making cider today (though now I’m tempted), I’m making apple dumplings.

Full disclosure: I was NOT a fan of apple dumplings when I was younger. I had one too many bad dumplings for me to like them. Either the dough was too thick, or the apples still had the peel on them (!!!). That’s just nuts! So I daydreamed for a while and decided to play by my own rules and make my dumplings the following way: 1) I don’t use a whole apple in one dumpling. (I’m sorry, but do you throw whole apples into the middle of your pies? No, because people don’t want to eat that.) 2) I peel my apples (see above). Peeling and cutting up apples also allows for maximum sauce coverage (in this case salty caramel) which is perhaps the most important thing to take into consideration.

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Salted Plum Caramel Apple Dumplings
Makes about 12-15 dumplings

Dumpling Crust Ingredients (this is a doubled recipe of Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ All-Butter Pie Crust):
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp kosher salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup cold water
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup ice

Dumpling Crust Instructions:
Cube butter into a bowl and allow to sit in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.

Mix the cold water, cider vinegar and ice in a large measuring cup.

Add cold, cubed butter to the mixture. Begin pinching the dry mixture and butter between your fingers until it resembles a combination of small peas and dry oatmeal. (You can also use a pastry blender for this.)

At this stage, slowly begin adding the apple cider vinegar/water to the dry ingredients, adding 2 tbps. at a time. Mix together with a fork or your hands until all of the dry ingredients are moist and you can form the mixture into a ball.

Lightly flour a surface.  Knead the ball of dough just a few times before dividing it into two pieces, forming it into two discs, wrapping it in plastic wrap and placing it in the fridge for at least an hour; overnight is best.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Shortly before you remove the dough from the fridge, peel apples and make caramel (instructions below).

On a floured surface, roll out the first disc of dough into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick, about 15″ x 10″.

Cut into approximately 5″ x 5″ squares.

Dumpling Filling Ingredients:
3 medium apples (Granny Smith would be perfect!)
3 medium plums
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tsp
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp sea salt

Dumpling Filling Instructions:
Peel and core 3 plums.

In a food processor, blend the plums and lemon juice until smooth.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Allow to cook over medium heat, without stirring, until it turns amber-colored. Add in the fruit puree and quickly whisk together until all sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, butter, and salt. Fruit caramel will have some pulp, unless you just use only juice, so you can strain the caramel if you like. Set aside to cool slightly.

Peel and core the apples, then cut into about 10 pieces each. Cover the apples with 1 more tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, stir to coat.

Add the pieces to the caramel mixture and stir to coat completely.

Hold a dough square in your palm and scoop the caramel apples out with a slotted spoon and into the center of the dough.

Make egg wash with 1 egg and a tbsp milk.

Fill (don’t overfill!) with caramel apple mix. Pinch all edges together. Brush the top with egg wash (optional). Sprinkle each with a few pinches of sugar.

Bake dumplings at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 and continue baking for 25-30 minutes.

About 10 minutes before the dumplings are done, you can spoon more of the caramel mixture over the top of the dumplings and then continue baking.

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Omg, so much caramelization! So much buttery flakiness! So much sweet/salty/tart rightness. Gosh, these dumplings are good Very, very good… You should get eatin’! And while you’re at it, have some cider in honor of Johnny Appleseed.

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