It’s Easter and I’ve never had much interest in religious holidays, but yesterday my friend Christina called from California and described her Easter dinner menu in mouth-watering detail. (Note to self: find more friends without holiday family obligations and plan sybaritic festivities with them just for the Hell of it!) So I was inspired to get back to my kitchen and make something I could actually put in my already watering mouth.
I was given The Art and Soul of Baking for my last birthday and I love it!! It focuses on the fundamentals of baking (from the school of the French masters) and extends that artistry to that nostalgic American as Apple Pie taste and Midwestern feel. Bravo!
But I can’t help it; I always change recipes. I know my own taste and I have a feel for how ingredients transform flavor in the baking process. I modified this recipe to use only 2/3 as much filling as recommended and I lessened the ratio of almond paste; I prefer natural fruit flavors to dominate my confections and I dislike more than a hint of almond. Call it tailoring; try it yourself.
WHAT WILL I NEED?
A food processor, a rolling pin, a pastry cloth or silicone mat, chef’s knife, plastic wrap, parchment paper, medium size mixing bowl, paring knife, small bowl, pastry brush or cheesecloth, baking sheet, cooling rack
GROCERY LIST:unbleached all-purpose flour sugar salt unsalted butter, 1 stick (don’t even say the M word) cream cheese, 8 oz package almond paste (not Marzipan) molasses, unsulfered ground ginger ground cinnamon ground cloves apples, 3 medium to large egg, 1 yolk milk or cream, 1 tablespoon
I used their recipe for Easy Cream Cheese Pie Dough (prepared for turnovers and dumplings) because it is super easy.1 1/2 c Flour 1 t Sugar pinch Salt
1/2 c Butter, unsalted 8 oz Cream Cheese
Put the dry ingredients in the bowl of your food processor and pulse one or twice to mix. At the chilled butter sliced into 8 pats and process for 8-10 seconds. Add the cream cheese, also divided into 8 chunks, and pulse 30 times or so until clumps of dough start to form. Turn out onto a pastry cloth or floured silicone mat and knead gently into a ball. Roll out to a 1 inch thick round, wrap in saran, and refrigerate anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 days. If necessary, you can freeze at this point for up to 2 months.3 oz Almond paste 1 T Molasses
¾ t Ginger
¼ t Cinnamon
While your dough is chillin’ you can throw these ingredients in a small to medium size mixing bowl, kneading them together by hand (I use a latex gloved hand, no sticky fingers) and rolling them into 6 equally portioned balls.
Peel your apples with a paring knife (vegetable peelers are more trouble than they’re worth with apples), halve them, trim the inner top and bottom, and carve out the core. People on television will try to sell you a sharp little melon-baller or a special serrated knife for this…forget it. I only cut myself in the kitchen under two circumstance, a dull knife or an unfamiliar/unwieldy instrument. You can do it all with a small curved paring knife. This is why we have thumbs people.
Place the ginger balls (that was for you Laura) into the apple cores and carefully spread the waxy concoction over the face of the apple. This will prevent the bottom of your pastry from being saturated in apple juices during the baking process and evenly distribute the ginger yumminess! Keep them in the refrigerator while you roll out your dough.
This is about the time you want to preheat your oven to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit). I’ve never understood why all recipes start with this direction when it leaves you in a hot kitchen for an hour longer than necessary, sweating over your rolling pin.
To make your egg wash whisk together the egg yolk and the milk. Now they tell us to roll out the dough into one big piece and trim into smaller squares. That sounds more challenging and space consuming than is desirable in a New York City kitchen. I chose to trim the edges of the cold dough round to make a rectangle and slice that into 6 equal squares. Lightly knead the excess dough into a ball and return it to the refrigerator.
You can now roll out the squares one at a time and complete the assembly of each dumpling on your little silicone mat or pastry cloth. Once your square is at least 6 inches wide, place your apple face down in the center and baste the corners with your egg wash.
I suppose you could re-trim the sides to make perfect squares at this stage, but why bother? The beauty of home baking is that it looks homemade. I generally eschew hospital corners in the kitchen, but you get to decide for yourself.
Pull the corners up and overlap the edges on top of the apple; gapes in the folds are okay, but the corners must meet and meld. Transfer the completed dumpling onto a baking sheet lined in parchment and repeat the process until all six dumplings are finished.
Baste the tops with your egg wash. Take the leftover dough out of the refrigerator and roll it out. The recipe gives very precise instructions for getting perfectly sized circles to top your dumplings. Right. I went to the cookie-cutter drawer and pulled out a hummingbird for me, a teapot for my roommate, a heart and a fleur-de-lis for my neighbors, and a guitar for my friends Jackson and Kasey.
And please don’t throw out that extra dough. Put it on a little piece of parchment on its own cookie sheet and dust it with cinnamon and sugar, make yourself a cup of tea and take it out in 12 minutes. A little snack for the baker keeps you from turning into a dumpling…by eating them all yourself!
Place each of the cutouts atop a dumpling, baste liberally with the egg wash, and dust with sugar (I prefer super fine, but regular granulated will do). Put the entire sheet into the refrigerator for fifteen minutes and do your dishes.
When your timer rings transfer the baking sheet to the middle rack of the oven and set it for another fifteen minutes. Then rotate the pan and bake for another 15 to 18 minutes. You will know they’re done if a little of the juices have overrun the pastry and the outside is golden brown. If you’re concerned, you can try sticking a toothpick or the tip of your paring knife into one of the gaping folds to try to ascertain the tenderness of the apple. But I wouldn’t get my panties in a bunch!
Transfer the dumplings to a cooling rack and, if you’re preparing a custard, go ahead and get started on that. Bird’s is a lovely mix if you don’t have anything specific in mind. You can serve the dumplings in bowls with the hot custard poured around it. These are best eaten the same day, but if you have to postpone dessert you can store them overnight in an airtight container in the refrigerator (according to the book) and reheat them at 375 for 10 or 15 minutes.
I don’t like what refrigeration does to leftover pastry and opt to keep my airtight container on the counter (and eat the leftovers at room temperature, with my fingers, usually for breakfast, with coffee). Again I like the fruit to be the main event, so no custard for me. At a dinner party I would offer guests a scoop of vanilla ice cream or perhaps some heavy cream, whipped or not, or even creme fraiche.
Whatever. If you’ve gotten this far you are officially a badass and they everybody knows it!