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Saturday, August 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 76.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Apple dumplings for cheeseheads (recipe)
Just add smoke

Apple dumplings are one of my favorite apple incarnations. They pop up in cuisines across Europe (Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and more) plus in the U.S., especially in places like Pennsylvania, where a large Amish population thrives. Generally speaking, a whole apple is cored and stuffed with sugary mixtures that may contain dried fruit or nuts, and then wrapped in pie dough, puff pastry or even shortbread.

And here's the best part: Dumplings are generally accepted as dessert or breakfast. There's usually a lot of overlap here for me, anyway, what with my breakfast pastry problem. But as they say, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

The market is bursting right now with apples to choose from. It can be an adventure in itself to experiment with the assortment available. Baking varieties tend to maintain their textural integrity during the cooking process, and those are the ones you'll want to scope out for dumplings. Try, for example, Jonathan, Golden Delicious or Idared.

Cheddar and apples is a classic combination, and because fall so reminds me of burning bonfires, fireplaces and my old habit of smoking a fragrant cigar on my front stoop during cool October nights, I wanted to make a dumpling that would pay homage to fall with smoked cheddar and apples.

Although some dumplings are baked and basted in a caramel-like sauce, the recipe here is intended to let the apples generate their own oozy sauce from within. A little dab of mascarpone and maple sweeten the deal, and the puff pastry dough makes for great mopping material. A cup of acidic coffee would do nicely to cut some of the cheesy richness - but it's nothing Wisconsinites can't handle!

Smoked Cheddar Apple Dumplings
To make this a quick and easy recipe, I've opted for readymade puff pastry dough. These dumplings are simple enough to make with kids, though they may prefer a cheddar that isn't smoked. Yields 4 dumplings

  • 4 small baking apples (about 1 pound), peeled and cored
  • 1/2 cup smoked cheddar (I used Carr Valley Apple Smoked Cheddar), finely grated
  • 1/4 cup mascarpone
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound puff pastry sheets
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together mascarpone, maple syrup and pinch of salt, to taste. Combine with 1/4 cup cheddar. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In separate bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon and cayenne. Roll surface of apples in mixture.

Cut pastry dough into four pieces large enough to wrap around apples. Place an apple on each piece.

For easy filling, create a makeshift piping bag with three layers of plastic wrap; place cheese mixture on plastic wrap sheets and twist shut to encase. On the opposite end of the twisted end, pierce a hole large enough for cheese to pass through.

Squeeze cheese mixture into cores and top with remaining grated cheese. Fold dough over apples, keeping as much air out as possible. Cut away excess dough and seal seams with water. (Extra pieces can be used to create decorative leaves and stems.)

In a small bowl, whisk egg with a splash of water to make egg wash, and brush on surface of dumplings.

Bake for about 35 minutes until golden brown and cheese is melted on inside. Serve warm.

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