Ugly-good food is a thing. We all know those dishes. The ones that you almost apologize for before setting out because they look like they were thrown up by a dog shortly before serving time rolled around (but then you remember that you’ve made these people food and they should be down on their knees thanking you for your kindness, not comparing your food to dog vomit). The dishes that taste soooooo good that you put up with their homely ways because at the end of the day we’ve all eaten some nasty-looking crap that didn’t taste anywhere near as good (I’m looking at you 3 a.m. poutine from a shall-not-be-named-24-hour-Vancouver-institution). These apple dumplings certainly qualify as being ugly-good, at least prior to baking. They take a bit of an ugly duckling turn in the oven though, entering looking all manky and swimming in what looks like sewer water but then emerging all golden and flaky with fat pools of glaze bubbling along the edges. I’ve made these enough times now to know that this is their natural trajectory and it doesn’t bum me out nearly as hard anymore when I foolishly expect that maybe this time would be different; maybe this time they’ll look good from start to finish. Nope, they don’t. They look like a hot mess until, magically, they just don’t.
Rustic Apple Dumplings
From Christina Tosi (Milk Bar Life)
Makes 4 large “dumplings”, feeds anywhere from 4-8 people
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (measured correctly) + more for rolling
3 tbsp white sugar
1 ¼ tsp kosher salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup cold vegetable shortening
3 Granny Smith apples
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp kosher salt
2/3 cup white sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish/tin and set aside.
Make the dough by combining the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter and shortening using a pastry cutter or 2 butter knives; working until the fats have broken down to the size of small peas. Use your fingers to smush in any remaining large bits of fat. Add 3-4 tbsp cold water, mixing with a fork until the dough is just coming together. Try to avoid overworking the dough – handle it as lightly and as little as possible. Turn it out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and shape into a 4-inch square. Wrap the dough up and leave at room temperature to rest while you move onto the filling.
Peel the apples, then quarter them as best you can while also carving them off the core, leaving the seeds and such behind. Cut each apple quarter in half lengthwise, then slice the halves crosswise into ¼-inch slices. This means thin, but not transparent, slices. Toss the apple slices with the sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
Make the glaze by heating 1 ½ cups water in a small saucepan until warm. Stir in the sugar, butter, cinnamon, and salt. Keep warm and set aside.
Unwrap the dough onto a well-floured work surface and roll it into a large square measuring roughly 12-14 inches. Flour the rolling pin if needed. Cut the dough into 4 equal squares, trimming all the edges to be as even and tidy as possible. The dough should not be rolled out too thin (air on the side of thicker if needed). Spoon a quarter of the cinnamon apples into the middle of each square. Using a butter knife or metal spatula, lift up each of the dough corners to meet together in the centre and do the best you can to press the edges together to seal. Most likely you will find yourself cursing this dough and wondering (as I always do) why on earth Tosi recommends leaving it at room temperature instead of the fridge where dough belongs. Don’t ask, just trust. No matter how crap they look now, it will all work out in the end. Carefully transfer the apple bundles to the greased baking tin, sitting each one in a quadrant of the dish. Pour the reserved glaze overtop of the dumplings and into the dish, filling it ~ ¾ full. Don’t be dissuaded if what you have created looks like 4 sad doughy plops sitting in a tub of their own filth. Lean in to the discomfort.
Bake the dumplings for 50-55 minutes, until the tops are golden-brown and the glaze has bubbled and reduced down to a syrup. Let the dumplings cool for 20-30 minutes prior to serving. I like to at least let people see the dumplings in the dish, lookin’ all pretty, before I scoop them out and leave them looking at bit mangled, but still tasting AMAZING. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or whatever your apple pie thing is (hopefully you’re old-school and like it with a fat wedge of Cheddar).