How to Make Great Apple Desserts Without a Lot of Work

by Dennis Weaver

Apple PieWhen we lived in Minnesota, when the nights began to chill, we sought out the little apple orchards hidden behind the bluffs along the St. Croix River. We enjoyed talking to the proprietors and discovered wonderful apples, varieties that you would never find in the store. It was at one of these orchards that I found my first Honey Crisp apples—still one of my favorites.

We reveled in the apples we found, eating them fresh and making giant mounded apple pies. It was obvious that the better the apples, the better the pies. Still, I would doctor those pies with lots of butter or sour cream and maybe throw in a handful of walnuts or cranberries.

But it’s not just pies that we love; I love sticking chunks of apples in breads and cookies and coffeecakes. I like rummaging through apple recipes, trying new things. I love apple fritters, turnovers, and dumplings.

Today, I’d like to share with your three keys to making great apple desserts—without a lot of work—and then a couple nifty recipes.

Key #1. Always start with great apples. Your dessert will never be any better than your apples. If those apples in the refrigerator are past their prime, throw them out. Don’t try to make something with them. And make sure that your apples are cooking apples, not eating apples that will go soft in the oven.

Apple MasterKey #2. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a rotary apple peeler like an Apple Master. They only cost about $30 and they’ll save you a ton of time. They peel, core, and slice so quickly it seems like an instant. Leave it set up and handy during the apple season so you reach for it just like a paring knife. The better models have a suction cup base so you don’t even need to stop and clamp it down.

How many times have you felt like making an apple pie but didn’t want to stand over the sink for 20 minutes peeling apples? A peeler will end all that.

Key #3. You have to have really good cinnamon. Cinnamon and apples go together.

Put a little cinnamon on your finger and taste it. If it doesn’t taste good, don’t put it in your pie. Cheap cinnamon will be astringent and taste like a drug store. Good cinnamon won’t be sweet but it tastes like cinnamon should. You’ll know the good stuff when you taste it and it will make a magical difference in your baking. We often double or triple the amount called for in the recipe—but you’ll only do that with good cinnamon.

We keep three cinnamons in our cupboard: The best Korintje Cassia cinnamon we can find, a Vietnamese cinnamon, and a Sri Lankan cinnamon. A good Vietnamese cinnamon will have cinnamon oil in it that will remind you of “Red Hots” candies. It packs a punch and is incredibly aromic. When you want a cinnamon that will get your guests attention and make your kitchen smell like Martha Stewart’s, use Vietnamese. When you want cinnamon to stay in the background, use Sri Lankan. It has a mild, woodsy, fruity flavor. It’s a refined cinnamon, not loud at all.

There are two other things that are “must haves” in my kitchen. I always keep cinnamon chips and a just-add-water pie crust mix on hand. If I’m baking a coffeecake with apples in it, I’m going to throw in a handful of cinnamon chips. You’ll surprise yourself how many times you add cinnamon chips to cookies, cakes, and scones.

And for that pie crust mix: Do you suppose your corner baker is mixing up his or her pie crusts from scratch? No, he’s using a mix. A mix just saves too much time and he knows you can’t tell the difference. If we get serious about making an apple pie, we can have it in the oven in 15 minutes using a pie crust mix and an apple peeler.

New England Apple Pie Pastry

Apple PastryWe had a lot of fun developing this recipe. It’s not really a pie or a pastry but it is scrumptious. It’s made with a rich cream cheese pastry on top and bottom with an apple cinnamon filling tucked in. It’s a little more work than an apple pie but it’s not hard and it is worth the extra time.

Check out the unusual topping. It’s easy. It is made by freezing the pastry dough and then shredding it as you would shred cheese. We used an electric shredder attachment for our stand-type mixer and made quick work of the task though a box grater works too. Since you will need to freeze the pastry dough, make this ahead.

We used a ten-inch springform pan for this dessert. If you use a nine-inch square springform pan. The volume is too great for a nine-inch springform pan.

Ingredients for the dough:
1 (8-ounce) package of cream cheese
1 cup cold butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 cup whipping cream

Ingredients for the filling:
5-6 medium baking apples
1 teaspoon good quality cinnamon (we used Cassia Korintje)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup dried cranberries, cold processed if you can find them
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 to 2/3 of an 8-ounce jar of red currant jelly or pomegranate jelly

1. Cream the cream cheese and butter together. Add the vanilla and granulated sugar and continue creaming.

2. In another bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder together. Add half the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat until just combined. Add the whipping cream and beat again. Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until just combined. You should have a soft dough. Add more cream or flour if necessary to get the right consistency.

3. Divide the dough in half. Put one half in the refrigerator and the other in freezer. Allow the dough in the freezer to freeze rock hard, at least several hours.

4. For the filling, peel and core the apples then coarsely grate them. Add the cinnamon, sugar, lemon juice, flour, cranberries, and nuts. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to bake.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the half of the dough that was in the refrigerator and roll it out as you would pie dough. Place it in a ten-inch springform pan and mold the dough across the bottom and 2/3’s the way up the sides. You may cut and patch the dough as required.

6. Spread the jelly across the bottom of the dough. Spoon the apple filling into the pastry shell.

7. Take the frozen dough from the freezer. Coarsely grate it as you would cheese using a box grater or electric grater. Spread the grated dough across the top of the pastry.

8. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the apples are oozing juice. Cool on a wire rack for five minutes and then remove the outer ring. Cool until just warm and serve plain, with whipped cream, or ice cream.

Baker’s note: Both the jelly and cranberries add color to the dessert making it more attractive. Do not cut this dessert until it has cooled.

Caramel Apple Dumplings

Apple DumplingsIf you want to try something different than an apple pie, try these dumplings. These are attractive enough for company but easier to make than an apple pie. The dumpling is made of pie dough folded over half of a spiced apple. If you are using a pie crust mix and an apple peeler—an Apple Master—these go together very quickly. (You can set an Apple Master to peel and core without slicing.)

We top these with Lawford’s cream syrups. You can also top these with caramel ice cream topping warmed in the microwave and then thinned with milk.

3 cups just-add-water pie crust mix
4 large apples, peeled, cored, and cut in half to make 8 halves
1 cup brown sugar (2 tablespoons each)
1/4 cup butter (1/2 tablespoon each)
1 dash cinnamon on each
2 tablespoons milk
turbinado sugar as needed for topping
vanilla or cinnamon cream syrup

1. Mix the pie crust mix according to package instructions.

2. Working with half the dough at a time, roll the dough into two 12 x 12-inch squares. Cut the dough into fourths so that you have eight 6 x 6-inch squares for eight dumplings.

3. Place a half apple cut side down in the center of each square. Sprinkle two tablespoons of brown sugar over the apple halves. Sprinkle with just a touch of cinnamon. Place 1/2 tablespoon of butter on top of each.

4. Apply some water to all 4 edges of a dough square. Fold the corners of the pastry over each apple half bring the corners together to make a four-sided pyramid. Press the edges together and seal them so that the apple juice will not leak while cooking. If you like, you can decorate the tops of the dumplings with any leftover pieces of dough.

5. Brush the pastries with the milk and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Using a spatula, gently move the pastries to a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until the pastries are gently browned and apples are tender (test with a toothpick). Remove the pastries from the pan while they are still hot and before any sugar that might be in the pan sets.

6. To serve, drizzle syrup over the dumplings and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Ingredients and Tools Used in this Article

All of the following tools and ingredients can be purchased at The Prepared Pantry

Apple Master, apple peeler
10-inch glass base springform pan
9-inch square springform pan
Professional, just-add-water pie crust mix
Cinnamon—Vietnamese, Cassia, and Sri Lankan
Cinnamon chips

Dennis Weaver is the president of The Prepared Pantry and the author of How to Bake and The Perfect Pie. Electronic versions of these books can be downloaded at no charge.