Growing up, my family ate apple dumplings for dinner once or twice every fall. We poured warm milk overtop and sprinkled them with a little sugar. It was such a treat.
The memory of what some would perceive as unusual dinner fare recently inspired me to do some unofficial research. A simple text sent to several groups of friends, asking them to name the most unusual food that graced their childhood dinner plate, led to a long and lively exchange.
Strawberry shortcake was a frequent dinnertime treat and scrapple (sometimes served with syrup) was mentioned several times. Less commonly seen but seemingly well liked were cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and Lebanon bologna roll-ups, and chipped beef on English muffins.
Some mothers got creative with leftovers–to the absolute delight of their children. One friend’s mom sliced leftover hot dogs down the middle, stuffed them with mashed potatoes, covered them with Velveeta and then baked them. Based on the reactions, I wouldn’t be surprised if these soon showed up on a handful of dinner plates.
“Weiner Winks” also proved to be a popular way to serve hot dogs when no rolls were available. For these, a hot dog was placed diagonally across bread that had been toasted with a slice of cheese on top. Opposite corners of the bread were then folded up and held together with a toothpick. As far as I’m concerned, the name alone would spark dinnertime appeal.
Some meals, however, were clearly less desirable than others.
To the consternation of one friend, chicken livers in cream of chicken soup over toast frequently appeared on her family dinner table. Not to be outdone, someone chimed in with a dinner of sardines, pickled onions and cheddar cheese served with crackers. That prompted a recollection of sardine and mustard sandwiches on white bread. Two men chimed in with mixed reviews of liver mush and pan pudding.
By that point, talk of Jell-O molds with canned fruit and Ambrosia salad was firmly embraced. For those who’ve never had it, the latter is a fruity, creamy mixture that included mini marshmallows. One friend was thrilled that it counted as salad in her house.
When I initially posed the question, I underestimated the lengthy banter that would follow. It was animated, if not a bit wistful, and occasionally tainted with mock disgust–and it all stemmed from my own fond memory of eating apple dumplings for dinner as a little girl.
In recent years, my family has taken to a crust-free version of the dumpling I so enjoyed growing up. The absence of crust makes it easier to prepare and healthier, too. I like to bake a half dozen or so at a time, as extras reheat beautifully. A dollop of Greek yogurt over the top lends protein and staying power.
These days, we typically eat them for breakfast or lunch, but you may absolutely put them front and center on a dinner plate. To ease into the dinner idea, try serving half an apple as a side to pork or in lieu of applesauce. For a dessert option similar to apple crisp, a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream adds a hint of decadence. Sometimes, I chop leftover baked apple and use it as a topping for stovetop oatmeal or to enliven a quick bowl of Greek yogurt.
Feel free to vary the recipe by adding cranberries, raisins, a combination of nuts, or whatever sounds good to you. Omit the coconut if you aren’t a fan. Experimenting with different apple varieties at the same time is a great way to determine which you prefer for baking. That way, you can compare how different apples yield varying textures and sweetness after the same amount of cooking time. I’ve tried nearly every type of apple at some point and, though no two are the same, I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite!
- 4-6 apples, depending on size (I often use a mix–Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Staymans, Fuji, Honeycrisp, etc.)
- 1/4 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut*
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts (I like pecans or walnuts)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon butter per apple (may use coconut oil for vegan option)
- 1 cup apple cider
- Optional: fresh cranberries or raisins**
- For serving: Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or ice cream
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Slice a thin layer off the top of each apple (this is to create a flat surface to hold more of the topping) and core, leaving about a half inch of the bottom in tact. (I typically use an apple corer, take the whole core out, then cut off the very bottom of the core and plug the hole. A paring knife may be used, if preferred.)
Set the apples in a lightly greased pie plate or square baking dish. Mix the remaining ingredients except the butter, cider, and optional items.
Stuff the apples holes with the oat mixture and mound slightly on top of the apples. Sprinkle a slightly rounded quarter cup of the mixture around the bottom of the baking dish. This will help thicken the cider into a syrupy sauce. If using, scatter a handful (about 1/4-1/3 cup) of fresh cranberries or raisins around the base of the apples.
Pour the cider around the apples (but not on top), and then top each apple with a teaspoon of butter.
Cover the apples loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes or until you can poke a knife through the apple with no resistance.
Serve warm with a dollop of Greek yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.
- *If you are not a coconut fan, you may simply omit this ingredient. The same goes for the chopped nuts. Depending on what you add to the stuffing mixture and the precise size and number of apples used, you may end up with extra. Simply place any leftovers in a small zipper top bag and refrigerate for future use.
- **When using raisins or cranberries, I like to sprinkle them around the base of the apples and allow them to absorb the cider mixture instead of mixing them with the oats.
Choose four to six apples, depending on size and preference. The recipe is flexible, so there’s no right or wrong size.
Pile extra oat mixture on top of the apples…you don’t want to skimp on that.
Top with a sliver of butter–or coconut oil for a vegan option…
…and bake until tender and delicious. As an added bonus, your kitchen will smell amazing. 😊