6 apples (between 7-8 oz. each) peeled, cored, leaving the bottom intact, brushed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice (I use either Honeycrisp or Cortland- something sturdy, but not Granny Smiths- too tart)
2 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups finely chopped skinned hazelnuts
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse together flour, hazelnuts, brown sugar and salt. Add butter, pulse just until mixture resembles coarse meal. Turn this mixture into a large bowl. Combine ice water and cider vinegar, add to flour/nut/sugar/salt/butter mixture, one tablespoon at a time, just until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a piece of parchment paper. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Cherry Hazelnut filling
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped skinned hazelnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons tart Montmorency dried cherries
In a small bowl, stir together the butter, brown sugar, hazelnuts, cinnamon and dried cherries. This will be the filling for the cored apples. (Prepare 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons of cream or milk as an egg wash.)
Working with one disc of chilled pastry at a time, roll out the dough onto parchment paper, 1/8" thick. You can cut out an 8" square of parchment to use as a template, or simply use a ruler to mark 8" squares. You should get three 8" squares from each disc of rolled pastry with extra to cut out decorative leaves. (Chill the leaf cutouts on parchment while you are wrapping the apples in dough.) Place one apple, right side up, in the center of each square of dough, and fill the apple with 1 generous tablespoon of the brown sugar/hazelnut/dried cherry mixture. Brush the edges of the dough with a bit of the egg wash, then bring one corner of the square up to the top of the apple, pressing gently to hold it in place. Bring the next corner of dough up to the top, slightly overlapping, pressing it into place. Continue with the remaining two corners of dough. The dough should be overlapping, and it's fine to pinch it with your fingers to adjust the creases. Brush the entire pastry wrapped apple with some of the egg wash. Continue the process with the remaining apples, placing the completed apples 1 & 1/2" apart on a rimmed parchment lined baking sheet. Dab the leaf cutouts with egg wash and attach them to the dumplings. You must refrigerate the apples before you bake them, at least an hour, to ensure that the pastry is cold and doesn't slip down during the baking. I've kept them covered with plastic in the fridge overnight and baked them in the morning and they are delicious hot of the oven for breakfast. Before you are ready to bake them, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Use a small knife to poke a hole in the top of each pastry, allowing steam to escape. (The leaf cutouts brown faster than the rest of the pastry, so you may want to cover them with foil halfway through.) Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the apples feel tender when pierced with a knife. Serve with the Cider Caramel.
2 cups good quality apple cider, reduced to 1/4 cup
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
5 tablespoons salted butter (the salt deepens the flavor of the caramel, balances the sweetness)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
1 pinch sea salt
You have to reduce the cider down from 2 cups to 1/4 cup. This takes a little time and patience- keep an eye on things here; you can start with a high heat but as it reduces, you will need to lower the flame. Measure the reduced cider into a pyrex measuring cup- if it's more than 1/4 cup, reduce it a bit more. When you have 1/4 cup of cider reduction, place it in a medium sauce pan. Add the brown sugar, salted butter and heavy cream, stir to combine and cook over low heat. Continue cooking the caramel until the mixture thickens; this can take about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and the sea salt. Stir and set aside to cool. The caramel will continue to thicken as it cools down. Refrigerate the cooled sauce.