How to Make Old-Fashioned Apple Dumplings Like Grandma Did

Let's dive into the sweet, saucy world of this vintage comfort food dessert.

baking pan of homemade apple dumplings in sauce
Photo: Meredith

Ask 20 grandmas how they make their apple dumplings and you'll get 20 different answers. The preparation for this old-school dessert varies greatly from household to household, but there's one thing you can count on for sure: They're all delectable! Read on to learn all about apple dumplings and discover some of the more popular ways to make them. Stick around and I'll even share the apple dumpling recipe my grandmother's grandmother made.

What is an apple dumpling?

First appearing in English literature and cookbooks in the 1700s, apple dumplings became well known as one of the most common foods eaten by farmers. They were known to be a favorite of Thomas Edison, and are mentioned in books by Mark Twain. At that time, the dish was more akin to what we know as figgy pudding (a dense and rich boiled dessert filled with meat and dried fruit) than the spiced, fruit-filled flaky crust dumplings we know today.

How do you make apple dumplings?

First, let's define dumpling. A dumpling is a mass of dough cooked by boiling, steaming, or baking, and is usually (but not always) stuffed with meat, fruits, and/or spices. From that broad definition, it's no wonder every household has their own version of how to make apple dumplings. And they're all correct! Every aspect of making apple dumplings can vary — from the dough wrapper to the apple filling, to the spices and so on. Let's look at some of the various ways you can make apple dumplings:

1. Dough: handmade dough or store-bought?

This is one of the biggest debates among apple dumpling enthusiasts. Fresh handmade dough or store bought?

Making your own dough from scratch has the benefit of complete control over how your dough texture and flavor will turn out. If you're a pastry pro, this step might seem pretty easy for you. But if you're a beginner or if you simply want a quicker method, you have a few options for store-bought dough.

Personally, my grandma strongly believes that canned biscuits make the best apple dumpling dough––although canned crescent rolls work too — and I couldn't agree more. They're buttery and flaky, and very easy to work with when adding your apple filling. Others prefer store bought pie crust. This will also give you a tender, flaky apple dumpling, but pie crust is a little tougher to work with. Canned biscuit dough can be handled repeatedly without losing its integrity, but pie crust is a bit more sensitive and can become tough with too much handling.

2. Apples: whole, sliced, or diced?

Your apple preparation choice has two key factors:

  1. Apple-to-crust ratio
  2. Visual appeal

Some recipes call for wrapping your dough around an entire apple, giving your dish a gorgeous old world showpiece. But you will have a lot of apple and less crust if you do your dumplings like this.

wrapping a stuffed apple with pie crust to make apple dumplings

Other recipes call for slicing your apple and wrapping the dough around each individual slice. This gives you a more balanced apple-to-crust ratio, but a bit of an odd shaped dumpling in my opinion.

apple wedge wrapped in pastry dough and baked with sweet sauce to make an apple dumpling

My favorite method is to dice up the apple and place about 1 tablespoon of it in the middle of a rounded piece of dough (1 biscuit from the canned biscuit dough). Then wrap the dough around the apples and pinch to close. This gives you a plump, round dumpling with the perfect amount of apple-to-crust ratio.

3. Spice: apple pie spice or just cinnamon?

With the availability of so many seasonal spice blends, the possibilities really are endless. Many folks opt for apple pie spice, but I prefer to keep it simple by just using cinnamon.

4. Sauce: sugar and butter...or a can of soda?

homemade apple dumplings baked in sweet sauce in a baking dish

How you sauce your dumplings usually depends on how you prepared your apples. Whole apples or apple slices will usually have a sauce poured over them before going into the oven. This sauce usually consists of butter or margarine, sugar, and spices of your choice.

However, if you diced your apples and stuffed them into your dough, you'll add a pat of chilled butter, then your sugar and spices, and then you'll wrap the dough around the filling. My grandma does it this way, then pours a creamy butter sauce over the dumplings about halfway through cooking. This allows the buttery sweet spices that seep out of the dumplings during cooking to mix with the creamy butter sauce. They come out so mouth-watering! (Yes, I'm sharing my grandmother's recipe below.)

Another popular version of apple dumplings bakes the apple-stuffed pastries in a sauce of butter, sugar, cinnamon and citrus soda, like Mountain Dew.

Try my grandmother's recipe for apple dumplings

Finally, here's my favorite way to make apple dumplings. Flaky biscuit dough is wrapped around crisp apples and topped with a rich butter sauce to create delicious cinnamon-spiced apple dumplings. My grandmother learned this recipe from her grandmother when canned biscuit dough was first invented. And our family has never stopped making it!

overhead view of homemade Mama Rose's Apple Dumplings recipe in a white baking dish
Jessica Furniss

Get the recipe for Mama Rose's Apple Dumplings.

There really are so many ways to prepare this classic dessert. Whatever method you choose, you're sure to impress your friends and family with the flavor of warm, comforting apple dumplings.

Ready to try your hand at homemade apple dumplings? Check out our favorite recipes.


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