When I was teaching English in Japan, I could occasionally be found teaching western cooking classes in the evenings. Ok, not occasionally. Often. Really often.
I loved teaching cooking. I would spend hours reading cookbooks, refining recipes and trying to recreate foods I’d tried. Then, I would do the best I could to share that knowledge with others. Most of the time it was two dozen or so Japanese adults, myself and a translator, and we would come together in a community center or high school home ec room. I would share recipes that I grew up with, hodgepodging ingredients together from makeshift variations you could acquire in Japan. The students spoke varying levels of English, some nearing fluency, while others were just beginning. But more important than learning language was the cultural exchange and community building.
The basic principles of the recipe are quite straightforward: take a peeled, cored apple; fill with deliciousness; wrap in dough; bake. That’s it. A recipe is almost unnecessary.
Teaching Apple Dumplings to those students in Japan is one of my fondest memories.
When you are learning a language, you often have to leverage the words you know to communicate meaning in unusual ways. I find that some of the most exceptional poetry and writings come from language resourcefulness rather than verbosity. Once I wanted to buy a whole cake, and I didn’t know the word ‘whole’ or ‘slice’ so I said a, “I’d like an uncut cake.” It took the baker a minute to understand me, but in the end, we worked it out.
In my apple dumping class, one student had the outer crust fall off the apple while it was baking. She was comically distressed, struggling to find the words to tell what had happened, and so she cried across the classroom, “Apple…apple…apple is UNDRESSED!”
Immediately she started blushing and we all enjoyed a good belly laugh. It’s the little things…
One of the things I love about this recipe is how customizable it is . You can add raisins (my hubby likes this), or walnuts (for me). You can cut the sugar (for kids), make the crust thinner (my sister) or thicker (my mom). Use more or less butter (said no one ever). Serve with cream, or ice cream, or just with a fork. It’s easy enough for a weeknight dessert, or special enough for a weekend brunch. I hope you enjoy it.
Makes 4 servings. Recipe inspired by the tiny cookbook Recipes from the Pennsylvania Dutch Country (no link)
pie crust ingredients
- 2 cups Flour
- ½ tsp Salt
- ⅔ cup Shortening, or Butter, or a combination
- 6 tbsp Ice-Cold Water, plus more as needed
- 4 small, tart Apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled and cored
- ¾ cup Brown Sugar
- ½ tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Cinnamon
- 1 tsp Nutmeg
- ½ cup Raisins (optional), preferably golden
- ½ cup Walnuts (optional), chopped
- 4 tbsp Butter, divided into 1 tbsp slices
- Preheat oven to 375°
- Prepare the pie crust.
- Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Cut in the shortening or butter with your fingers, two knives, or a pastry cutter until the pieces are the size of small peas. Do not over mix.
- Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of water over the mixture, and gently mix until all of the flour is moistened and can combine into a single ball. Do not over mix.
- Divide the dough into four balls. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
- Roll each ball into a large square, about ¼” thick.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg. Gently roll each peeled, cored apple in the spice mixture, and save the remaining mixture.
- Place one apple into the center of each square.
- If you are using nuts or raisins, add them to the mixture now.
- Fill each apple core with a portion of the mixture.
- Place one tablespoon on top of each apple.
- Bring the corners of the dough to the top of the apple and seal by pricking with a fork 3-4 times. This is the part where, if you don’t seal well, your apple will undress in the oven. I like to mark what is on the inside with a couple of pieces on the outside. For example, I hate raisins, and there is nothing worse than a raisin surprise. So, I put a couple raisins on the top of the dough so that I know which apples have raisins in them.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes.
- Serve warm with cream. Or milk. Or ice cream.