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.
Ordering horchata is like having sex. You always order it when it’s available, you rarely regret it, sometimes you stumble upon it in strange places, and you’re always hoping it will be the best of your life, but unfortunately, it probably won’t be.
Because of its simple ingredients and time consuming process to make, I often find that corners are skipped, and sugary syrups or artificial thickening agents are added. Not that this makes bad horchata…I am just always keenly hunting for knock-your-socks-off horchata.
I started making horchata while living in Japan where it is completely unavailable. To my surprise it was both easy to make, and the homemade version surpasses most restaurant or store bought versions. It keeps well, and you most likely have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now.
Best of all, it is highly customizable (see personalizations below). I sometimes add almonds if I have some laying around. I nearly always add a drop or two of almond extract. As for milk, we did a blind taste test of no milk, with milk, and with coconut milk. While they were all delicious, the version with milk won hands down, but coconut milk is a great vegan alternative.
The real key is patience. Some people will try to convince you that you can concoct it in an afternoon, but they are probably boring people whose favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla. In order to get a real beverage and not just flavored water, you must be patient, small fry. So, make this over the weekend and have it in your fridge all week.
Note: Don’t spend a lot of time rinsing your rice, it’s only going to sit in water for the next couple of hours. I have found the best way to rinse rice is by using nylons or a cheese cloth, or if you’ve ever lived in Japan, 1 – 2 of those sink socks.
Horchata: Mexican Rice Milk
serves 6 to 8
- 1 cup long-grain white Rice, rinsed
- 1 Cinnamon Stick, preferably Mexican, more for garnish
- 4 cups Water
- 1 cup-ish Sugar
- 1 tbsp Vanilla
secret ingredients for personalization
- ½ cup Almonds, blanched & chopped
- 1 – 3 drops Almond Extract
- 2 cups Milk or 2 cups Coconut Milk (not both)
- Combine the rice, 2 cups of water and the cinnamon stick in a sturdy blender. Pulse (don’t blend) until the rice is like coarse bird seed, but not so long it resembles sand. It will be loud. Your cat will be scared.
- Pour the mixture with the other 2 cups of water into a large (I prefer air-tight) container and let soak for 24 hours. Grab a good book. Leave it alone until tomorrow. Or, throw it in the fridge and go away for the weekend. Just don’t move on to the next step for several hours, unless you feel the need to shake it. You’re allowed to shake it if you like.
- Have you slept? Are you sure? If you haven’t slept at least once, you haven’t waited long enough. If you have, you may now return the contents to the blender. Sometimes I find there is too much water to fit everything in the blender. If so, you can do this step in batches. Blend the mixture, and this time blend like you mean it. Get angry, and pulverize the mixture until smooth.
- Strain the mixture through your best straining device. We used a a cheese cloth over a bowl, but a chinois, nylons, or fine mesh strainer all work. Some are messier than others. Get as much liquid out as you can.
- At this point I like to blend and strain again, but this is a personal preference. If you do blend it a second time, the horchata will likely get very warm, this is natural.
- Once you have reached the desired level of smoothness, you can add as much sugar as you like along with the vanilla. Start with a little and gradually add more, waiting for the sugar to dissolve completely before tasting. I usually start with 1 cup, but feel free to start with less.
- Serve over ice, with a cinnamon stick stirrer, or as our friend Chris likes it, with a shot of whiskey.
- You can add a ½ cup of almonds or other nut to the soaking rice mixture. If you do, blanched and chopped are best. In Spain they use the tigernuts…grrr!
- You can add a couple drops almond extract at the same time or in lieu of vanilla, goes especially well if you have added almonds to the soak.
- You can add milk at the same time as the vanilla if you want a creamier horchata.
- You can add coconut milk at the same time as the vanilla if you want a more tropical flavored horchata.
My husband loves cinnamon-sugar flavored dough-based products. We’re at a diner, what does he want for breakfast?
Cinnamon French Toast
We’re at a carnival or fair, what kind of snack does he want?
What’s his favorite cereal?
Cinnamon Toast Crunch
What’s his favorite dessert?
Starting to see a trend? You can basically take any bread product, dip it in cinnamon and sugar and he will be happy. And really, it’s a good thing to know this about my husband. With one simple recipe I can win his attention, an argument, or his heart. Okay, I might be exaggerating, but you get the idea 🙂 So imagine the kind of points I can win if I make the worlds best Cinnamon Sticky Buns?
I first had these at a girlfriend’s house and knew immediately I had to have the recipe. Since then I’ve made large gooey rolls, and mini rolls, both outstanding. They take some time (overnight), but don’t require too much labor. Also, if you want to eat them in the morning, you’ll need to get up early, preheat the oven, baking time, cooling time… you get the picture. I recommend starting these on Friday or Saturday night and having them for brunch on Saturday or Sunday. They keep relatively well for a couple days so you can take the leftovers to work on Monday (not that we ever have leftover anything cinnamon-flavored in our house).
Melt Your Husband’s Heart Cinnamon Sticky Buns
Recipe care of Food.com. Makes 9 large or 18 small rolls
- 1 ¼ cup Milk
- 1 tsp Vanilla
- 3 tbsp Butter
- 3 cups Flour
- 3 tbsp Sugar
- 1 ¼ tsp Salt
- 2 tsp Instant Yeast
- ¾ cup Brown Sugar
- 1 tbsp Cinnamon
- ⅓ cup Butter
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- ¼ cup Light Corn Syrup
- 1 cup Pecans, chopped
- 6 tbsp Butter, room temperature
- Layer the roll ingredients in your bread machine according to your bread maker’s instructions (we have and love this breadmaker). Set to ‘Dough’ cycle. If you regularly make bread, you can also do this manually. I don’t have that skill set, so I use the breadmaker and it comes out perfect.
- While the dough is mixing prepare the filling. Mix the ¾ brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl.
- Grease the bottom and sides of a 9″ x 9″ baking pan for large rolls or a 13″ x 9″ baking pan for small rolls.
- When the dough cycle is nearly finished, begin making the caramel by combining the ⅓ cup butter, 1 cup brown sugar, and corn syrup in a small pan over moderate heat. Heat and stir just until the syrup is dissolved, then pour it into the greased baking pan and spreafilling ingredientsd it out. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the caramel.
- When the dough cycle ends place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 12″ x 15″ rectangle.
- Spread the 6 tbsp room temperature butter on the dough leaving a 1″ border.
- Sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar filling over the butter.
- For large rolls, roll the dough lengthwise. For small rolls, roll the dough widthwise. Pinch the seams closed. Cut the dough into sections, 9 large or 18 small (or whatever size you like). Place in the prepared, carameled baking pan spiral side down, close together.
- Cover the baking pan tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least 6 hours. The dough will rise.
- When you are ready to bake, remove the baking pan from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature for 20 – 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- After the dough has been out of the refrigerator for 20 – 30 minutes, place in the oven and bake at 350 for 30 – 35 minutes or until nicely browned (darker than sugar cookies “golden brown) on top.
- Remove from the oven and immediately flip onto another surface. I like to flip onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat so that it doesn’t stick and for easy cleanup. To do this, I recommend placing the hot baking pan on a wire rack. Then place the baking sheet (and silpat) upside don the baking pan. While firmly holding the wire rack and baking sheet together, flip the buns over quickly away from your body. Be careful! The caramel inside will be boiling and you do not want this on your skin.
- Let the buns cool 20 – 30 minutes before serving. Your husband (kids, partner, friends, neighbors) will smell them and want to eat them at this time. Don’t let them (him). It will only result in burned fingers and tongues, and the caramel will be too runny to enjoy. I promise it will be better later.
- Now that you have waited patiently, serve.