Last week I made five apple cakes. I didn’t eat five apple cakes. I successfully managed to dish most of them out. Nevertheless, there was a lot of cake in the house.
There were two reasons. Firstly, I was trying to perfect a recipe given to me by my mother over the phone. It wasn’t easy, since most of the measurements came in the form of “a glass of this and a glass of that” or better still, directions such as ”I use a handful of sugar”. Also, each time I called, there seemed to be a different varitation on the ingredients. One was made with butter, one with oil, one with 6 eggs, the next with two eggs plus a yolk, the final one with three egg yolks plus one egg and a tablespoon of plain yoghurt…And she had lost her voice so was whispering! Anyway, you can probably see why I had to keep making them!
The second reason was that my apple cake was coming with me to Nick Coffer’s Weekend Kitchen at BBC Three Counties Radio that Saturday. I wanted it to be tasty, moist, not too crumbly and a bit different so that it would make enough of a talking point.
I was aiming for a traditional Polish apple cake, called a Szarlotka, to go with the show’s theme “A taste of my childhood” as close as possible to the one I remember Mama making at home with apples from our garden.
Cake number one was nice but I can’t remember how I made it. Cake number two was too eggy. Cake number three was too dry and crumbly. Cake number four turned out too spongy. I was going to bed dreaming of dough and Bramley apples.
My friend Chris made a good point as she tasted apple cake number four along with her kiddies who had come over for tea. She said, “I’d go with the one you brought over yesterday (cake number three) This one is nice, but it’s just an apple cake, a bit like Eve’s Pudding. The one you made yesterday was different. Also, if your guests have never tried a Polish apple cake, they won’t have anything to compare it to.” Good advice. So, I went with cake number three (a traditional Szarlotka) but tweaked the recipe a tiny bit more, to include lemon zest, vanilla and almond essence as well as a tablespoon of plain yogurt…
The final version was prepared on Friday evening. Since it is a three-layered cake and Nick questioned whether it was fairly complicated to make, here are some step-by-step instructions with photos with a traditional ingredients and recipe to follow.
Firstly, I stewed and sweetened my Bramley apples with sugar (about a handful) and cinnamon (loads of it). Once cool, these sat in the fridge until I needed them the next morning.
Next, I made my dough by blitzing the flour, baking powder and butter in a food processor for a couple of seconds before adding all the rest of the dough ingredients and giving it another mix. The dough is quite crumbly, so you take it out and bring it together with your hands giving it a little knead.
Once combined, I rolled it into a ball then split it, squishing two-thirds into the bottom of a lined tin until the base of the tin was all covered. I took the remaining third and wrapped it in clingfilm and then put both the tin and the extra ball of dough to sit in the fridge overnight.
In the morning, I preheated the oven, took out the dough, pricked the base and cooked it for fifteen minutes (uncovered). I also placed the ball of dough in clingfilm into the freezer for ten minutes so that I could grate it and sprinkle it over the apples as a topping.
Once it had cooked, I scooped my stewed apples into the tin and flattened them out a bit.
Then I took my ball of dough out of the freezer and grated it – just like a block of cheese…
…before sprinkling it evenly over the apples and dusting it with a final bit of cinnamon.
Polish Apple Cake (Szarlotka)
For the dough -
For the filling –
To bake – use a 24cm x 28cm cake tin lined with baking paper.
Pre-heat oven to 200°C.
Stage One (Apple filling)
Stew the apples and filling ingredients in a pan for five minutes or so until they are lightly stewed but not too mushy. Leave to cool. You could do this in advance.
Stage Two (Make the dough)
(Use a food processor if possible, if not, knead well by hand)
Combine the flour and baking powder and mix well. Add the butter and mix again. Add caster sugar, egg yolks and egg, plain yoghurt, almond essence or vanilla extract and lemon zest and pulse until a dough forms.
Split the dough – take 1/3 wrap it in cling film and place it in the freezer.
Take the remaining 2/3 and either roll out or take pieces and place it in the bottom of your cake tin so that it is covered and there are no gaps showing. If necessary, use your knuckles to press the dough down until it is fairly flat.
Prick the dough with a fork and bake (uncovered) for 10-15 minutes in the oven. It should be golden and a little bit firm but not fully cooked.
Take it out of the oven and turn the oven down to 180°C.
Stage Three (Filling and topping)
Spoon your stewed apples onto the cooked dough in the tin.
Take the 1/3 dough from the freezer and grate (like a block of cheese).
Sprinkle the grated dough over the apples in the tin and bake in the oven for a further 40-50 minutes (at the lower temperature).
Once cooked, take out the tin and leave to cool, then slice.