I’m kicking off my Cooking Channel blog series with quite possibly the most everyday cake in Russian culinary repertoire; every, and I mean every, Russian household makes this cake. The famed, quotidian Sharlotka is nothing more than a bit of flour bound together by eggs, sugar and a dash of leavening with some apples. Every time someone in Russia would drop in unexpectedly, my mother would disappear in the kitchen for a few minutes and, an hour later, we had a gorgeous apple cake waiting for us all to enjoy. Judging by how busy everyone is these days and how the holiday season only exacerbates our time deficit, this is a good cake to have in your arsenal of dishes.
My family’s recipe uses brandy, but I decided I needed the caramel notes of dark rum to bring out the autumnal feel in apples. [Full disclosure: I had run out of brandy and we got a heavy October snow, so I wasn’t willing to run down the street for more.] I also nearly doubled the apple amount, cutting it into finer chunks, and I used a generous hand with the spices. The original version my family makes only features cinnamon, but I wanted the cake to have so much more: allspice, cloves, ginger, nutmeg — they all make an appearance and leave a mark.
The resulting cake is something more of a vehicle for apples to be suspended in a slight amount of batter. Spooning the batter into the springform, you will wonder to yourself if, indeed, there’s not enough batter for the cake. But worry not — what emerges is really quite delicate and lovely. It tastes better the next day, so I make it the night before, and then my fiancé and I enjoy it over morning tea. However you serve it, and however everyday it might seem, this could be a way to switch up that Thanksgiving apple pie routine, or morning coffee the following day. Either way, it’s a winner in our household.
3/4 cup (96 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 medium, firm-fleshed apples (about 800 grams), (like Granny Smith, Fuji or Honeycrisp), peeled, cored and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (37 grams) dark rum
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) vanilla extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons, 113 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan (use about 1 tablespoon of butter); line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Place the springform on a baking sheet also lined with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and nutmeg.
3. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs until they are foamy. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended, about 2 minutes. Whisk in rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, whisk in half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the rest of the butter. Mix gently so that the resulting batter is smooth and thick. Using a rubber spatula, fold in apple chunks making sure that each piece is coated with the batter. Scrape the mixture into the springform pan and smooth it out as best as you can with a spatula. The raw cake will look lumpy, almost as if you don’t have enough batter.
4. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You might see the cake pulling away a bit on at the sides. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
5. Using a butter knife, carefully run it around the edges of the cake, and carefully remove the sides of the springform, being careful not to pull away any apple bits. Allow the cake to cool to room temperature before removing it from the bottom of the springform (same process as removing the sides). Serve at room temperature. The cake will keep for a few days; it’s best to throw a kitchen towel over it rather than plastic wrap.
Olga Massov, is a freelance food writer and recipe developer. In her past life, she spent a decade working in finance, but now gets to assist the likes of Melissa Clark and Andrew Scrivani. Olga writes a bi-weekly column for the Cooking Channel blog, and has been featured by Saveur.com, BonAppetit.com, and GourmetLive, among others. Her other work can be found on www.sassyradish.com and her twitter handle is @sassyradish.
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