Croatian Apple Cake
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More of a “sandwich pie” than a cake in the American sense, this was made from another recipe by Ino Kuvacic. He writes that the cake “can be prepared for any occasion”, and is made all over Croatia with different fruit fillings. In my own reconstruction, its breadth was an invite to decide for myself what it was: Is it breakfast? Breakfast’s dessert? Brunch? Lunch itself? Certainly I couldn’t wait until after dinner. Once made, it wouldn't stop calling to me from the pie tin, suggesting itself warm with oatmeal ice cream, or cold and cut rectangular like a lemon bar. It’s something you don’t forget is there.
The crust tones down the richness of the apple, whose natural sweetness is syrupy with the rum. The cake is, above all else, intensely shareable. Not only is it easy to transport (wrapped in satisfying parchment and tied with twine), it’s familiar.
For me, the apple and cinnamon sautéing on the stove was my mom cooking applesauce when I was a kid, the kind that’s rustic with big soft pieces of apple; when I gave a slab to my friend, she was reminded of McDonald’s apple pie, which I’ve never had, but can imagine; when my grandpa tried it, he asked, approvingly, if the cake came from Costco; my niece, who is a baby, didn’t have a memory to connect it to, but looked like she might be happily making one, with her sticky hands and mouth.
In short, it’s for all of us.
I was happy to get it out of my kitchen, as it whittles down mysteriously anytime you’re near the fridge. Even better, it granted me a new food memory: standing in grandma’s kitchen, three generations, eating over cupped hands and a couple hungry dogs.
The following is the recipe I used, as found in Ino Kuvacic’s Dalmatia cookbook.
375 g (13 oz/2 1/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
165 g (5 1/2 oz) butter
165 g (5 1/2 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, whisked (egg wash)
2 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar, to sprinkle
750 g (1 lb 11 oz) Granny Smith (or similar) apples, grated
225 g (8 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
To make the apple filling, sauté the apple and sugar in a sauce pan over high heat for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, rum and ground cinnamon.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale. Add the egg and lemon zest and beat on high until the mixture is pale and fluffy in texture. Fold in the flour, baking powder, rum and salt. Work the mixture into a dough but do not work it for too long. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F).
Divide the dough in half, sprinkle with flour and roll out each half to fit a 15x20 cm (6 x 8 in) baking dish or tray. Line the dish with baking paper. The dough should be 1-2 cm (1/2-3/4 in) thick.
Put one layer of dough in the dish and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, spread the filling over the top and cover with the remaining dough. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with caster sugar. Prick the top of the dough with a fork and bake until golden brown. Serve hot or cold, cut into squares.