Ever since I started this blog, I’ve been keeping a list of things to post. This cake was amongst the initial five and is the only one off the original list that remains. So, I knew when I got the massive shipment of apples (which I mentioned in my last post) I was out of excuses to avoid it. The reason why I’ve been avoiding it is simple: like virtually all recipes from the little towns of eastern Slavonia (or at least the ones my family makes), its measurements are undocumented.
Despite searching for and attempting recipes from practically every Croatian cookbook, the standard (and still delicious) pita od jabuka wasn’t what I was looking for. What I remembered of this cake was a buttery apple center sandwiched in between fluffy vanilla spongecake. It was always baked in a big black unpretentious tepsija (a casserole dish—the kind otherwise used for meat and potatoes) and covered with a dishcloth so that it could cool slowly. The scent of vanilla and apples gave away its presence the second anyone entered the house. And although not considered fancy by any means, neighbours who would stop by at any given time of day for a little cup of Turkish coffee were always delighted to find it on the table.
I finally asked my aunt to give me the recipe when I visited her last year. Pleased at my interest, she jumped up immediately and insisted that we make it together right then and there. (Another bonus of this recipe: the ingredients are almost always present.) But of course, anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of learning such a recipe from a relative knows how the conversation goes:
Me: How much flour do you put?
My Aunt: This much. (as she pours an undetermined amount into the bowl)
Me: But how do you know how much there is?
My Aunt: I can see how much there is. See? It’s right here in the bowl.
Me: No, but, how do you know how much to put?
My Aunt: I just tip over the bag and however much flour wants to come out comes out.
So, you get the point. (No wonder why I couldn’t find the recipe!) And fine, I’ll stop being a measurement snob. Luckily my phone was nearby and allowed me to snap pictures to remember just how much of everything to put. And so, many months later, I have put into writing the measurements for my favourite apple cake. Give or take, a bit of whatever.
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs, yolks separated from whites
1 cup sugar
1 package (1 tbsp) vanilla sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
3 large apples (I used Ajdared apples, you can use whichever you like. Red delicious is generally good for baking, although Fuji and/or Gala work well too.)
3 tbsps butter
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup sugar
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C). Grease pan (it should be at least 2” deep) with butter and flour.
2.Beat egg whites until still peaks form and set aside. Sift together flour and baking powder; set that aside too.
3.In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, vanilla sugar, egg yolks, oil, and vanilla extract until well incorporated. Stir in the milk.
4.Combine the flour mixture with the egg yolk mixture. Fold in egg whites.
5.Spoon half of the batter into the baking dish and bake for approximately 15 -20 minutes.
6.While the bottom half of the cake is baking, prepare the apple filling: peel and slice apples. In a saucepan, melt 3 tbsps of butter and then add the sliced apples along with ½ tsp cinnamon and ½ cup sugar. (You can add more cinnamon/sugar to taste.) Cook for a few minutes until apples become soft.
7.When the bottom half of the cake is a light golden brown and slightly firm to the touch, take it out of the oven. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes so that it hardens (otherwise it’ll collapse when you add the apples).
8.Distribute the apple filling evenly over the cake. Then, spoon the remaining half of the cake batter overtop. Put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes, until the top layer is baked.
9.Allow the cake to cool completely (perhaps cover it with a dishcloth to keep things traditional) before cutting off the edges and proceeding to slice the cake into squares. Sprinkle with icing sugar, and serve.