Dorie Greenspan: “The most unusual cake recipe I’ve ever made.”

I love receiving Dorie Greenspan’s newsletter every week and thought I’d share the link so you can subscribe as well as try out her recipe for this week. The great thing about Dorie–well, really there are many things that are great about Dorie including her wonderful cookbooks including the latest Baking with Dorie is that she includes extensive notes for each recipe to help make it as perfect in your kitchen as it is in hers–though I have to believe that anything the comes out of Dorie’s kitchen has to be much more sublime than what I do. But still if I can even get close, I’d delighted and so are my guests.

Now let’s read what Dorie had to say this week:

Hello! Hello!

I find myself thinking of my family more as the news from Ukraine keeps getting worse. I want to hold my little family closer, hug them tighter and feed them more. There’s no proof that cookies are a cure, but there’s no proof that they aren’t, so I choose to believe in the power of baking and sharing. And the sweetness of it.

Since I made the Goose Feet Cookies (you can find the recipe here, in last week’s newsletter), I’ve been cooking and baking recipes from Russia and Ukraine. Someone commented that the people of Ukraine don’t need me to bake cookies, they need help. And of course, that’s true. I am continuing to donate to organizations that provide vital help, but I am also continuing to bake and to share what I bake because it helps people I love. This week, I pulled two cookbooks off my shelf and made something from each.

Cookbooks

Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes Through Darkness and Light by Caroline Eden, is about six places on the Black Sea, including Odessa, where my father-in-law was born. I read about the cafés of Odessa, about the richness of its literary history and the bustle of life, and I made a soup that brought back a flood of memories. I’ll tell you about it in a coming post.

And I reread Darra Goldstein’s Beyond the North Wind and baked Sasha’s Grated Apple Cake from it. Darra is a professor emerita of Russian at Williams College and a cookbook author I’ve admired for years. Still, as I set out the ingredients to make this cake, I wasn’t at all sure it would work and I had barely an inkling of what it might be like.

NO BATTER? REALLY?

All of the liquid in this recipe comes from grated apples and the bit of lemon juice you use to keep the apples from darkening. There are no eggs, no milk and no reason to think that by mixing together flour, farina (yep, Cream of Wheat cereal), sugar, baking powder, salt and some spice, you’ll end up with “cake”. But you do! You sprinkle this dry mixture between layers of apple, dot the top with tiny pieces of cold butter, bake for an hour and then marvel at the transformational magic of heat.

Is it cake as we usually think of cake? Not really. You don’t have thick fluffy layers of sponge, but you do have a very moist cake with the full flavor of spiced apples and a texture that’s reminiscent of great pie. Just as the farmer’s cheese dough for the Goose Feet Cookies reminded me of the bow ties my aunt made decades ago, this recipe made me think of my Russian Grandmother’s apple cake, a recipe I tried to recreate in Baking From My Home to Yours.

My mother had told me that my grandmother made the cake with the same dough that she used for her cookies. I remember her cookies as being a bit crisp and I remember her cake as being a bit soft. Of course, I was very young and memory plays tricks on us through the years. But tasting this recipe, I had an instant in which I thought I’d unlocked the secret to my grandmother’s cake: Perhaps she grated the apples! The texture of this cake and the softness of the fruit filling seemed so like the cake of my childhood.

After Mary Dodd tested the recipe, she told me that it reminded her of simple recipes that her great-grandmother made. She called the cake “humble but perfect” and said she would be making it often. Just as I will.

You don’t need fragments of memory to love this cake. It may just make memories of its own. Please let me know. I love to hear your stories.

Bake for yourself. Bake for the people you love. I’ll see you on the other side of the weekend.

XOXO Dorie

Sasha’s Grated Apple Cake

Serves 8

Notes:

Pan size: The recipe calls for an 8-inch springform pan, a pan that’s not very common. So while I used an 8-inch springform for my cake, Mary Dodd used an 8-inch cake pan for hers. Both worked perfectly. Don’t be tempted to use a 9-inch pan – there isn’t enough batter for it.

The butter: You’ll need about 7 tablespoons of butter to dot the top of the cake, but it’s good to have another tablespoon at the ready. Check the cake after it’s baked for about 30 minutes – if you see a few dry spots, cover them with more bits of butter.

Farina: You’ll find farina – the best-known brand is called Cream of Wheat – in the hot cereal aisle of your supermarket. It’s an old-fashioned breakfast cereal – it’s like porridge when it’s boiled – and there isn’t a substitute for it here.

The spice: Cardamom is what Darra calls for. If your cardamom is fresh (I know, it’s supposed to be, but if you’re like me, you might sometimes forget to replace older spices), then 1/2 teaspoon will provide robust flavor and fragrance. I love it, but it may be too much for you. Or cardamom might not be your spice of choice. Pick the spice you love and decide how much of it you’d like.

The dried fruit: Darra suggests dried apple rings. I don’t usually have those, so I used dried cranberries. Mary used golden raisins. Really, any dried fruit that you like and that you think will go with apples, will be fine here. Just remember to snip (or chop) the fruit into small pieces and to make sure that the fruit is soft. I “plump” the fruit by putting it in a bowl of very hot (or boiling) water for a couple of minutes, then draining and patting it dry.   

INGREDIENTS

  • 7 to 8 tablespoons (100 to 113 grams; 3 1/2 to 4 ounces) very cold unsalted butter (see above)
  • 3/4 cup (102 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (90 grams) fine farina or Cream of Wheat, not instant (see above)
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, cinnamon, ginger or the spice of your choice; less to taste (see above)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds (680 grams), 3 to 5 (depending on size), tart apples, such as Granny Smiths, halved and cored, but not peeled
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup (100 to 125 grams) moist, plump dried apple rings, finely chopped, dried cranberries or raisins (see above) 

DIRECTIONS

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. You need either an 8-inch springform or cake pan (see above). If you’re using a springform, butter the pan and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (just to catch any drips). If you’re using a cake pan, butter the pan, line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment. (Mary had parchment with little handles – if you have those kinds of parchment rounds that’s nice, but the cake is very fragile, so pulling it up by the handles is iffy business. It’s better to invert it – see below.)

Cut 7 tablespoons of the butter into tiny pieces and keep them in the refrigerator while you put the cake together. Keep another tablespoon at the ready in the fridge (see above).

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, farina, sugar, baking powder, cardamom (or other spice) and salt. Set aside.

Coarsely grate the apples. You can do this in a food processor with the grating attachment or use the large holes on a box or other grater. (I used the processor and had a few chunks of apples left on the top and in the bowl – I picked those out and ate them!) Transfer the apples to a bowl. Stir in the lemon juice to mix well, then stir in the dried apples (or whatever dried fruit you’re using).

Evenly sprinkle one-third of the flour mixture over the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the apples, then cover with half of the remaining flour mixture. Spoon on the remaining apples. If you’ve got a little liquid from the apples in the bowl, add it – if you’ve got a lot (unlikely, but …), just add a spoonful or two of it. Cover with the last of the flour mixture.

Scatter the bits of butter evenly over the top, being careful to cover the entire surface. 

Place the cake in the oven, then immediately lower the temperature to 350 degrees F.

Bake for 30 minutes and then take a peek at the cake. If you notice some dry spots, cut the reserved butter into bits and pop them on top of the dry patches. Continue to bake the cake for 30 minutes more – the total baking time is 1 hour – or until golden. Transfer the pan to a rack (it won’t get very dark) and let the cake cool for about 20 minutes. If you’ve made the cake in a springform, run a table knife between the pan and the cake, then remove the outer ring of the pan. If you’ve made the cake in a regular cake pan, place a piece of parchment on a cooling rack or cutting board and have a serving plate or another rack or board covered with paper at hand. Run a table knife between the pan and the cake, unmold the cake onto the covered rack or board, peel away the round of parchment and then gently invert the cake onto your plate or the other parchment-covered rack or board. The cake is ready to serve when it is slightly warm or reaches room temperature. 

Storing: Darra says that the cake is best the day it is made and she’s right – it’s delicious then. But if you have cake leftover, cover and refrigerate it – it’s very good cold the next day. 

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