I Wouldn't Call It a Cake, but I Would Call It Tasty: Polish Apple Cake (Szarlotka)

Last month I spotted some Northern Spy apples at the farmers market. I'm pretty sure I have never seen Northern Spies around here before, even though I frequent multiple farmers markets. I bought a few pounds of apples with no particular project in mind.

I wanted a recipe that really showcased apples, so I decided to make the Polish Apple Cake (Szarlotka) recipe from BBC Good Food. The recipe is written to be baked in a 8-inch by 12-inch pan, but I made it in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan with no adjustments. The "cake" is really more of a bar, with a pre-cooked apple filling sandwiched between the same pastry dough that does double duty as a crust and a topping.

I made the apple filling first by briefly cooking sliced apples (tossed with lemon juice) with water, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and letting the apples cool in the liquid. The recipe calls for six large Bramley or cooking apples. I know Bramleys are readily available in the UK, but I have never seen them here and I don't know what the typical size is for the variety. In any case, my Northern Spies were small and since I was using a slightly larger pan than that specified in the recipe, I decided to err on the side of being generous. I used eight applies with a total weight (after peeling and coring) of 1.2 kg.

You make the dough in the food processor by mixing flour, baking powder, butter, sugar (I used regular granulated instead of the golden caster sugar specified), egg yolks, egg, yogurt (I didn't have any so I used sour cream), lemon zest, and vanilla. I divided the dough into two parts. I put one half in the freezer and pressed the other half into the bottom and up the sides of my parchment-lined pan. I docked the crust and baked it until lightly golden.

I filled the par-baked crust with the cooked apples and did the best I could to arrange them in a compact fashion, The recipe says to also add half of the cooking liquid, which worried me a bit. It seemed like a recipe for a soggy bottom, but I went ahead and drizzled the liquid on top of the fruit. Then I pulled out the reserved dough from the freezer and used a coarse grater to make shreds that I sprinkled over the apples. I put the bars back in the oven and baked them until the top was golden and cooked through.
When I sliced the cooled bars, I discovered that my apple-arranging skills were not quite up to par -- there were some gaps in the layers of apples, as you can see in the slice on the left in the photo above. But I was happy to see that the bottom crust was cooked through (even though it was quite pale in the center) and it was not soggy at all. I thought these bars were very good. The focus of the bars is definitely on the apples, which were nicely tender without being soggy; they retained a little bite. The cinnamon flavor was also warm without being overpowering. I thought that the recipe worked well in my larger pan; the thickness of the bottom crust was fine, and there was enough topping to cover all of the apples. I served the bars plain, without any powdered sugar or whipped cream.

While my tasters gave these bars very positive reviews, I kept thinking that both the crust/topping and the filling would definitely benefit from some salt. There is no salt at all in the recipe and salt really helps heighten the flavor of desserts, including fruit fillings. I would definitely make these bars again, with salt, and taking more care to tightly arrange the apples. If you have a large supply of baking apples, this is a relatively easy recipe that yields delicious results.

Recipe: "Polish Apple Cake (Szarlotka)" from BBC Good Food.