apple pie cut into squares

Szarlotka – traditional apple pie with a lemon twist

March 13, 2020

Szarlotka is a given whenever you mention Polish food. Crumbly dough packed with apples to the brim is a deliciousness on its own. And then you can serve it with some vanilla ice cream, get some coffee and life will be much better in an instant.

Before we go any further let’s establish what things are. Szarlotka (shar-lot-kha) is a Polish apple pie that you make it with a shortcrust pastry. Anything else (e.g. sponge cake based) would be a cake and in Polish you will call it Jabłecznik. To say there is an abundance of recipes for an apple pie in Polish tradition is to say nothing. Szarlotka, a Polish classic, differs from usual apple pies with its less sweet dough. You will get the explosion of sweetness in the apple layer but the dough itself will be only just sweet. And then each szarlotka is different. Some are with raisins, some have mushy apples, some have raw apples. In some apples are diced, in others sliced. Sometimes they are also grated. It is definitely a staple of Polish cuisine. I personally think only a cheesecake can give szarlotka a run for its money. No other cake is as loved and cherished.

So the szarlotka I am introducing you to today is based on buttery shortcrust. It is topped with more shortcrust and crumble, with a thick layer of just simmered apples combined with lemon kisiel* in between.
It is delicious on a next day but it practically never makes it for so long. Our personal record was when it disappeared before it had a chance to completely cool off.

Trust the Kisiel

The starch in the recipe might surprise you but trust me here. It was actually my grandma who started it. We have this thing in Poland called Kisiel (kissel in English)It is a bit similar to what Germans know as Rote Grütze. And it is a bit like jello just not quite set. It is just potato starch mixed with sweetened fruit juice. So simple, yet so delicious. Another of my childhood favourites. But I am veering from the main subject here. This “kisiel” we will make here will bind the apples and keep them together, just a little bit. They will still remain independent, but they will just have a bit stronger bond. And lemon just adds a bit of freshness and pleasant zing. But it is not coming through very strongly.

Fun fact

You can also drink szarlotka. It is a name of a drink you get when you mix Zubrowka vodka with an apple juice and a pinch of cinnamon

Best apples

While in Poland: Gray and & Gold Reneta, Antonówka, Champion, Lobo or Cortland.
In Vienna you can find a tray of apples marked by Tante Fanny as best for cakes and Strudel – you can trust Tante Fanny there, she knows what she is saying. If you want to get your apples elsewhere you will want to find sweet-ish yet tart variety. Not too juicy and definitely not soft.

apple pie before baking in a form

diced apples used to fill the dough


apple pie after baking cut into squares

man eating a slice of apple pie

slice of apple pie on a plate

slice of apple pie on a plate held by a man