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.
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
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.
- 300g flour (2 cups)
- 180g cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 50g sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1kg apples
- 3 tbsp sugar
- ¼ glass water
- 2 tbsp potato starch (flat)
- 11/2 tbsp soft butter
- 4 tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla sugar
- Stir all the ingredients together with a spoon or your fingers. Somehow I prefer option number 2. Very soothing.
- Place all the ingredients in the bowl. I start with cutting them with a knife. When it sort of starts coming together I transfer everything on the counter and continue with my hands. The dough should be elastic, maybe feel like it is a tad too sticky but usually it just means the butter is getting softer. Be quick and determined, get it formed into a ball, put back in the bowl and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Peel the apples and dice them. Place them in a pot along with water and sugar. Simmer on medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes. You can prolong that part if you want them mushy. I don’t like mushy so I stick to shorter times. In the meantime grate the zest of half of lemon and squeeze out the lemon.
- Strain the juice the apples created into a small bowl. Add lemon juice and potato starch. Mix well and pour it back into the apples. Add lemon zest, mix well. Leave aside.
- Roll ⅔ of the dough and place it in the bottom of the springform (26cm). Make sure also part of the edges is covered.
- Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, stab the dough with a fork and bake for 15 minutes. If you have baking beans you can use those rather than stabbing the dough. If the dough still won’t listen and comes out of the oven a bit risen don’t worry, get a fork and carefully press it down and shape as you want it.
- Fill the dough with apples. Grate the remaining dough over the pie and place more or less evenly. Then sprinkle the crumble over the pie. Bake for another 30 minutes.
- After baking wait till it cools, at least in theory. In practice it is really hard to do so. I’ve had it pure, I’ve had it with ice cream. It tastes divine on each and every occasion.