I did some change to my blog header. Did you notice? I decided to change my blog title from Farida’s Azerbaijani Cookbook to AZ Cookbook, to perfectly match my domain name. No…Actually, that’s really not the reason why I did that. Those who know me well, know that I am my worst critic, sometimes to a maniacal extend (not good at all). So, for the longest time I couldn’t help but reproaching myself each time I posted a non-Azerbaijani recipe. “Your blog reads AZERBAIJANI cookbook,” my inner critic said, “and this is not Azerbaijani!” I told the evil voice that whenever I posted a non-Azerbaijani recipe, I mentioned its origins in the intro to the recipe. The critic was not satisfied. Plus she found the title too long. I couldn’t sleep and I had nightmares, mostly with the evil critic scolding me for my dishonest behavior (did I tell you the critic is mean to me?).
No more. The critic can be at peace, as from now on this space will be called AZ Cookbook, where AZ stands for both Azerbaijan and everything from A to Z, that is, not necessarily Azerbaijani. Plus, according to the critic, it sounds better. Short and to the point. I can sleep better now. Off the chest. Feels great. Now I can talk food without guilt. So, here it comes.
Last Sunday our family friends and we went apple picking in Oak Glen. It was our family’s first apple picking trip and we were super excited. Glean Oak is a scenic town known for its numerous apple orchards tucked at the foot of lush green mountains. We first stopped at an orchard where you can pick your own apples. Sadly, the orchard didn’t have a good harvest this year, so we ended up with just a few apples and ironically, a pumpkin that we picked from a tiny pumpkin patch set up amidst the apple trees, as if on purpose, to ease off the visitors’ souring mood.
With a bag of hard-earned apples and a cute little pumpkin in our hands, we moved on to a nearby orchard, where you can’t pick apples, but you can sample from a dozen variety already pre-picked and bagged for you and buy your favorite. After a palate-provoking sampling ceremony, I decided on Matsu apples because of their taste, and well, because the name sounded very appealing and new to me. I learned that Mutsu (also known as Crispin) is a cross between the Golden Delicious and the Indo. It takes its name from the Mutsu province of Japan where it was first grown. Mutsu apples have green skin and somewhat tangy, succulent flesh.
I immediately thought of apple sharlotka, a classic Russian cake that is prepared with tangy apples. So, I baked it once we got back home. I hadn’t made that cake for a long time and thought this was the perfect opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite Soviet-era cakes. The cake is super easy to put together. All you do is slice the apples, beat the eggs with sugar and flour, pour the batter on top of the apples, and you are good to go. No wonder why Russians say apple sharlotka is a cake from the “gostya na poroge” (guest at the doorstep) series—perfect for unexpected guests—so, one that a host can put together in no time, while chatting away with guests to “blame”.
Makes one 9-inch (23-cm) cake
5 large apples (about 2 pounds / 1 kg), preferably a tart variety, such as Granny Smith
Teaspoon or less, to taste, cinnamon (optional)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or pinch of vanilla powder
1 cup flour
Unsalted butter, for buttering the pan
1 tablespoon bread crumbs
Powdered sugar, for coating the cake
Peel and core the apples. Quarter them, then slice (not to thick and not to thin) each quarter crosswise.
Butter the bottom and the sides of a 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan (you can use a regular pan, but springform pan is preferred for easier unmolding). Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the bottom of the pan. Arrange the apples on top. You do not have to arrange them accurately. Just toss them in there and level with your hands. If using cinnamon, sprinkle it on the apples.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. The more you beat, the more the cake will rise and the softer it will be. Add the vanilla extract or vanilla powder and flour. Beat until well blended.
Pour the batter evenly over the apples. Do not mix.
Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the top is golden. Let cool slightly, then unmold. Sift some powdered sugar on top. Serve warm with ice cream, or at room temperature with a cup of tea or coffee.