Sweet retreats...

A few months ago, I stumbled across what has become one of my favorite cooking sites, smitten kitchen. The creator of the site, Deb Perelman, resides in New York City. Even in the matter of a few minutes, it's easy to see just how much she loves food. This is something we have in common. One of her recipes in particular has become a personal favorite, mostly because it's fun to make with a friend.

Apple Sharlotka. Sounds fancy right? Maybe even difficult. It almost sounds (and looks) like something one might take hours to make and perfect. In reality, the most exciting part of this recipe is the big reveal. It's like Extreme Makeover for your eyes and tummy.

See what I mean? It just looks classy, like something that you'd find in a Victorian sitting room with people holding themselves back from it as much as they might hold themselves back from sexual hedonism. But alas, one can resist only so long. Trust me.

I'd made the recipe once on my own before I decided it would be fun to make with someone else. Mostly though, I just get lonely in the kitchen. I always feel better about whatever I'm making, whether sweet or savory, when I know that someone else will be eating it with me. Don't get me wrong, there's almost always some fulfillment that comes from seeing my own creativity come to life in such a rewarding fashion. But when I stand in our small apartment's kitchen with someone I love, doing the dance that must be done in the tiny space we have, I feel more whole.

One of my closest girlfriends came over awhile back. I'd been craving something sweet, and as is the case with this recipe, something not excessively rich or decadent. After meeting at Target to buy groceries, we headed back to my place and got to work.  I started working on the batter, the part of this recipe that makes it a slight conundrum. I mean, it looks like a cake right? Well, it's technically not. The batter lacks both milk and butter (sad face, right?). In fact, this recipe is mostly just apples bound together by a egg/sugar/flour mixture, and topped off with some powdered sugar (also one of the most exciting parts of the recipe... I even got one of the little shakers just so I could go nuts with it). When I told my girlfriend this, like me, she was surprised and intrigued.

While I put the batter together, she started on the apples. Granny Smith apples. Lots of them. Peeling and coring, peeling and coring. Chopping. I was almost tempted to try another method mentioned by a friend whose family is Polish. His grandmother would actually grate the apples like hash browns. I definitely think that would require a certain amount of teamwork. One of these days, I'll give the "hash brown" method a try...

The fun part is coming together, me with the apples and spoon, my girlfriend pouring in the batter... side note — this is my one modification to the original recipe. Deb suggest putting the apples in the buttered springform pan and then adding the batter. Past experience has taught me that it's easier to mix the batter with the apples and then pour the entire mix into the pan. But that's just my take.

Once the sharlotka goes into the oven, it then becomes a waiting game. I usually top it with some cinnamon and even a slight dusting of sugar before it even gets baked, but waiting until after has turned out to be better. I know it may seem that this is a recipe able to be made by one person, and it is. I've done it. But again, I love cooking with friends. It brings a sense of pride and accomplishment to make a good dish or meal with someone by my side. With this dish in particular, especially the first time, it's worth seeing the look on their face as you flip the cake out onto its final serving dish, to see their eyes close as they soak up the scents wafting into the living room from the kitchen. It's rewarding to let a friend go crazy with the powdered sugar. And it's heavenly to let them take the first bite, to see pride well up in their eyes. I can cook nearly anything with a friend. This just happens to be one of the first recipes that came to mind. And here it is...

Apple Sharlotka

Adapted from Alex’s mother, who adapted it from her mother, and so on…

Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan 6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths 3 large eggs 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour Ground cinnamon, to finish Powdered sugar, also to finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.

Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter so that it covers all exposed apples. (Updated to clarify: Spread the batter and press it down into the apple pile. The top of the batter should end up level with the top of the apples.) Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon.

Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar. Alex’s family eats it plain, but imagine it would be delicious with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped or sour cream.