Yes, I had said that my post on Friday, the buckwheat blini recipe, was going to be the last you heard from me on the subject of Russian food and zakuski. Alas, I couldn’t let it be, and a long weekend loomed in front of me and I was craving sweets! Now, sweets and dessert are not dishes I remember much of from all those years in Moscow. The bins in the shops full of rectangular-wrapped chocolates were pretty hit and miss. I vaguely recall the blue one with a black bear drawn on it was my favorite. Yes, the blini with jam were delicious, and the vanilla ice cream available in the winter months, adequate, and a good friend reminded me of skyniki (little cheese pancakes) the other day, but nothing stood out in my mind.
So I let memory do it’s job and it led me back to my two years at Soviet School 44, just off Leninsky Prospect. As classes ended each day by 1pm, no lunch was served, but there was a warm tea room where we took a break around 11am, a little snack and warm tea to tide us over until we got back to our homes for lunch. On the round tables saucers full of cherry and strawberry jams were laid in the center for the children to eat by the spoonful with their steaming glasses of black tea. It was also here that my classmates insisted on buying me every pastry on display. For 5 Kopeks, maybe 10, you could get a lovely sweet bread or often, a slice of this apple sharlotka cake.
This is not the most delicious cake you’ll ever eat, but it’s practical, like much Russian food was back in those days. I’ve been eating them with a little dollop of yoghurt for breakfast in the morning, and they’re really lovely in the afternoon with tea. I would bet most of you have these ingredients on hand in your cupboards, making it the perfect dish for the unexpected guest. I’ve added a few extra touches to the cake, vanilla and lemon zest, to help bring this dessert to life. However, I admit feeling somewhat disingenuous doing this as these are ingredients that never would have been available to a Soviet cook. However, it needs these flavors to help lift it out of the realm of the merely humdrum to something special. Instead of making one large cake, I wanted to remain in keeping with my zakuski theme and made small, individual cakes using my trusty muffin tin. If you’d prefer one large round, use the same technique, just cook it longer.
Mini Apple Sharlotka Cakes
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 tart apples, like Granny Smith
powdered sugar to dust the tops
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl mix together all of the ingredients except for the apples. Now peel and roughly chop your apples into thin slices that are even in size (so they cook at the same rate). Spray your muffin tin with the cooking spray and fill 8 muffin rounds with the apples, all the way to the top. Now, using a ladle or ice cream scoop, pour the batter over the apples until about 3/4 full. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Once completely cooled, using a fine sieve dust the tops of the cakes with powdered sugar (icing sugar to many of you).