Everyone has one of those family recipes that they know by heart; luckily mine happens to be simple, very simple.
Just six ingredients. It's one of those beautiful things in life, when butter, sugar, flour, and eggs come together and make nice. I've been eating my grandmother's apple cake for a longtime now, though I know it as Mormor's Äppelkaka. It's dense, chewy and tart with plenty of green apples on top. Although its origins are Swedish, there isn't really anything evocative of that culture in the recipe, except perhaps its minimalism and the name of course. Mormor means Mother's Mother. I had a Mormor and a Morfar. No Farmor or Farfar though- my dad's side of the family was more local, Italian Americans from Queens, NY. I remember quizzing my mom when I was younger, asking what her Great Grandfather on her mother's side would have been. “Well, I guess he would be my Mormorsfar". What about your father's Great Great...I could go on for a while. At first it seemed a bit confusing, but it was quite wonderfully simple, Mor and Far interchanging and doubling up.
This apple cake recipe became sort of sacred to me, I pictured my grandmother making it and her mother before her and so on. That is until one day my mom told me, “You know Moster Olga made this cake differently”. Moster [meaning Aunt] Olga, was my grandmother’s sister. Why would she make the cake differently? “Well,” my mom said, “she was the real baker in the family, you should have seen what she could do with marzipan.” So my vision of a family recipe being passed down was shattered and now I pictured two sisters battling in the kitchen, each bringing their own versions to family gatherings. [There is no evidence to support that they actually did this]. When I asked what Moster Olga had done different, my mom laughed and said, “Well she preferred pears, used two eggs instead of one and added water. To be honest I think Mormor just forgot to add the water, and in the end she liked the new recipe better.” It’s funny how it can be as simple as that…forgetting a single ingredient. Luckily in my grandmother’s case it wasn’t an essential one and she liked the results.
I’ve whipped up Mormor’s apple version a few times for friends over the years and often I’ve gotten the same comment, “You don’t add any liquid?” No, I say, this is how it’s supposed to be. Her cake is thin, dense, and dark brown around the edges and throughout the bottom, almost caramelized. The double layer of tart apples on the top still have a nice bite to them. You can cut a slice, pick it up with your hands; it’ll keep its shape. Take a bite and marvel at its chewy texture and almost almondy flavor. So of course I am biased since I have eaten this version my whole life and attached a trail of memories onto it, however let us not forget Moster Olga's Päronkaka.
Mormor's Äppelkaka PRINT RECIPE
[Prep: 15 minutes / Baking: 45 minutes / TOTAL: 1 hour]
Pre heat oven to 350º
Take the butter out so it can reach room temp.
Lightly coat a 9-inch round baking pan with butter and then flour, bottom and sides. [For this step you could also use unseasoned breadcrumbs]. I like to put a small pad of butter onto a paper towel [or I just use my fingers] and smear it all over the pan. Then I add the flour [over the sink] and gently shake the pan from side to side as I tilt it in circles. The flour will stick to the butter. If there’s any excess flip the pan upside down over the sink and pat the baking pan on the bottom. This process will prevent the cake from sticking.
I like to use Granny Smith apples for this recipe because they are tart and hold up nicely when baked. I peel, core and slice them, as thin as possible, with a sharp knife. You could also you a peeler to skin the apples. [For the pears any kind will work but you want them to be quite ripe. These don't have to be peeled and I like to slice them lengthwise to preserve the pretty pear shape.]
Now I would check on the butter. Put it into a microwaveable bowl. If its soft it will only take 25 seconds or so to melt it. If its still quite hard, cut it up into smaller pieces and microwave it in 20 second increments, you don't want it to splatter all over the microwave. You could also slowly melt it on the stove top while you busy with the next step.
[For the pear recipe I would bring about a 1/2 cup water to boil in a kettle.]
Crack the egg [or 2 for the pear cake] into a medium mixing bowl and add the sugar. This should be beaten till white and fluffy[ish]. I use an old-fashioned hand held eggbeater so it takes a little more time to get the desired texture and color. When 2 eggs are added the mixture doesn't get as white. Here I switch to a wooden spoon. Add the flour and baking powder slowly in a few small batches, mixing each batch in gently. The batter will start to get very sticky. Now add melted butter, you can do it all at once, and continue to mix slowly and in one direction. [Add 1/4 cup of the hot water and mix just until all the ingredients are incorporated.] Spread batter into buttered and floured pan. [If you are making the pear cake it will pour.] It should settle in nicely, but since it is so thick you may need to even it out a little with the spoon. When I add them apple slices I like to tightly fan them out starting from the center. There should be enough to create two layers. [When layering the pears, they will start to sink into the batter, this is ok.] Lightly sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over the top and it's ready for the oven.
For both cakes bake at 350º for 45 minutes. I like to set the timer for about 20 minutes and check to see that everything looks good. The pear cake will rise up a lot more. You can use a toothpick to see if the cake is done – stick it in the center and if it comes out clean [mostly] it is done. Let sit for 5 minutes to cool. This dessert is great alone or served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream...or with coffee in the morning.
Moster Olga's Päronkaka
[Prep: 15 minutes / Baking: 45 minutes / TOTAL: 1 hour]
For prep and baking directions see Mormor's Äppelkaka.
Stuff I follow...
Not Without Salt
My New Roots
Lady and Pups
A CUP OF JO
The Daily Meal
Melissa Clark ...always
3191 Miles Apart
The Nourished Kitchen