Whatever the architects’ intentions, St. Basil’s has captured the imaginations of artists, folklorists, and ordinary people for centuries, even influencing the “castles” at Disneyland. We returned at night for another view of St. Basil’s, and it was even more beautiful in darkness with its flaming domes lighting up the night sky. In ironic contrast, another famous occupant of Red Square is GUM department store, an elegant, over-the-top shopping center that rivals Harrods of London, Mitsukoshi of Tokyo and New York’s Fifth Avenue. We focused on the Food Hall, a massive and decorative array of meats of every kind, including whole cooked pigs, fish and caviar, cheeses, breads, wines and liquor, including Vodka of course, pastries and candies.
(Russian Apple Sponge Cake)
This light, airy cake, filled with chopped apples, is like a little black dress or a navy blazer. It is welcome at any occasion, and its true charm is its simplicity. Called a Sharlotka Cake (Apple Charlotte) in Russia, this pastry is popular throughout the country and can be served at any time of the day, although it is traditional to serve it in the evening with hot tea after dinner. In its simplest form, Apple Sharlotka contains only four ingredients, eggs, sugar, flour and chopped apples, no butter, spices or nuts. Other versions call for the addition of vanilla, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, or even raisins and walnuts. I have chosen the middle road, and include very small amounts of almond extract, nutmeg, lemon juice and salt. A dusting of powdered sugar on top is all an Apple Sharlotka needs, although you could serve this delicious cake with sour cream or vanilla ice cream.
Please note that it is difficult to discern when this cake is done, as the batter can remain doughy as it mingles with the chopped apples. Using an oblong glass baking pan will make it easier to see when the cake is fully cooked, but a spring form pan makes a very attractive presentation. You will have to test carefully with a wooden skewer to determine when this cake is done.
- 6 eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from half a lemon)
- 2 large apples, Granny Smith or Fuji
- cooking spray
- powdered sugar for sifting over the top
Preheat oven to 350°F
Special equipment: large mixing bowl, 2 medium sized mixing bowls, sifter or sieve, parchment paper, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, electric mixer, citrus juicer, paring knife, wooden spoon, colander, rubber spatula, 10” or 11" spring form pan, (or 13” x 9” glass baking pan) large baking sheet, wooden skewer, wire rack, cake pedestal for presentation
- Spray the bottom and sides of a 10” or 11" spring form pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Spray the parchment. Place the prepared pan on a foil lined baking sheet and set aside. If using a glass pan or Bundt pan, spray with cooking spray, but do not line with parchment.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg into a medium sized bowl and set aside. In another medium sized bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Peel and core three apples, one at a time, and cut each apple into very small pieces, adding the apple pieces to the sugar and lemon juice and stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon to coat the apples as you proceed. Cover the bowl of apple pieces with plastic wrap and set aside.
- Combine the eggs, 1 cup of sugar and almond extract in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer for about 8 minutes until the mixture is thick, very foamy and light yellow in color. Add the flour, a small amount at a time, to the egg mixture and fold it in with a rubber spatula, using an over and under motion, until no flour is still visible.
- Place the apple mixture in a colander to drain off the lemon juice. Gently fold the apple pieces into the batter to distribute evenly, and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top of the cake with a spatula and bake it for approximately 1 hour or more until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. If using a glass pan, sift powdered sugar over the cake and serve while still warm. If using a spring form pan, remove the cake from the pan, peel off the parchment and place the cake on a cake pedestal or serving plate. Sift powdered sugar over the warm cake.
Note: This cake can be served while warm or refrigerated and served chilled or at room temperature.