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Russian Grandmothers’ Apple Pie-Cake

I’m not a huge fruit dessert person. In fact, my favorite part of a pie is the crust. I am all about the crust. So when I saw this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie [1] recipe I thought well, even if the filling sucks, at least there’s lots of crust! Why yes, I am the queen of pessimism. (Blame it on Internet dating.) Anyway, I suppose the negative thoughts began early on, when I tried to shape the dough into rectangles and it was sticky. And I mean sticky. (Photos of the process here [2]. I have no idea if mine looks the way it’s supposed to because the book didn’t have a picture.)

Then, I read and reread the recipe and realized I don’t have a 9×12″ baking dish, and oh no what am I going to do because I won’t have enough dough for my 9×13″ dish. Oh, did I not mention I’m also a worrier? Well, I conferred with my mom who didn’t think 9×12″ was a standard size and said just to use the 9×13″, then I did some research and found the 9×12″ to be a typo (phew!). Much happier, I got to slicing my apples. Speaking of apples, if you don’t have one of these gadgets [3] that cores, peels, and slices, you must go out and buy it. What a time saver! (We use it every year for Passover apple crisp [4] and the best ever apple pie [5] for Thanksgiving.)

Back to the pie-cake. I bought 10 apples (half Granny Smith, half Fiji) like the recipe says, and I needed only half of them. Not sure how that happened (maybe the Granny Smiths were large?), but whatever. Aside from the extra apples, that part of the recipe was no problem. The dough however, oh, the dough. I tried rolling it out and it didn’t want to roll, so I ended up taking small pieces and flattening them between my palms then pressing them together in the dish to create the crust. It worked. It’s not attractive, but it worked.

Finally, I got the sucker in the oven and watched it brown in about five minutes. I quickly covered it with foil, let it bake for an hour, and listened for the sound of bubbling apples and cinnamon-sugar, which never happened. But my apartment smelled so good!

OK so, after all that rambling, the verdict: Eh. While the smell is fantastic (and there’s nothing like waking up the following day to the scent of apple pie), I just didn’t find this anything special. Of course, I’m not big on fruit desserts, so I’ll let you know what my coworkers say when I bring it into the office this morning. If it’s gone by lunchtime, we know it’s a hit. Stay tuned.

p.s. I omitted the raisins, because just like nuts, raisins ruin baked goods. Hah.

Dough Ingredients
2 sticks (8oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c sugar
2 large eggs
1 T baking powder
½ tsp salt
juice of 1 lemon
3¼-3½ c all-purpose flour

Filling Ingredients
10 medium apples, all one kind or a mix (Fuji, Golden Delicious, Ida Reds, Cortland, or Rome, etc)
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1 c moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
¼ c sugar
1¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar for dusting

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine. Add the lemon juice—the dough will probably curdle, but don’t worry about it. Still working on low speed, slowly but steadily add 3¼ cups of the flour, mixing to soft, but if you think it looks more like a batter than a dough at this point, add the extra ¼ cup flour. (The dough usually needs the extra flour.) When properly combined, the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a rectangle. Warp the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 3 days. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

Peel and core the apples and cut into slices about ¼ inch thick; cut the slices in half crosswise if you want. Toss the slices in a bowl with a little lemon juice—even with the juice, the apples may turn brown, but that’s fine—and add the raisins. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over the apples and stir to coat evenly. Taste an apple and add more sugar, cinnamon and/or lemon juice if you like.

Getting ready to bake
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375?F. Generously butter a 9×12 inch baking pan (Pyrex is good) and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Remove the dough from the fridge. If it is too hard to roll and it cracks, either let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin to get it moving. Once it’s a little more malleable, you’ve got a few choices. You can roll it on a well-floured work surface or roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. You can even press or roll out pieces of the dough and patch them together in the pan—because of the baking powder in the dough, it will puff and self-heal under the oven’s heat. Roll the dough out until it is just a little larger all around than your pan and about ¼ inch thick—you don’t want the dough to be too thin, because you really want to taste it. Transfer the dough to the pan. If you the dough comes up the sides of the pan, that’s fine; if it doesn’t, that’s fine too.

Give the apples another toss in the bowl, then turn them into the pan and, using your hands, spread them evenly across the bottom. Roll out the second piece of dough and position it over the apples. Cut the dough so you’ve got a ¼-½ inch overhang and tuck the excess into the sides of the pan, as though you were making a bed. (If you don’t have that much overhang, just press what you’ve got against the sides of the pan.) Brush the top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle sugar over the dough. Using a small sharp knife, cut 6 to 8 evenly spaced slits in the dough.

Bake for 65-80 minutes, or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through the slits. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack and cool to just warm or to room temperature. You’ll be tempted to taste it sooner, but I think the dough needs a little time to rest.

Recipe from Baking: From My Home To Yours [6] by Dorie Greenspan [7].