Grandma Ethel was amazing and her apple cake like pie is too.
If you knew Grandma Ethel (or her grandchildren), you’d want to adopt her. I did. She was my wonderful friend Marcia’s grandmother, admirer, and baking mentor.
Grandma Ethel’s apple cake is the stuff from which “Grandma Legends” are made. The crust is almost that of a pie, but it ends up more like a cake. The ingredients are simple, yet the final result is melt-in-your-mouth good. The cake entails a few steps, but none are complicated or intimidating once you get underway. Although different from my Rosh Hashanah Apple Cake, both come from the great tradition of Jewish apple cakes, perfect for holidays, Shabbat, and even an everyday treat no matter what you celebrate – or don’t.
While she did oblige when Marcia asked her for the recipe, Grandma Ethel’s instructions were best understood if you were standing next to her as she made the cake. A little of this, not too much of that, mix together unspecified amounts of cinnamon and sugar – you get the picture. (At least she didn’t respond the way the Lovin Spoon chef did, i.e. omitting an ingredient or two, so that the recipe couldn’t be duplicated without a lot of guesswork.) Marcia dutifully took down the recipe as dictated by Grandma Ethel, then coaxed out enough more information and answers to turn it into a recipe that she (and the rest of us) can follow.
There is one part of the recipe that Marcia didn’t write down. Like her grandmother, she knew it so well that she probably didn’t realize others might not – add love as you mix and roll, serve it to people you care deeply about, and enjoy the cake with them.
Grandma Ethel’s Apple Cake
Grandma Ethel's Apple Cake Like Pie
This apple cake like pie is the best of both worlds. Great filling and a crust that is more cakey than a pie, while providing a nice balance to the filling. An altogether wonderful comfort food snack or dessert.
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour + extra for pan and flouring mat/paper
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (Grandma Ethel used Crisco or margarine) and cut into 8-10 chunks I/4 pound or 1 stick
- 2 eggs, well beaten
- 2 tablespoons orange juice + slightly more if required
- 4 pounds apples, Macintosh or similar Macintosh or other soft variety, not the typical pie apples, which are harder and retain their shape during cooking.
- 1/2 cup sugar (or more, to taste)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Additional cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling on the top
Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, and sugar in a medium bowl.
Add the butter, eggs, and orange juice. Mix the ingredients, first with a fork, then with your lightly floured hands, just until they come together as dough. If they are too dry to hold together, add another tablespoon or so of juice. If the dough is too soft, add a bit of flour.
Divide the dough in half, form each half into a disk, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate the disks while you make the filling.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Dust the pan with flour (don’t grease it with butter or oil) and set aside.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon in the small bowl. Peel, core, and slice the apples.
Put the apple slices in the large bowl, add the cinnamon and sugar, and mix them until all the slices are covered.
Putting cake together
Take one dough disk out of the refrigerator once it is chilled (45 minutes to an hour chilling time is sufficient) and roll it on a lightly floured mat or piece of waxed paper into a rectangle slightly larger than the 9 x 13-inch pan, about 10 x 14-inches. Gently lift the dough into the pan with the ends coming up the sides of the pan. Folding the dough about in half works, as long as you are gentle when moving it.
Add the apple slices on top of the dough.
Take out the second dough disk and roll it out to just over 9 x 13-inches. Place it over the apples, tuck in the sides, and poke a few air holes with the knife. The top will be bumpy and the sides don't have to be pretty. As I said, like the best grandmas, this is a forgiving cake. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on the top.
After I took the middle photo, I decided that my topping didn't have enough cinnamon, so I added more cinnamon (with less sugar this time) on top. Again, this is not an exacting process. Bake for 50 - 60 minutes, until the top is golden and the juices are bubbling.
Cool the apple cake on a wire rack to barely warm or cool before cutting pieces in the pan.
I love my apple corer – it’s sturdy and does the job so quickly (even when I slice the thick slices in half or thirds) but you can easily cut the apple slices for the filling with just a peeler and knife.
The apple slices bake into a soft, golden compote-like filling inside the cake, so there is no need to sprinkle lemon juice as a precaution to prevent them browning.