One of the most the thoughtful gifts I've ever received was a wedding present from my Aunt Ruth. She compiled a binder of family recipes: my Great-great-grandma Malerich's blueberry muffins, my Grandma Ruth's no-bake cookies, her own brownies and salmon spread. I've been working my way through the dozens of index cards ever since. I remember some of them--the salmon spread, the pumpkin bread, the Watergate salad--from family gatherings and the northern Minnesota potlucks of my childhood. Others are new discoveries, pieces of the past handed down to me in my aunt's impeccable cursive. My most recent find was a new-to-me recipe from my Great-grandma Fogel that was a perfect use for my bounty of Haralson apples (the ones that previously necessitated baked apples).
My Great-grandma Fogel, who was born in Austria and emigrated to the United States as a child, called her streusel-topped dessert "Apple Kuchen," which translates to "Apple Cake." That's not an entirely accurate description; the bottom crust is really more of a bonus layer of streusel, a crumbly mixture of flour, sugar, and margarine pressed into the pan. Also, I'm not entirely convinced that this is a recipe from the old country. There is certainly a central European tradition of cakes topped with streusel, but all of the recipes I found online featured a more traditional cake base made with eggs and/or leavening.
Regardless of its origin and the slightly misleading recipe title, my Great-grandma Fogel did certainly know how to do dessert. The apples cook down into a cinnamon-laced, almost jelly-like filling, sandwiched between a sturdy crumb crust and a glorious streusel. The apple streusel is delicious warm from the oven or nibbled cold from the fridge, perfect on its own and lovely with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. It's the kind of dessert that you can throw together with ingredients from your pantry, making a lazy Saturday afternoon feel like an accomplishment.
Although it's not in vogue at the moment, I did use margarine as specified by the original recipe. I suspect butter would work just as well. However, since the recipe doesn't contain any eggs or other dairy products, note that it will be vegan if prepared as written with a dairy-free margarine. As I mentioned above, I used Haralson apples, a tart, crisp baking variety popular in Minnesota. If Haralsons aren't available, Granny Smiths would be a good substitute.
Adapted from my Great-grandma Fogel's Apple Kuchen
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 large tart baking apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons cold margarine
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grease an 8x8 glass baking dish.
Make the crust:
Combine 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 stick softened margarine and stir until a crumbly mixture forms. Press firmly into the prepared dish.
Make the filling:
Combine 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add apples and toss to evenly coat. Layer apples over the prepared crust.
Make the streusel topping:
Combine 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup sugar in medium bowl. Cut in the 4 tablespoons cold margarine with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly, with the consistency of wet sand. Sprinkle topping over the prepared filling.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until streusel is golden-brown. Cool slightly before serving, and store completely cooled leftovers tightly covered in refrigerator.