I never had the privilege of meeting Tia Roza, but I have had the pleasure of eating her apple cake. Tia Roza, great-aunt to my husband, was born in Eastern Europe and emigrated to Peru before World War II. Her apple cake is one of the memories she carried with her. Tia Roza’s cake holds whispers of a sharlotka—a light, delicate cake celebrating apples in their simplistic, fragrant glory. The apples are piled high with just a bit of batter to hold them together.

Tia Roza loosely described her apple cake recipe to my mother-in-law, who then formulated an actual recipe with measurements. She has since passed the recipe onto me, and therein lies the beauty and delicate balance of family recipes—the stories they tell, the inheritance of flavors they carry, the traditions they honor.

My version of Tia Roza’s cake uses olive oil instead of neutral oil for a richer batter, is infused with autumn spices of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, and dusted with a cinnamon sugar top.

This cake is perfect by itself with no adornment, at room temperature or cold. Serving this dessert with vanilla bean ice cream would make this cake extra special. Alternately, adding a dollop of whipped cream sweetened with real maple syrup would be something short of divine.

Tia Roza’s Spiced Apple Cake 03
(Photo: Johanna Rothenberg)

Tia Roza’s Spiced Apple Cake

Ingredients

  • 2½ pounds apples (roughly 6-8 apples) (see notes below)
  • 3 eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup demerara sugar (see notes below)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • For the top:
  • ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ tablespoon demerara sugar (see notes below)
  • Confectioners’ sugar, dusted, for finishing

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease an 8-inch springform pan and line it with parchment paper.
  3. Peel 5-6 apples, core them and slice into ⅛-inch rings.
  4. In a spiral format, lay the apple rings in the pan. Apples should reach three-quarters of the way up the springform pan.
  5. Peel and core the remaining two apples. Cut them in half lengthwise and thinly cut them into thin wedges, ¼-inch thick. Set aside.
  6. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they are foamy and doubled in volume.
  7. Add vanilla, sugar, salt and spices. Mix until well blended.
  8. Add the egg yolks, olive oil and flour. Mix until smooth.
  9. Slowly pour the batter over the apple rings. Let the batter settle into the cake; slightly tap the springform pan on the counter if needed.
  10. Arrange apple wedges on top of the apple rings. Working your way from outside in a circle pattern, slightly overlap the wedges continuously until you reach the middle of the cake. (See notes below)
  11. Sprinkle the cake generously with cinnamon sugar mixture.
  12. Bake 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick is inserted and can be removed cleanly.
  13. Cool the cake completely in the springform pan on a wire rack.
  14. Remove from the springform and dust with powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature.
Tia Roza’s Spiced Apple Cake 01
(Photo: Johanna Rothenberg)

Notes:

  • Apples: It is best to use baking apples for this cake. Use any of the following: Cortland, Macintosh, Granny Smith, Paula Red or any baking apple.

  • Egg whites must be at room temperature, otherwise they will not whip.

  • Sugar: I call for demerara sugar (also known as raw sugar) in this recipe. I love the deep flavor it brings to the cake. If you don’t have this type of sugar, you can use white granulated sugar.

  • Cinnamon sugar can be made with equal parts ground cinnamon and raw/demerara sugar. Make a whole jar and keep it in your cupboard!

  • Top design of the cake: You can create your own pattern or design for the top layer of apples. The one I photographed is my personal favorite.