Joburg Expat: Traditional Filipino-Singaporean-German-American Apple Cake

May 21, 2012

Traditional Filipino-Singaporean-German-American Apple Cake

Don't worry, I'll get to the apple cake eventually, and trust me, you'll want to get there too.

But before we count cups of flour and sugar, I'll first douse you with a big pinch of my typical philosophical expat life ramblings.

One of the more beautiful aspects of expat life, you see, is that you pick up tidbits of different cultures along the way. You may not fully appreciate the culture you're currently living in (in fact, you most certainly will be more prone to rail about the shortcomings of this culture versus your home country or previous place you lived because you will be so busy comparing everything) but eventually you will retain bits and pieces of it and incorporate them into your family life, even your entire persona.

For instance, I trace our family's love of all things rice and stir-fry to our Singapore days, while Sushi was introduced to us by our Japanese friends in business school. We're big baseball fans, which would not have happened had we not moved to America in our twenties (and spent hours every day with nothing but TBS and the Braves on TV during a hot steamy summer in Atlanta). Yet we cheer for Germany's soccer team during the World Cup, because when you grow up with The Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer on Grandma's TV, those black and white team colors are in your DNA. You might lose a little bit of your identity every time you move and shed some old customs, but you learn so many new things that enrich your life.

In a particularly quirky twist, our South African maid, who is a Zulu, cooked Chicken Adobo for us, which we came to love in Singapore over twelve years ago, where our Filipino maid introduced us to this national dish of hers. Who knows what will happen to this Chicken Adobo recipe after we've moved on? Will it land in a new expat family from, say, Russia? Or might it make inroads in at least one Zulu household as the perfect complement to pap, the traditional maize porridge eaten in these parts? Or might this same domestic of ours - she has since moved on - prefer to serve her family potato latkes, a Jewish dish that I came to love growing up in Germany and that she became expert at preparing for our kids? There is nothing quite so satisfying to me as these potato pancakes, fried in lots of oil, eaten together with a big helping of applesauce (which, if you'll remember, I now often make from scratch, as finding applesauce in Johannesburg can be a challenge). But what is even more satisfying is to have watched her black hands grate those potatoes and leaf through my cookbook to prepare a dish that has historically been as removed from her own culture as can be.

There is nothing quite like food to bring people together around the world, is there?

Ampy, Noisette, and the boys, Singapore circa 1999

Our Filipino maid's name was Ampy, her real name. My guess is she'd be thrilled to know I'm writing about her. She was as passionate about her cooking as she was loving towards our kids, and I sorely miss her brightest of smiles, day in day out, along with her fried rice, beef in oyster sauce, and Pansit, a noodle dish which was another Filipino specialty of hers and which I've never quite mastered. But the one recipe I've held onto for dear life (and shared with many people along the way) ever since we parted ways with Ampy (her visa to the U.S. was denied, or we would have taken her with us) is the one for her German Apple Cake.

Yes, you read that right. It's not me, the German, who introduced her, the Filipino, to our apple cake. It's the other way around. I never fail to chuckle about this irony each and every time I make the cake. And I make it often. I've doubled the quantity long ago, but lately I've been thinking I might need to triple it. We almost have fights over it in our family, counting pieces and making sure none were secretly whisked aside by a crafty sibling (or an even sneakier dad).

I love this cake for so many reasons. First of all, it's very simple to make. I have no patience for complicated recipes. If good food can be cooked in a simple way, why would you want to make it complicated? And I'm not a planner. When I feel like making apple cake, I want to make it now, not after a lengthy shopping outing. And who doesn't have flour, sugar, butter, eggs, a bit of baking powder, and a few apples in their kitchen?

So  let's get baking. This is the double quantity recipe:



German Apple Cake
by Amparo Saminado

For dough:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted or softened (250 g)*
  • 1 ½  cups sugar (350 g)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour (360 g)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
For topping:
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½  tsp cinnamon
  • 4-5 large apples (or 6-7 small ones)


I always forget to soften the butter, so I end up melting it, which is another reason I love this recipe - it's very forgiving. Regarding quantities, 1 cup is 2 sticks of butter for Americans, and almost 250 g for everyone else. I just use a 250 packet for simplicity and because too much butter has never hurt a recipe. 

1. Preheat oven to 350F or 175C (if you have a convection oven, lower accordingly). Actually, I don't think 175C is exactly 350F, but I bake pretty much everything at 175C and it usually works out fine. It's so much easier to remember. Grease a large  rectangular baking dish, about 13x10 inches in size (is that almost 40 cm by 25 cm? I told you I'm terrible with length measurements. I always used a certain porcelain dish, that sadly broke the other day. And guess what? The cheap aluminum baking pan you can find in any store that I've used since then is even better - less browning around the edges and a super moist cake).

2. Combine butter, sugar and eggs in large bowl of mixer and beat thoroughly, until fluffy and light in color. 

Make sure this becomes light and fluffy

My favorite part about this cake is when I get to lick the bowl. Which is why I usually make it secretly when no one is watching, so I get to do all the licking. The dough is possibly even better than the cake.

Please note that I was using the hand mixer instead of the Kitchenaid. The Kitchenaid would be so much more convenient, but you might remember that our transformer got fried by toaster overuse, and the other one is firmly planted in the game room powering the xBox. I'm just too lazy to carry it back and forth. 

Also please note how craftily I seem to have advertised for Krups, without even wanting to. I have no loyalty to them, other than my inbred belief that German appliances and cars are the best, and perhaps I should mention here that this particular mixer is about 26 years old. 

3. Combine flour and baking powder separately, then add to the butter mixture. Add vanilla and beat until well blended. Spread evenly in baking dish.

4. Combine sugar and cinnamon in another bowl. Okay, considering the few ingredients, this does add up your dirty dishes quite a bit, sorry. Peel and core apples and thinly slice into a large bowl. 

I so love my apple picture I had to post it twice
Add sugar-cinnamon mixture to taste, coating apples thoroughly. Arrange slices on top of batter in overlapping rows, pressing lightly into batter.



Bake 1 hour. Cool and cut into squares.

Now hide the cake in a very good place, or otherwise it will be gone before you blink an eye. Which is exactly what happened this time around and why there is no picture of the actual cake.

And here the recipe one more time without all my ramblings, so you can print it out.


German Apple Cake
by Amparo Saminado

For dough:
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted or softened (250 g)*
  • 1 ½  cups sugar (350 g)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour (360 g)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
For topping:
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½  tsp cinnamon
  • 4-5 large apples (or 6-7 small ones)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F or 175C (if using convection oven, reduce accordingly). Grease large 13x10” baking dish (aluminum pan is best).
  2. Combine butter, sugar and eggs in large bowl of mixer and beat thoroughly. Combine flour and baking powder separately, add to mixture, add vanilla and beat until well blended. Spread evenly in baking dish.
  3. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Peel and core apples and thinly slice into large bowl. Add sugar-cinnamon mixture to taste, coating apples thoroughly. Arrange slices on top of batter in overlapping rows, pressing lightly into batter. Bake 1 hour (if using convection oven, reduce accordingly). Cool and cut into squares.


If you are now in the mood for cooking, check out my recipe for Mexican Chili con Carne.

9 comments :

My Traveling Troop said...

Hi! I just discovered your blog and am loving it already. One of my favorite things to try when I travel or move somewhere new is the food. We're moving to Asia soon & I can't wait to try different dishes and see how our own family meals are inspired/changed by what we taste, see, hear and smell.

Cheers,
Kristina

Sine said...

Hi Kristina, thanks for the feedback! Good luck on your move to Asia, I'm sure you are very seasoned in moving judging from your blog. And what a great place if you like to try out new foods. My mouth waters at the thought of hawker stalls in Singapore...

Klaus said...

No I am hungry. Will definitely try your apple cake.

In one month I am in Germany for 2 weeks (watching soccer... you know those black and white team colors are in my DNA, too) and will buy a lot of stuff I can't get here: Sweets, a real döner, cream horseradish and so much more. I am so looking forward to it :)

Sine said...

Hi Klaus - you gave me a start, as I know someone else with that name. (someone who hasn't been reading my blog:-). Have fun in Germany and enjoy the shopping! I'll be there myself beginning of June with the girls, for just one weekend, but have already gone crazy on Amazon.de. You don't often have 3 suitcases practically empty to bring back!

By the way, I just found Koelln Schokomuesli at Pick n Pay. Amazing. And my pharmacy is looking into Aronal toothpaste (why does Elmex get exported everywhere, but not Aronal?).

Klaus said...

Same counts for me. Also ordered a lot of stuff on amazon.de ;-)

Lekker Koelln Müsli! Need to check out PicknPay in Cape Town. Hope they also have it.

My brother lives in Chicago and always buys at least 10 tubes of green Elmex toothpaste whenever he is in Germany. He just loves und needs it. But I am quite happy with the South African toothpaste because the Elmex doesn't foam enough for me.

Tomorrow, I will try your apple cake. Already was shopping some flour and eggs today. Will let you know how I liked it :)

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Well, you've done the impossible. I never thought I would see a dessert containing fruit that looks appetizing. I prefer to eat fruit fresh and avoid fruit desserts like the plague. Congrats!

By the way, I was surprised that your domestic did some cooking for you. I figured that you would have to hire two people for that: one for cleaning and one for cooking. Are domestics that cook common in SA?

Sine said...

Ah, thank you! You'd have to actually try it and you'd really be blown away. No one has ever tasted my (or, rather, Ampy's) apple cake and not totally wanted a lot more of it.

I think our domestic was unique - very engaged and loved trying new things and being involved in everything we did. Some people engage separate cooks, although I've seen a few domestics who cooked for their families - mostly SA families where the domestic was in there employ for a really long time and almost a member of the family.

American Expat said...

I made this cake yesterday and everything you said is true. It is both easy and delicious. I guess I was in the mood for baking since the temperature dropped down below 30. Today I gave some of the cake to the guards at our estate. They just called to say how delicious it was. At least that's what I think they said :)

Sine said...

Awesome! I'm glad the recipe continues to make its rounds in all sorts of places. The guards at our estate have also had samples of it. I suppose you don't live in the same estate, that would be funny. I remember also bringing them hot chocolate one time in winter, and I left the thermos with them, and then they were kind of startled when I came back the next day asking for my thermos back:-)