As I was growing up I used to think that Poland is the country with the richest cake tradition in the world. I had two grandmas – one Italian and one Polish – and the Polish one was definitely the best cake maker of the two. Her recipe book seemed an endless source of cake possibilities. Her daughters, my mom and my aunt, are no less talented when it comes to making cakes. When my mom started making my grandma’s recipes in Italy, everyone praised her cakes. Even something as simple as apple pie would make everyone talk about it for days. Polish apple cake was special.
Polish apple cake is indeed quite spectacular and its show factor just rises when you slice through it and take out a piece. Each slice of this cake displays a wavy pattern where the light and dark batters meet. This is what gives Polish apple cake its name, Fale Dunaju, which means “waves of the Danube” in Polish. It just takes a very simple step in the preparation of this cake to achieve this effect that always has everyone enchanted.
First, you spread half of the batter in the baking pan. Then, you add cocoa powder to the other half of the batter and mix it well. Then it’s all about spreading the brown batter over the other layer, making sure not to mix them up. Spoon it out, little by little, and even it out with a spatula. I find it helpful to push it all the way to the edges, making sure the batter touches the edges of the pan. This usually helps “seal” the light batter underneath. Then it’s all about pressing the apple slices down. Press them so that they basically touch the bottom of the pan. When the cake bakes, the light batter will come towards the top, being weighed down where an apple piece sits. This is how you get the Danube wave effect.
More Polish recipes: Szarlotka, the apple juice and vodka cocktail.
There is a similar cake in the German pastry tradition and its German name (Donauwelle) means exactly the same thing. The main difference from the Polish version is that the German cake has cherries instead of apples. A layer of buttercream on the top completes the cake. Apparently, even the Polish version of this cake should feature some icing on the top. But this is not the way my grandma used to make it. Her fale Dunaju was complete with a generous sprinkle of sugar on the top, and that sugary crust has always been my favourite asset. Who needs buttercream when you have a sugar crust, after all.
More apple dessert recipes: mini shortcrust pies with apples and cinnamon.
Polish apple cake "Fale Dunaju"
- 250 g margarine (room temperature)
- 200 g sugar
- 5 eggs (room temperature)
- 300 g flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 apples
- 1 tbsp coarse cane sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Peel and cut the apples in thin slices, then set aside. Don't worry if they turn slightly brown as they sit. This will not be a problem once the apples get cooked in the cake.
Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Beat the whites until soft peaks form. Still mixing, add a little sugar - that will slightly stiffen the mixture - then set aside.
In another bowl, cream the margarine with the rest of the sugar. Add the yolks, one at a time. When done, set the mixer aside.
Sift the baking powder and half of the flour into the margarine mixture and fold in by hand using a spatula or wooden spoon. Once incorporated, add the second half of the flour and fold that in. The batter gets quite hard, and that is the right texture.
When all the flour has been incorporated, gently fold in the egg whites making sure not to knock too much air out of them. This step will make the batter thinner and fluffier.
Pour half of the batter into a 24-cm round cake pan and spread it all over the bottom, making an even layer.
Sift the cocoa powder into the rest of the batter and fold in. Spread cocoa batter all over the other batter layer in the baking pan.
Press apple slices into the batter, making sure to pierce right through so that they touch the bottom of the pan.
Sprinkle cane sugar (or any kind of coarser sugar) all over the cake top.
Bake the cake at 180°C for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Make sure to avoid piercing through an apple slice or the moisture of the fruit might make you fail the toothpick test.
The recipe that has been passed down to me features margarine. Feel free to swap it with unsalted butterif you prefer. Sure, butter tastes delicious and it surely makes the end flavour of this cake even richer. It was not always available in my grandparents’ house, though, as margarine was a much cheaper alternative. So to me this cake must be made with margarine. Whatever the fat of your choice, this cake always comes out with a wonderful fluffy texture. It takes a small workout to incorporate by hand the flour into the cake batter, but the final product is really worth the effort.