Recipe: Polish Apple “Pie” | Szarlotka (with poll)

We don’t always do what’s expected in my family. We laugh in the face of drama. We cry whenever happy. We eat pizza for breakfast. And we’re generally 10 years out of fashion (note: I’ll never slip into skinny jeans, so don’t hold your breath on that one). P.S. We never had normal birthday cakes. I liked to have the unusual and highly troublesome (in the best possible way) German Tree Cake on my birthday.

Half the time my brother Damien requested apple pie for his. If we were Polish, homemade, sugar dusted Szarlotka is surely what he would have gotten.

Since it’s apple picking season, any excuse is a great excuse to make apple pie. And I’m thrilled Poland has such a fun version… Now, I should clarify – this is not exactly pie per se – that’s simply the translation most often given for this sweet treat. Instead it looks more like a fruit bar with apple pie filling. The “crust” is like a cross between a shortbread cookie and pie crust. The dough is made with sour cream and a little sugar, rolled indulgently thick, and layered with a cinnamon studded apple center.

The best thing is how sliceable this treat is. With a clean, sharp knife, you’ll get beautiful squares, perfect for potlucks and bake sales.

Szarlotka is lovely with a cup of tea or a dollop of sour cream, so don’t hold back!

Zamosc (Poland), photo by Marek & Ewa Wojciechowscy

Inspired by the recipe on Adarosman


4 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 sticks unsalted butter (3/4 lb)

5 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-5 Tbsp sour cream, as needed to bring the dough together

For the filling:

3 lbs apples (I used gala)
3 Tbsp sugar (or more, to taste)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp butter


First, find a kitchen with a view. Perhaps along a shimmering, simmering Polish river. I’m setting up shop in the tallest tower. For sure.

Gdańsk City Hall, Poland. Photo from

Next, mix up the dough.

A word to the wise: I tried using my 7 cup food processor, but this was a mistake. There just wasn’t enough room (an 11 cup processor might be okay). You’ll most likely be better off with a pastry cutter and a really large bowl.

Either way, the method is the same. First, combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt).

Then, add the cubed butter. You can use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut in the butter until small, pea-sized pieces if mixing by hand.

Finally, whisk together the sunshine-yellow egg yolks, vanilla extract, and one tablespoon of the sour cream.  Work the dough until a smooth ball forms, adding more sour cream as needed.

Divide the dough, flatten into discs – one a little larger than the other, wrap in saran, and chill for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel, core and slice 3 lbs of apples. Cut a few of them into a smaller dice. Cook in a pan with sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and butter until soft and the small diced pieces begin to break apart into applesauce. Some Polish folk even like to break it all down into applesauce consistency. Just depends on your preferences.

Now… preheat the oven to 350F…

… and assemble the szarlotka.

To do so, roll out the larger dough into 1/2 inch thickness to cover the bottom of a 10″ springform pan. I’ve heard you could also use a lasagna pan, but haven’t personally tried it. Whatever you use, make sure the dough goes up the sides of the pan about 1/2-1 inch. Roll out second dough to 1/2 inch thickness and 10″ around. Have it ready while filling the cake with apples (it’s okay if they are hot). Top immediately with the second round of dough and pop in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, or until cooked through and slightly golden.

Serve dusted with powdered sugar… either warm or chilled.

Cut into squares. Or get artistic. It’s up to you.

Spend the rest of the day smiling.

After all, who can frown after eating this?

Happy autumn, friends.

Sokolica (Pieniny). Photo by Jerzy Opioła.

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  1. It is truly uncanny how much Ava looks like you in the first picture of you as a child. Really.
    I think I feel my Polish ancestry calling, will have to try this cake.

  2. Strawberry Rhubarb or Cherry….

  3. You daughter certainly does favor you! My favorite pie is rhubarb right from my garden – delicious!!!

  4. Lemon meringue – the first pie I ever made at age 12.

  5. Jodi Heitmann says:

    I am going to have to make this one for sure! I love warm apple pie, with chocolate ice cream!

  6. this is a variation on Apple Struedel…more dough than filling.

  7. Christina says:

    Where’s the cherry pie?!?!?! In national polls, cherry pie is right behind apple pie as the favorite pie. Blueberry used to be my favorite, but it’s really hard to find a good blueberry pie these days–nearly all are way too sweet. With a properly made cherry pie, the sourness of the pie cherries counterbalances the sugar. And who can forget key lime pie?

  8. Saskatoon berry pie! There were lots of saskatoon bushes in the area where I grew up on the Canadian Prairies, and nothing tastes like home like a pie made from them. The flavour is really deep. Maybe deeper than blueberry, and kind of black curranty. I don’t know if they’re unique to Canada or are also in some parts of the US. I also love Peaches and Cream pie when peaches are in season. Oh, and rhubarb custard pie. And for savoury pies, French Canadian tourtiere. It’s Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend and I just pulled one pumpkin pie and one apple pie out of the oven for dinner tomorrow. Mmmm… pie!

  9. Hehe, I was trying to select every pie in the poll, before I realized that I could only pick one. Waaah! I can’t choose a favorite (Matter of fact, it’s rare for me to choose a favorite of anything) I’ve liked every pie that I’ve tasted.

  10. Cherry pie for me!

  11. Eleanor (undeadgoat) says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for years but I think this is the first recipe I’ve gotten around to making! In my defense, I spent a lot of the past few years in a dorm room or a bachelor apartment . . . anyways, the cake is in the oven now, I had to use a deeper pan with a smaller area so we’ll see how it goes!

  12. Coconut custard is the one for me, but I wouldn’t mind sinking my teeth into this Polish pie!

  13. elisa waller says:

    I also love blueberry pie..but there is much commotion in a fresh apple pie…….and I agree with Christinia..its hard to find a good fresh blueberry pie… ..even when I try to make my own using fresh blueberry pie it ends up either being too sweet or not sweet enough…leaving that aside and digging into this fantastic Polish creation….its almost perfectly did you do that and have the ease of a free form cake….<3 sasha rocks <3

  14. i’ll be in poland (for a day) soon and am hoping for this cake…or that german tree cake when i’m in germany!

  15. Sasha Martin says:

    So many great comments… and so many pies I forgot about – for shame! ;) I still can’t believe there isn’t a clear winner on the poll, though… wow!

  16. Coconut cream. Yum!

  17. I baked it twice for the past two weeks, I love apples in any cake or pie:) First time I used variety of apples from farmers’ market, and they were perfect. Second time I used gala apples and they were very watery, I had to let some juice go. Also, if you’re afraid that the top part won’t come out nicely, after all it’s difficult to spread it nice over the apples, you can freeze the dough and grate/shred it over the apples. It looked great:) Thanks!

  18. This is amazing! Thanks for sharing. I was trying to figure out what’s makes the differences between the traditional apple pie I know and the apple pie that my Polish Great-grandmother used to make is. I think your recipe helped me figure it out, and the pictures were really very helpful too! Thanks!!


  1. Adventure To Poland…

    […] nshine-yellow egg yolks, vanilla extract, and one tablespoon of the sour cream. […]…

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