a transatlantic love affair /// apfelkuchen (german apple cake) /// vegan + gluten free

My love affair with Europe began when I was seven years old (a bit young for a love affair, but isn’t age just a number?) We flew into Heathrow on Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with my uncle and his family, who was living in London for work at the time. I saw Snow White pantomimed on Boxing Day, made scones for the very first time, went to Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Big Ben, and saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham.

I also became a vegetarian on that trip, when we left England to meander through Wales. It happened while we were getting lost (a common theme with my parents) on our way to Hay-on-Wye (smaller than my hometown and famous for the number of bookshops (reading was my very first love, and remains so to this day-by the way, can you put parentheses inside parentheses?)); it seems fitting that three of my favorite things all converged and somewhat began in one place.

Our relationship grew when I returned two years later, this time to Ireland. When I was twelve and given the choice to go almost anywhere in the world with my mom (pretty sure my parents would have vetoed Asia though) I strayed a bit; Costa Rica for two weeks (right after I went vegan, actually) was my first introduction to Spanish, tropical climates, the cloud forest, volcanoes, ziplining, rice and beans, and ridiculously beautiful beaches (bit similar to Ecuador actually).

But Europe forgave me and took me back; I spent a week and a half in French speaking Switzerland on Lake Geneva with my Dad’s best friend from high school- now an expat- winter break my freshman year.

And of course, the year I spent in Germany. Deutschland wird für immer mein herz halten. I spent three weeks out of that year touring the rest of the continent (Belgium, France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic); and went on a secret-because-it’s-not-allowed weekend to Amsterdam with my friends two months before coming home. A year and a half after I returned to the states, I flew back to the Old World, to Poland via Frankfurt and Berlin to visit Iza, my Polish sister who spent the second half of my junior year in the bedroom across the hall from mine.

But it was while living in Germany that I made the decision to take a gap year to see what life was like in South America. Prior to then, I was against the concept of taking a year off before college; I actually wanted to graduate in three years. I’m not sure what I was so anxious for; I’ve since realized that “real life” will be waiting for me whenever I get around to it, and no longer see a reason to rush what are supposedly the best years of your life. I do feel I’ve had a small taste of “real life” already though; working my ass off 50 hours a week for the past two summers in food service (aka hell) to finance that trip to Poland and this year abroad.

I chose Latin America because three of my best friends from that year hail from Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. I cannot tell you how many conversations in Spanish and Portuguese I sat through, having no clue what was going on. And I figured, I’ve already been to Europe, why not see what life is like in another part of the world?

I’m glad I came; not only because I am having quite a marrrve- lous time, darling (imagine me saying that in a high class British accent), but also because I’m seeing what life is like south of the equator (if only by a few miles), and it is so different. The weather, the food, culture…I could go on. I do very much enjoy living in Quito, but I know that this is not the place for me, at least not permanently. I haven’t yet been everywhere in the world, but I think my heart will always belong to both the American Northeast and Europe.

That said, there are parts of Quito that I love more than others. November 2nd was Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. I spent the morning watching my host parents weed and paint the tombstone of my host mom’s father, and in the afternoon we went to El Centro Historico (also known as Old Town). It’s the first time I’d been (I know, I’ve been here for more than two months, it’s really horrible), aside from a visit to the Basilica, one of the more modern cathedrals in downtown Quito.

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Even though I only visited briefly, this is one part of Quito that I can see myself returning to over and over without becoming sick of it (unlike the mall. I’m really not a mall kind of person. I’d much rather visit the museums and churches and squares of El Centro and afterwards find a cafe to drink tea and write and people watch). And the major reason why I loved it so much is that the neighborhood is reminiscent of Europe. Of course it’s no replica, it is obviously Latin American (fun fact: the hundreds of years old churches are carved with pineapples, turtles, and other tropical flora and fauna in place of European-esque gargoyles). But with buildings dating back to before the 1600s, there’s the aura of history present. The same aura that permeates Europe.

So with all my ramblings out of the way, here’s the fun part of the post. This recipe is for apfelkuchen (apple cake), in honor of the start of the holiday season, the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago (November 9, 1989), and my favorite country on the continent that stole my heart. My first German host mum made this with relative frequency during the early winter and it’s the dessert that I will always associate with Germany. She made it vegan (although normally it’s not); I don’t have the exact recipe that she used, but mine is also gluten free (duh).

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This is in the style (not exactly the same though) of traditional German apfelkuchen. If you google “German apple cake” in English, you’ll come up with a bunch of recipes that claim to be German (and maybe they are) but that don’t resemble the apple cake that I grew accustomed to.

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Notes: I used vegan butter/margarine because I’m not able to fine coconut oil in Ecuador, but in the states pretty much every recipe that calls for vegan butter I make with coconut oil instead. So if you can find it and want to substitute it, it should work out. Just make sure that the oil is the same consistency as vegan butter would be- softened but not melted. Also, if you want to try substituting applesauce for the vegan butter/coconut oil, I’ve had success with other recipes with replacing up to half of the called for vegan butter/coconut oil with applesauce. But I would not recommend substituting more than half. If you make a chia egg instead of a flax egg, it’s the exact same measurements. If you let it cool a bit before eating it you’ll be able to slice it without it falling apart.

Ingredients

for the dough:

  • 1/2 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/2 cup white rice flour
  • 1/4 cup oat flour
  • 1 tbsp yuca starch (or cornstarch)
  • 3/4 c + 1 tbsp vegan butter
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • one flax egg (or chia egg)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

for the filling:

for the streusel:

  • 3/4 c + 1 tbsp vegan butter
  • 1 c + 2 tbsp cornmeal
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon`
  • pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 175 C/ 350 F. To make the flax egg: combine 1 tbsp ground flax seed (if you have whole flax seeds you can use a coffee grinder for this, if you don’t have a coffee grinder use your blender) plus 3 tbsp water, and put this in the fridge while you make the rest of the dough.  Combine the ingredients for the dough (adding the flax egg last) and mix (I just used a wooden spoon for this) until a dough forms! (duh). Spoon it into an 8×8″ greased pan and even it out. Peel all the apples, core them, and then slice into super thin apple wedges. Layer these on top of the dough in rows (about 3-4 across). I made three layers: first one going down, then the next across, and then down again (so it’s criss-crossed, kind of). Then spread the cup of applesauce evenly on top of the apples. For the streusel, combine thoroughly, then spread on top of the applesauce. Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I didn’t have any ripe bananas, but if you want to eat this with banana ice cream, go for it. To make: peel and break ripe bananas into several chunks (bananas are ripe when they have brown spots) and freeze. Then blend with a little water if necessary until it’s the consistency of soft serve ice cream. I generally go for 2-3 bananas a serving, but because you’re eating this with cake 1-2 should suffice.

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