On a Christmas visit to Greece about 8 years ago, I decided that I wanted to try Greek apple pie, or milopita. I had seen it on café menus and been offered free dessert slices at restaurants but my dining companions had been unenthusiastic. This trip would be different, I determined. Apple pie was one of my favorite American desserts and I was curious about its Greek counterpart.
You’re not missing anything, Spyros said when I asked him out for pie in Athens. It’s not an apple pie like you’d expect; it’s heavy, like a cake, I don’t think you’ll like it.
Undeterred, I ordered milopita at the next café we visited. The waiter brought a plate with an enormous triangle of apple-studded cake. Spyros was right about the texture—cakey instead of pastry—but the buttery crumbs dissolved in my mouth as I sipped an espresso. They complemented each other, the bitter and sweet. The pie (cake?) tasted fresh and uncomplicated without cinnamon or allspice. There was something lovely about it, heartwarming really. I’d order it again, I decided.
During later visits, I noticed other Greeks turning down milopita after a meal or choosing something more dessert-like; chocolate kormos or panna cotta for instantance. Milopita, I believe, is one of those sweets that Greeks enjoy best at home. Since it’s a bit on the hefty side, they eat it for breakfast or as an after work/school snack. It’s a simple cake, one that grandmas bake on weekdays or teenagers whip-up for their first try at cooking.
Since September, when Gala, Fugi, and Pink lady apples reappeared in the grocery stores, I’d wanted to make my own milopita; a softer, tangier version that would make the house smell like a bakeshop. I came up with this version, a combination of two buttermilk apple cake recipes that I found here and here. To make it more Greek (and more me) I used both whole-wheat and all-purpose flours. The combination resembles sitari flour, a wheat flour Greeks use in some baked goods. I also replaced half of the butter with olive oil, which lends the cake a richer, fruiter flavor.
I sat down with a piece of milopita and a cup of black coffee while writing my to-do list this morning. The moist, dense cake with its raw sugar topping tasted like a delicious fruit bread, nutritious and lovely–I couldn’t imagine a better breakfast on a fall morning. When it was gone, I reached for the cake pan and cut another half-slice. While not an elegant dessert, this homemade milopita may be one of my favorites.
Lauren’s Buttermilk Milopita
1 ½ cups peeled, cored and chopped sweet apple such as gala, fugi, or pink lady
2 teaspoons baking power
¼ teaspoon sea-salt
1 cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
zest from 1 lemon
raw cane sugar for topping
- Preheat the oven to 400o F (205oC). Butter a 9-inch spring-form pan or a 4×6-inch glass baking dish. In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, salt and nutmeg; set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and olive oil with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in the sugar and cream until the color has lightened. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla, beat until well combined.
- With the mixer set at low speed, add ½ of the flour mixture; stir well. Add half of the buttermilk and continue stirring until incorporated. Scrape the bowl’s sides, if necessary, and add the remaining flour and buttermilk. Add the chopped apples and lemon zest; stir with a wooden spoon.
- Pour the batter into prepared baking pan and sprinkle the top with raw sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. If using a spring-form pan, allow the cake to rest for 10 minutes before removing the outer rim. Serve warm or at room temperature.