Friday, 14 October 2011

At Home: Apple cake




I am disheartened by the continued absence of British apples in our supermarkets. Living in the city, the glut of fragrant fruit harvested from our precious and ancient orchards rarely makes its way to my local greengrocers', and I want to know why. Surely uniformity of shape and size are no longer key indicators of quality for the Big Four? Of the hundreds of traditional British varieties, are none of them commercially viable? I despair. That is until good fortune, and the cool breath of autumn, bestows on us the annual Apple Day. Only once a year do I get the opportunity to sample an abundance of the real deal. Engorged, tasteless, floury imported fruit have no place here.

Fenton House in Hampstead holds a wonderful celebration, and I used to be a regular visitor until our move east. Fortunately, Walthamstow's Vestry House Museum has a similarly reverential event, at which I bought a handbag-full of fragrant, sweet, gnarled russets and tangy pippins.

I wanted to make a simple cake, and Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries offered inspiration. His English apple cake - adapted recipe below - is much like the Dutch version: simple sponge baked with a topping of chopped apples and a touch of spice. Seraphic fruity loveliness, its light and moist consistency called for instant consumption. If you have any left, it will keep for a day or two in a sealed container, and will need reheating in a warm oven before serving.

Serves 8

130g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
130g unrefined caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 dessert apples, peeled
the juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
small pinch ground cloves
2 tbsp demerara sugar
2 large eggs
130g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs, combined with 2 crushed Amaretti biscuits

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line the base of a 24cm cake tin (round or square), about 6cm deep, with a piece of greased baking parchment. Let the ends of the parchment come up over the sides of the tin so that the cake is easy to release when cooked.

Put the butter and caster sugar into a food mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Whilst this is happening, cut the apples into small chunks, removing the cores as you go, and dropping the fruit into a bowl withe juice of the half lemon. Toss the apples with the cinnamon, ground cloves and demerara sugar.

Break the eggs, beat them with a fork, then gradually add them to the butter and sugar. (Don't worry if the mixture splits, the addition of the flour will bind it together again.) Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold them gently into the mixture. Scrape into the lined cake tin. Put the spiced apples on top of the cake mixture, then scatter with the Amaretti breadcrumbs and, if you wish, a little more demerara sugar.

Bake for 50 minutes to an hour. The edges should be browning nicely, and the centre firm. Leave to cool for ten minutes or so before removing from the tin. Eat warm.