Gaia's Feast : Apple Cake
by Julia Ponsonby
Country apples, like baby clothes, are something that have a tendency to be handed on and shared. You also need to use both quickly before the vital forces of growth and decay make them redundant! Apple cake is a very good way of using up the bruised apples before they spoil the good ones.
Every cook has their own favourite recipe for apple cake and this is mine - evolved over the years of using the abundant Dartington apples from School Farm. I dedicate it to all the eager, tree-climbing participants, students and helpers who have shinned the trunks, shaken the branches and dodged fruity bombings.
This cake can be made simply as a loaf or slab cake, or for special occasions as a sandwich cake glued together with apricot jam. I usually decorate the top with slices of apple before cooking. As with any cake containing fresh fruit, it’s advisable to store this apple cake in the fridge – if not eaten up straight away!
1x 22cm (9”) round sandwich cake or 2 loaves
300g (10 oz/2 cups) peeled, cored, chopped apples*
110g (4 oz/1 stick) butter
110g (4 oz/ 1 stick) muscovado/gran. sugar mix
3 eggs =
2 tsp molasses or malt extract
2 tsp honey or golden syrup
50g (2 oz/1/3 heaped cup) sultanas
50g (2 oz/ 1/3rd heaped cup) apricots, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice and a little zest
1 tbsp orange juice and a little zest
180g (6 ½ oz/ 1+ 1/3rd level cups) plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder (level)
½ tsp cinnamon, ground
½ tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
25g (1 oz/ ¼ cup) sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts**
A splash of milk
1 red skinned dessert apple for decoration
A little sunflower oil/butter
5-6 tbsp apricot jam (if sandwiching)
Measure together the butter, sugar, molasses and honey and put into a warm place to soften.
Peel, cut, core and cut further the apples until you have a bowl of roughly 1 cm ( ½ ”) chunky pieces. Check your prepared weight and adjust to obtain the suggested weight. Also slice the red-skinned apple carefully into narrow half moon slices with the core removed and the skin left on. Spread these out on a plate and paint on one side with sunflower oil and/or melted butter. Set aside.
Blend together the butter and sugar until creamy. Stir in the zest of the lemon and orange, plus juice. Add the eggs, two by two.
Measure the flour, spices, salt and baking powder together and sift this into the butter-sugar-egg mixture in two or three stages. Mix enough to remove lumps and smoothly incorporate the flour - then mix in the apples, sultanas and chopped nuts/sunflower seeds (if using). Tip the mixture into oiled, parchment-lined tin/tins. (If making a large slab cake, the large quantity fits well into one large 47cm x 30cm (19”x12”) roasting tin, equivalent to two average size domestic roasting tins.)
Decorate the surface of the cake by laying the red sliced apple lightly on top, oiled side up to prevent drying out. If you are making a sandwich cake, only decorate one cake – with a ring of apples around the edge. Finally, sprinkle the decorative apple surface with a little granulated sugar and cinnamon – and more chopped walnuts or sunflower seeds if you like. The mixture in the sandwich tins should only be about 1½ -2 cm (3/4”) thick.
Bake in a moderate oven for 30-40-60 minutes (depending on size) - until well risen and firmish to touch. A knife inserted in the middle will come out clean and will also pierce through the cooked apples as easily as if they were butter!
Allow to cool in the tin/s. If making a sandwich cake, invert the base cake onto a suitable plate, so that what was its top is now its bottom. Spread with the apricot jam, and carefully place the decorated cake on top.
*TIP: I prefer to use fairly tart apples for apple cake, such as Coxes or even cookers. These will keep a nice strong apple flavour when cooked. However, the place to start is what you have and almost any apple will work.
** Leave out the nuts if cooking apple cake for children unless you know they like them!