Thursday, May 31, 2007
Fairy Cakes with Cream Cheese Icing
For the longest time, and years before now, my breakfast consisted of a blueberry muffin and a long black (a double espresso with extra hot water). I have not found any authoritative take on the difference between a muffin and a cupcake. My copy of Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook is in the US, and this would probably serve as the most definitive text on the subject I own. The internet hasn't been much help. And, being of English extraction, there is no entry in the Larousse tomes. In all the recipes I have had a squiz at, there is no marked ratio of flour to butter that distinguishes them, both can call on rising agents, nuts, and fruit. So, why is it that when we see them, we know the difference? I come to the quick conclusion that cupcakes are cute little cakes that are smaller than the size of your palm (unless you're a baby or have really tiny palms) whereas muffins are stockier little cakes about the size of your palm and possibly bigger - especially if those "markets" specialising in selling bulk items have anything to say about it.
Though I no longer get breakfast on the go, or at least I have not done so for years, I have reinstituted afternoon tea, an important and necessary part of my day. This is when I have a small slice of cake or, now, a sweet cupcake to get me through often braindead hours of 3-5pm.
The following recipe makes 12 cupcakes. If you do not have self-rising cake flour, sift together 3/4 cup of all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.
(from Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
7 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup self-rising cake flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk
1) Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper baking cups.
2) Cream the butter and sugar.
3) Gently beat in the vanilla.
4) Gently beat in the eggs on at a time and in between each add a tablespoon of flour.
5) Fold in the rest of the flour.
6) Add the milk by the tablespoon to bring to a soft constitution, suitable for dropping into the muffin cups.
7) Pour the mixture into each of the 12 muffin cups, filling them up equally, usually about halfway.
8) Bake for 15-20 minutes, by which stage the cupcakes should be cooked and golden on top. To see if the cupcakes are done, insert a toothpick through the top of a cupcake to the middle, and if it comes out clean, remove the muffin pan from the oven.
9) Allow cupcakes to cool on a wire rack as soon as you can manage to remove the baking cups from the muffin tray.
Cream Cheese Icing
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess)
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 2/3 cups icing sugar
1-2 teaspoons orange juice
1) Beat the cream cheese and icing sugar together until smooth and soft.
2) Mix in 1 teaspoon of orange juice and taste. If you want more juice, feel free to add another teaspoon, as I did.
To assemble: Smear the icing on the cupcakes with a butter knife. I typically do without adornments, but abandon yourself to the impulses of decorating if you so desire.
I know you are sick of the webcam photos, but there are only 5 more weeks until I am reunited with my baby (my angelheart Eric has custody of our digital camera). If I got too close to the cupcake, the texture was even blurrier than it is in this photo. I tried. The cupcakes are tasty, with a hint of vanilla. The icing has a slight tang, offsetting the mild sweetness in the cupcake. I might add a vanilla bean and grapefruit juice next time.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Paul's Big Burger Ballyhoo 2007 - Cumin Burger with Peanut Coffee Sauce
I was going to say "all sentimentality aside", but Paul's Big Burger Ballyhoo concerns a food subject most westerners would bare their soul for: the perfect burger. Having never tasted a burger I thought was unimprovable, I decided it could not hurt to - and that I should - participate in Paul's food blog event.
Of course a problem was immediately presented: What on earth was I going to do that is so different, that is worth Paul and Freya making themselves? The notion of bi-continentalism appealed, leading to thoughts of creating a mongrel/imperial whore burger. I gave up on pulling from all continents and decided to leave out my own heritage (I am only a 3rd generation Kiwi on both sides of the family - a little Irish, Croatian and Swedish here, fused with some English and Spanish there and you get the sum of my parts). I thought back to the Arabic Coffee Pots de Creme I made last year and how I am still in love with the combination of cardamom and coffee. But I had no cardomom pods. This is what I came up with:
Cumin Burger with Peanut Coffee Sauce
For the sauce:
1/2 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup full-fat milk
1 tablespoon coffee beans, finely ground
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small clover garlic, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
For the burger:
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted and finely ground
500g/1lb ground beef
250g/ 1/2lb ground pork
5 egg yolks
1 tablespoon steak sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
toppings of choice (I went with shredded lettuce and slices of processed cheese because that is what my parents had in the fridge at the time)
Begin with sauce because you need to let it steep for at least 30 minutes.
1) In a saucepan, scald 1/2 cup of full-fat milk with the coffee beans and cinnamon.
2) Off the heat, cover with a lid and let steep.
3) In a separate bowl, add the rest of the ingredients except the remaining 1/4 cup of milk.
4) Using a strainer, pour the coffee and cinnamon milk into the bowl with the other ingredients. A strainer is advisable to separate out the clumps of coffee and cinnamon that have bonded while steeping.
5) Combine with a whisk, slowly adding in the remaining 1/4 cup of milk until you have reached a desired consistency. The coffee beans will not be problematic; you won't notice them when you eat. Keep chilled, and bring it to room temperature when you are thinking about spreading it over your buns.
To make the burgers:
1) In a bowl, combine all ingredients but the butter with the tines of a fork. The salt and pepper usage is up to you, for it is only seasoning. I used 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 3/4 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper.
2) Once combined form into patty shapes in your hands, about the size of your palm.
3) Make an indent at the centre of the patty and inset a little nub of butter, then enclose it. The butter keeps the patty moist, a trick I learned from Ina Garten's television show Barefoot Contessa.
4) Chill for at least 30 minutes to hold together, then bring out for 10 minutes or so before grilling.
5) Grill the patties to your preference, about 6 minutes on one side, then 4 minutes on the other.
You can assemble the burger any way that pleases you, of course, but try spreading the Peanut Coffee Sauce on both halves of the burger buns.
I did not grill these outside, Paul. I'm sorry, but it is raining here in Auckland, so I grilled them in spirit - i.e. in a frying pan in the kitchen. Living in different time zones make the international food blogs a bit trying, but if my calculations are correct, I am submitting this as of 8:35pm on 25th of May PST. And in your honor, Paul, I'm going to scoff these with a good margarita.
Happy Big Burger Ballyhoo 2007!
Thursday, May 24, 2007
2 Recipes with Lamb: Roasted and Braised
There is no arguing that lamb is an institution in New Zealand. We mean business. I knew that if I was going to cook lamb for my parents I would have to put on a good show. I saw two legs of lamb in the deep freezer and undertook to cook them one week apart.
I first decided on a very simple Nigel Slater recipe. I did not alter any of the suggested ingredients because I wanted to know what a simply roasted leg of lamb tasted like, what its characteristics are. Of course this all depends on what the lamb was fed on and for how long the meat was hung, but all food has an inherent flavour that can be ascribed to it. So, what is lamb's? I think it is a sweet herbiness, like thyme, which is probably why lamb is often paired with rosemary -
exactly what Mr. Slater suggest for a simple dinner of roast lamb.
(from Nigel Slater's Appetite)
2kg/4lb lamb on the bone, either leg or shoulder
4 sprigs rosemary or 6-8 stems thyme, finely chop the leaves and reserve the stems
olive oil, to massage the lamb
1-2 heads of garlic, unpeeled
1) Preheat the oven to 230 C/445 F.
2) Place your preferred piece of lamb on the bone into a roasting tin.
3) Stir olive oil into the herby leaves, then add salt and pepper.
4) Massage the herby liquid goodness into the lamb.
5) Cut the head(s) of garlic in half and place under the lamb with the reserved stems of rosemary or thyme.
6) Put the lamb in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
7) Turn the heat down to 200 C/390 F and roast for 15 minutes per 500g/per pound. This is if you want medium-rare flesh. Should you prefer yours rare, roast for 12 minutes per 500g/per pound; if you prefer it well-done, roast for 17 minutes per 500g/per pound. You might want to check on the garlic if you are going to leave it in the oven for more than an hour to make sure it does not burn.
8) Allow the lamb to rest for at least 10 minutes before carving in order to allow the juices to redistribute.
I chose to roast the lamb until it was medium-rare in order for my mother and grandfather to eat the flesh closest to the layer of fat, where it would be darker; my father and I could then devour the succulent flesh closest to the bone. As you can see, the flesh is nice and pink and the skin nicely roasted. I can recall many an overcooked and charred roast lamb in many homes around Auckland. This lamb was not jaw-breaking to any stretch of the imagination; it was juicy and perfumed with flavor. You should not go wrong with this version of a quick roast lamb, served with the standard veggies here, but that is an imperial hangover and not mandatory for you.
As the weather cools, I gravitate towards meat that is braised, falling off the bone and served on a bed of caramelized vegetables. I love watching the windows fog up because I have purposefully kept them closed, trapping the aromatic vapors from the dutch oven in the kitchen. Most time spent in the kitchen is joyous, but I do not find many as cozy as those in which braising is taking place.
The main difference between roasting and braising is that liquid is involved with the latter. The liquid does not typically cover the meat, for that would eventually stew it, not really allowing for any caramelization of the meat unless it is browned beforehand. Tyically I do not see the point in browning the meat before braising it because there is so much resultant flavour in this method of cooking.
I have come across a very tempting Italian recipe for braised lamb with juniper berries in Diana Henry's Roast Figs, Sugar Snow. I got very excited at the prospect of making it because my angelheart Eric and I were in Colorado in April visiting our friends, the stylish and effervescent Ailene and the espresso-loving and ruminating Mirko, when we bought junpier berries for the first time. Being apart from Eric at the moment, I am infinitely gladdened by anything that makes me think of him. Knowing how much he likes braised meat, I thought I would try this recipe and tempt him to like lamb. I only wish I had attempted to bring the juniper berries to New Zealand with me, for I had no luck finding them during a shopping excursion yesterday. I decided upon something equally resinous and aromatic - peppercorns. I understand that this changes the flavor profile of the Marcella Hazan recipe that Ms. Henry writes about so invitingly, but I was more eager to see how lamb tastes when braised. Ms. Henry also suggests separating the fat from the liquid once the braising is complete, and you can then pour it over the meat. I didn't bother, choosing to turn the heat up to medium to create a really thick juice that would collect the caramelized veggies.
Melting Leg of Lamb
(Adapted from Diana Henry's Roast Figs, Sugar Snow)
2kg/4lb leg of lamb on the bone
1 carrot, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns (juniper berries), quickly walloped with a mallet
3 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of a chef's knife
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
350ml/12 fl. oz white wine (I used a blend: semillon/chardonnay)
1) Over a low heat, put all the ingredients into a dutch oven (a heavy-bottomed casserole dish).
2) Cover with a lid and cook for 4 hours, turning the meat every 45 minutes.
3) Partially remove the lid, turn up the heat to a medium-low setting.
4) Cook for another 1 1/2 hours, turning every 45 minutes.
5) The meat should be brown and tender at this stage. If not, turn the heat up a bit more. You can do the same should you wish your liquid to be thicker (as I did).
6) Allow the lamb to rest for at least ten minutes before carving.
Mum beat me to the plating of this dish, too, for I was busy putting the webcam in a safe place. This is why you do not see slices of lamb to mark the difference in results from the above recipe, but in place see caramelized veggies atop the braised lamb. The meat was tender, succulent and sweet. It was redolent of the thyme-like characteristics I think lamb has, and it had a nice hit of spice from the black peppercorns, complementing the gooseberry-like notes of the wine. Quite different to the above recipe, but it was easy to execute. To quote Ms. Henry, this braised lamb is winter on the tongue.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Cream of Green Split Pea Soup
Many moons ago, I lived in Paris. I had left Auckland to really find my voice, to understand how I felt following the untimely death of my sister. Being at home was too suffocating, and I needed to physically extricate myself from it in order to deal with the loss in my own way. I stayed with a friend and his family - yes, we were just friends; in fact he is going to marry his high school sweetheart in July (awwww...). The time spent in France was amongst the best and worst five months of my teenage years. I had gone with five years of high school French and a very naive outlook of the world. I was welcomed with warm arms into the family and was ushered into French society as though I were part of it. I never once felt like I was being judged for being an English speaker, contrary to every warning I had received before going.
Naturally, the bad times were spent processing my sister's death - confronting it, learning to accept it. In addition to this, as if I needed more to deal with, I struggled with the language, having all but no choice to really speak it every day. I went to bed very early most nights for the first month because I was braindead from the constant concentration required to follow conversations. Of course, this intense focus paid off, for I became and have remained very conversant in the language, even choosing often to read French novels. More importantly, with the language acquisition, I have been able to maintain consistent and meaningful contact with my French friends over the last decade.
I attended high school with my friend whenever I felt like it (my favourite class was philosophy; my least favourite was Spanish because it messed up my French). When he did things with his girlfriend or other friends, I sometimes decided to hang out with his mother instead. In retrospect, she was practically my best friend. We went to art galleries, watched movies, ate out...She really showed me Paris, taught me to appreciate it, as well as some of the lovely countryside South of Paris, such as gorgeous Rambouillet and, much farther South, Toulouse.
Some days I wandered around Paris and Gif-sur-Yvette to my heart's content. Along the winding path behind the many apartment buildings on the way back home I often smelled (I didn't know what it was then, but I know what it is now) the combination of bay leaf and thyme. When I saw the ingredient list for this simple soup, I was hoping to recreate that earthy smell, and I did. I have translated the recipe below, but the only thing the recipe does not disclose is whether to take out the bacon or not after rendering its fat. I took it out; you can choose to leave it in. The recipe makes enough for four healthy servings.
Cream of Green Split Pea Soup
(from Pol Martin's Le Grand Livre de Cuisine)
125g/4 1/4oz bacon
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 bay leaf
200g/ 1/2lb green split peas
1.2 litres/5 cups hot chicken stock
1 decilitre/1/3 cup hot single cream
salt and pepper
1) In a stock pot, render the fat from the bacon for about two minutes. After doing so, this is when you can decide to leave the bacon in there or take it out.
2) Over a medium flame, add the diced onion, stir, cover the pot, and cook for about two minutes.
3) Add the carrots and spices, stir, cover, and cook for another two mintues.
4) Add the split peas and incorporate the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, partially cover, then simmer on a low flame for about one hour and thirty minutes.
5) Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper according to your preference.
6) Use either an immersion blender or pour the soup into a blender and blitz until smooth.
7) Add the cream and blitz again.
To serve, add croutons or splosh some more cream on the surface - presumably more artfully than me.
My angelheart Eric and I were fortunate to spend some time in Paris earlier this year, so I introduced him to those gorgeous Frenchies who had accepted me into their home and hearts, and who had helped me come to terms with the tragic death of my sister. Today's recipe comes from a French cookery book published in 1987 that my friend's mother gave to me, knowing how much I love to cook; she had not looked at it herself for years because she already knows by heart the recipes she loves (and her endive salad is still one of the best salads I have ever had in my life). I will never forget the generosity and warmth of my French family and friends who, in turn, have lovingly accepted my angelheart Eric into their lives.
[Okay, no more sappy posts for the rest of the week. I promise.]
Sunday, May 13, 2007
For Mother's Day: Toasted Ginger Cake
To my mum,
To my angelheart Eric's mom,
To Eric's sister who is a wonderful mommy,
To my friends who are mummies,
and to all mothers:
Happy Mother's Day.
I woke up very early this morning, so I could bake something for mum on this special day; I really wanted her to wake up to the smell of something comforting and warm. Also, this would be the first Mother's Day that I have baked for her.
Last night, again in bed with cookery books piled up around me, I was determined to find something that my mother would want to slather with butter, preferably a loaf of sorts. Mum does not have the sweetest tooth, so because I wanted to find something semi-sweet, a treat for her, the quest for something to bake for her actually proved be challenging (made more difficult by the gazillion cookery book pages to leaf through).
In the chapter entitled "From Hedgerow and Bog" of her cookery book for cold climes, Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, Diana Henry includes a dessert from a grand Swedish hotel, Hennickehammar. The dessert is a toasted ginger cake served with wine poached cranberries. I thought poached cranberries might be a bit much first thing in the morning, but the cake sounded promising because mum likes ginger. I could imagine that this would have the appealing aroma wafting from the oven to induce mum out of bed (after a sleep in, of course) and to the kitchen.
Ms. Henry says that after one day, the cake is crumbly enough to be toasted, which is how they serve it at Hennickehammar. I thought mum might like it right out of the oven, slathered with butter, to eat along with her morning cup of English Breakfast tea. Being the good son, milking as much affection as possible, I adapted the recipe for mostly sentimental reasons. Mum baked heaps when I was a kid. One of her staple additions to scones, sweet muffins, and breads was sultanas. So, to appeal to sweet childhood memories, I substituted the dried cranberries for sultanas. (Incidentally, Ms. Henry adapted the recipe too, switching out lingonberries for cranberries.) Consequently, I had the sultanas plump up in the juice from a freshly squeezed (Australian) orange instead of using that of a lemon, which works wonderfully for cranberries, I'm sure, but not for sultanas - at least to my mind.
Toasted Ginger Bread
(Adapted from Diana Henry's Roast Figs, Sugar Snow)
125g/4 1/2oz dried sultanas (or cranberries, lingonberries...)
juice of 1 orange (or lemon)
300g/10 1/2oz plain flour
200g/7oz light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
60g/2 1/4oz butter, melted
200ml/7 fl oz milk
1 medium egg, beaten
icing sugar, to serve
1) Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F, and butter and flour a 1kg/1lb 4oz loaf-tin.
2) Put the sultanas in a small saucepan and add the orange juice. Cover and bring to the boil, then let simmer until the sultanas have plumped up (approximately 15 minutes).
3) In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder together, and create a well in the centre.
4) Pour the melted butter, milk, beaten egg, and sultanas with its juices into the well. Stir these wet ingredients together, gradually pulling in the dry ingredients on the outside into the well.
5) Pour the batter into the prepared loaf-tin and bake for 50 minutes, or until the cake is cooked at the centre.
6) Cool on a rack.
As you can see in the top photo, the cake has cracked, and I don't know if that is normal or not - I forgot to consult Tamasin's Kitchen Bible by Tamasin Day-Lewis beforehand. This cake has a splendidly warm ginger aroma. I merrily toasted for crispy edges and over which I sprinkled a light cloud of icing sugar. Mum, of course, went straight for the butter.
I love you, mum.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 16 - Chicken Satsivi
Intrigued? I was, too.
Though the boyars' supremacy ended in Russia in the 18th century when the Boyar Duma was abolished by Peter the Great, these highest-ranking military officials had wide-reaching power that extended to much of Central and Eastern Europe until the 19th century. Their power and wealth afforded them concomitant indulgence and opulence, propelling a revolutionary change in the culinary arts of this variegated region after bringing Western Europe's top chefs into the fray. You will have heard of chicken Kiev, beef Stroganoff, and veal Orloff - these were all created during this era of now classical cuisine.
I was drawn to Chicken Satsivi, a Georgian dish, because of the sauce, satsivi, which is a paste of walnuts, sauteed onions, coriander, and garlic, liquidized with a broth and perfumed with cinnamon and paprika. If you ask me, it was all too tempting, especially with the temperatures dropping in Auckland; a toasty, nutty sauce was both appealing and new - at least to me. According to Ms. Rowe, satsivi is the most popular sauce made in Georgian households, and it can accompany vegetables, fish, and turkey, in addition to chicken.
It took forever and a day to grind the walnuts because they bind together so quickly, so I suggest that you grind the paste's ingredients in small batches. If you do not have powdered marigold and are going to use saffron, steep it in hot water for 15 minutes first, which will colour the water wonderfully. This might actually give more warmth to the paste instead of just throwing it in with the chicken broth, like I did, consequently not making the resulting colour look very appetizing (brownish-grey).
The following recipe serves 4 (or 2 very hungry people!).
(from Silvena Rowe's Feasts: Food for Sharing from Central and Eastern Europe)
For the chicken:
10g or 1/3oz butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
salt and pepper
For the sauce:
25g or 1oz butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
300g or 10 1/2oz shelled walnuts
a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 small dried chilli pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered marigold or saffron
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
175ml or 6 fl oz chicken stock
60ml or 2 1/4 fl oz white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Start with the sauce:
1) In a heavy non-stick pan, melt butter, then saute onion until translucent.
2) Place walnuts, coriander, garlic, chilli pepper in a blender and combine to a paste.
3) Add sauteed onions to the paste and pulse in the blender to combine.
4) Place paste in the pan, and over a low heat add cinnamon, marigold or saffron, and paprika. Mix well and then stir in salt and pepper.
5) Grudually stir in the chicken broth and finally stir in the white wine vinegar.
6) Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, approximately 25 mins.
As the sauce is thickening, move on to the chicken breasts:
1) Over moderately high heat, melt butter in a frying pan and add the oil.
2) Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts before browning in the frying pan. Brown in batches, approximately 2 minutes on each side, otherwise the breasts will steam and not caramelize properly. A 10" pan should contain all 4 average sized chicken breasts once browned.
3) Turn heat down to medium and slowly cook chicken breasts until done, approximately 15 minutes, turning halfway through.
If you would like the sauce to be thicker, simply add 1/2 tablespoon of flour, stir in well, and cook for another minute or so. This dish can be served either warm or cold. Simply slice the chicken breasts on the diagonal and pour the sauce over.
I know that the colour is not exactly hunger-inducing, but I have to say that the lingering taste of the sauce is interesting, haunting almost. There is a lot of mellow sweetness from the walnuts and garlic that is contrasted with the sharpness of the coriander and white wine vinegar. The palate gets a full workout, and this flavour profile is definitely something new to me.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
English Apple Cake
Suddenly returning to Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow has meant that I have not personally stocked up the pantry or freezer. I cannot just peek into the pantry for arborio rice, feel my way around the vials on the over-the-sink shelf for fennel seeds, or look above the fridge or in the freezer for chicken stock, canned or homemade. No, I am making do with mum and dad's kitchen staples for this return from exile. There has been no usual pre-planning; this is me cooking on-the-fly. Sort of.
Though I own and have thoroughly read Nigel Slater's Appetite,I am not really feeling ambitious enough to create a dish, and while the guidelines he establishes are disseminated in a way that any old kitchen clutz - myself certainly included - can feel secure in following his lead, I really need to familiarize myself with "mum's kitchen". I previously wrestled with the stove and finding all the tools when working on the recipes for the Cookbook Spotlight (reviewed here) and knew that I was not comfortable in that space, for it was not home - yet. So, I have decided to cook something I am really comfortable with to test how the oven performs.
I chose to stay on the Nigel Slater track because, as everyone should know by now, he makes unpretentious and usually uncomplicated dishes that are lovingly described in his rich descriptions, usually leaving the reader's mouth agape and saliva bursting through the dam. Mr. Slater's The Kitchen Diaries (really, a book to keep on the nightstand and within grasp in the kitchen year-long) is one my most beloved cookery books, not only for the wit and charm enveloped in his prose, or only for the rustic presentation of the food, but also for its seasonal offerings. Since it is Autumn in New Zealand, I look to the fruit bowl and immediately seize the two remaining glorious apples.
The only adjustments I make to this English Apple Cake are: to use half the juice of an orange instead of a lemon because I feel orange works better with cinnamon (a change due to preference, but you can be your own judge), to use two apples instead of three because they were the only ones remaining (a change due to necessity, but if you have three eating apples, then use them), and to use raw sugar instead of demerara sugar because my mum never has demerara sugar in the pantry (another change due to necessity). I was intrigued by this recipe not only because I was relieved to (almost) have everything on hand, but because of the addition of fresh breadcrumbs scattered over the apples before baking the cake. Breadcrumbs, really? Why? It is all in the result...
English Apple Cake
(from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries)
130g/ 1/2 cup unrefined caster sugar
2 - 3 eating apples
juice of 1/2 an orange or lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons raw or demerara sugar
2 large eggs
130g/ 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs
a little extra sugar
1) Set oven to 180 C/ 350 F.
2) Line the base of a 24cm/9" cake tin (Mr. Slater uses a square one; I use a round one), and either butter and flour it or line it with parchment paper (including the sides).
3) Cream butter and caster sugar together until light in color and fluffy in texture.
4) Cut apples into small chunks, removing the cores one by one and dropping the chunks into a small bowl with the juice of half an orange or lemon.
5) Toss the apple chunks with the citrus juice, cinnamon and raw or demerara sugar.
6) Break the eggs, beat them with a fork, and gradually add them to the creamed butter and caster sugar.
7) Sift the flour and baking powder together and slowly fold into the mixture.
8) Scrape into the cake tin and put the spiced apple chunks on top (excluding the reserved juice) before scattering over the breadcrumbs and additional raw or demerara sugar (I scattered over one teaspoon of raw sugar).
9) Bake for 55 minutes to one hour. The cake should be ready not only when you can smell it but when it is pulling away from the sides (using a toothpick will yield some sticky bits, for this is meant to be a moist cake).
The breadcrumbs did not soak up the moisture as I thought they would but developed a coconut-like toastiness, which was a surprising and delicious partner to the thin, moist apple cake. The amount of cinnamon used is light enough to make this a perfect coffee cake to have for afternoon tea. And just so you know - yes, the oven seems to be perfectly calibrated, and I now know where all the spices, baking utensils, and bowls are kept.