The best-ever apple cake

Well… we survived our first Thanksgiving in America! More than survived, in fact – we had a wonderful time, and are both, shall we say, more rotund as a result. We were lucky enough to be invited to spend the holiday with our lovely friend Laura and her family in Connecticut. We were welcomed so warmly, and initiated thoroughly into the ways of Thanksgiving – which included eating the most wonderful food. A holiday all about eating and drinking? This is a holiday I can get on board with!

On the subject of family – I’ve been thinking a lot about my family in the past weeks. We’re now spread across three continents – four, if you count my aunts, uncles and cousins – and, perhaps because Thanksgiving is so much about family (and food and drink, did I mention?), I am missing them at the moment. And so, for my recipe offering this week, I have turned to something which makes me think of them – my mum’s apple cake.

We are definitely a foodie family – I take inspiration all the time from the way my brother, sister and dad enjoy food. But my biggest influence, and the person I really have to thank for my love of food and cooking, is my mum. She is a wonderful cook, we were so incredibly fortunate growing up that she instilled in us the importance of food and its role not just in nourishing our bodies, but in nourishing our souls and bringing us together. My mum is still the first person I turn to with a food question – thank heavens for modern technology, which means continents and oceans are no barrier to her answering my many, many questions!

This apple cake is something I have grown up eating and making for as long as I can remember. My mum makes it from memory – I still need a recipe… I know that to suggest it’s the best-ever apple cake is a bold statement, but to me, it really is. I love the fact that the flavours are deep and comforting – but at the same time, there’s a complexity and sophistication that comes from the spices. But the very best thing is the topping – apples are layered on top, then covered with sugar and cinnamon, so the top becomes toasty and caramelised, but there’s a layer of soft apple yumminess underneath where the pieces of apple overlap. It’s a wonderful reminder that sometimes, the simple things are the best.

In the UK, I use ready-mixed ground mixed spice, which is easy to buy in the supermarket – however, over here, I couldn’t find it, so have put together my own mix. Having done a bit of research online (here and here), it seems the components and ratios vary slightly, but tend to include allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, coriander and ginger, sometimes with the addition of mace. I’ve used the following, with slightly less cinnamon than in some recipes because cinnamon is used to top the cake. This makes more than is needed for this recipe, you can store the rest for use at a later date:

  • 1/2 tbsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tbsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger

Best-ever apple cake

  • 4 oz / 115g Butter – softened
  • 4 oz / 115g Caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 oz / 170g Self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp ground mixed spice
  • 2 apples, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tbsp each of cinnamon & sugar, mixed

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Grease and line an 8-inch cake tin.

Cream the butter & sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs into this, one at a time. Gently fold the flour and mixed spice into the batter – do this in several batches, using a cutting and folding motion, trying to keep the air in the batter. You are aiming for a soft, dropping consistency – add a splash of milk, if the batter is too thick.

Spread the batter into the prepared tin. Arrange the apple slices over the top of the batter – you are aiming for each piece of apple to overlap with its neighbour, slightly. Sprinkle the cinnamon & sugar mix over the apples. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is cooked and the sugar mix has caramelised on top.

Allow to cool slightly, then remove from tin and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Notes:

  • Normally, I would use an 8-inch springform cake tin – I don’t have one at the moment, so I used an 8-inch square tin instead. Here’s hoping I can get the cake out of it…! (I did…)
  • If using a round tin, I would arrange the apples in a circle around the edge, with a few in the middle
  • Use your judgement with the ratio of cinnamon to sugar on top – don’t use too much cinnamon. What you are aiming for is for the sugar to melt and therefore the cinnamon to get sticky with it on top – if you have too much cinnamon, you will end up with a sort of dusty topping, which is not so nice!
  • I’ve also had success making this with plums, instead of apples – exactly the same procedure. Make sure not to slice the plums too thinly.

An Orange Kitchen…? & first recipe post!

I’ve thought a lot about how to begin my blog – what I’d write about first, and how I’d go about it. I also thought a lot about what to call it – and finally I came up with An Orange Kitchen because, well, my kitchen here is orange, and that’s where my blog will be focused. If I’m being honest, I sort of hate the orange – I’m not a big fan of the colour in general, and I certainly wouldn’t paint my kitchen that, were the choice mine.

Unfortunately, the colour is not all that’s wrong with my kitchen – although it’s a massive room, probably nearly double the size of my kitchen back in London, it’s reeeeally impractical. It has basically no workspace at all – there are cupboards down one side, but what with the stove & sink, barely any counter space… Hopeless. We now have a new kitchen table (which I built!), which helps, but… hey ho, we’ll get there.

I also thought a lot about which recipe would be my first post – I wanted it to be something I love, but also something that fits with the time of year and what’s going on here in Boston. Because although it’s really cold here (and apparently I haven’t seen anything yet…), it’s also really bright and sunny, which means that the stews and other hearty fare I normally turn to don’t seem that appropriate. So, instead I went for a dish I cooked for my brother just before I left London, which is warming and wintry without being the type of dish to send you into a food-induced coma.

I spent my final few weeks in London staying at my brother’s, and to help ease the hassle for him and his flatmate, I cooked a lot for them while I was there. One of the meals I made was Nigel Slater’s Duck and crushed cannellini beans from his recent BBC show, which was a hit. However, duck is fairly expensive, and not always that easy to find – but I got to thinking that the dish might work well with lamb chops instead. So when I made it for Noel and I this week, I substituted lamb – happily, it worked really well… in fact, I think I even preferred the meatiness of the lamb to the rich duck. I also made some changes to the flavours – largely because of what I had in the house. I think it worked really well, but equally I think the flavours of the original recipe would also complement the lamb, if you’d rather give that a go.

Pan-fried lamb chops with crushed cannellini beans

Serves 2

  • 4 – 6 Lamb chops (depending on the size of the chops & how hungry you are…)
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled & sliced
  • 400g/14oz tin cannellini beans, drained of some but not all of the soaking liquid
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano or thyme (or a sprig of fresh thyme, if you have some)
  • Squeeze of lemon, to taste
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Heat a good sized frying pan over a fairly high heat until hot, and add the oil. Season the lamb with salt and pepper on each side, and add to the pan – sear quickly until brown on each side but not cooked through. Make sure the meat is brown on both sides. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the garlic – allow to cook for a minute, stirring, until cooked but not brown.

Add the beans to the pan, around the lamb, and allow to cook until the lamb is cooked to your liking – depending on the size of your chops, this should take around 2-3 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove the chops from the pan and allow to rest somewhere warm.

Add the oregano, season with salt and pepper, and allow the beans to cook for a further 5 minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, then take off the heat. Crush the beans slightly with the back of a spoon – you are aiming for a mixture of textures, some beans completely crushed, some partially crushed, and some whole. Serve the beans with lamb chops on top.

Notes:

  • In the original recipe, Nigel uses a duck breast and a whole tin of beans to make a simple supper – we had ours with some roasted squash and steamed green veg, so therefore I used just one tin of beans between two.
  • As I mentioned, I didn’t have all the ingredients to hand, so I substituted dried oregano for the rosemary. I also added some garlic, and I used lemon juice for some acidity as I had no wine, Marsala or otherwise…

Living the foodie life in Boston – a word about this blog

My name is Sarah –  I’m in my late-mid 20’s (NB – not my late 20’s), and earlier this month, I packed up my life in London and moved to Boston, MA, to join my boyfriend who’s been moved here for work. I’ve taken a career break from work for a year – one of my aims is to do some of the things I’m always saying I would do if I had more time. I now have lots of time, and top of the list was to start a food blog.

I love food – I love cooking it, eating it, sharing with friends and family. I love eating out, and I love exploring new foods and recipes at home. For a while now, I’ve followed and admired several blogs, supplementing my obsession with cookbooks, and I started to wonder if I could do the same. I love to read about food – so I wondered what would happen if I add my voice, and started writing about food as well. I’m planning to share with you my journey through the year in my bright orange kitchen here in Boston (hence the name!)

I’m sure this is going to be an adventure for me, and I’m hoping it will be for you as well!