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.