22 November 2011

It would look decent

Dear Reader, hello –

How are things with you? I got a little bit distracted from here, as you can see. Since my temporary return to the bakery, I’ve been laboring there four consecutive days a week (as opposed to three days spread throughout the week before). Seeing that for most job-bound a working week would usually be comprised of five days, I feel I have no legitimate right to make a fuss now. I’d just say my only beef would be not to pass all my after-work hours in the vacuum of a deep slumber, which is what I’ve successfully been doing lately. I’m not a sloth, really. I’m rather confident my having to wake up for work before the birds – at 5 a.m. on a weekday, at 4 a.m. on weekends -- has a lot to do with my recent fondness of the pillow. Reader, I’d like to do much better than counting sheep before my usual bed time around 11 p.m, so I’m working on it. My latter-day strategy, of which I’m going to tell you in a jiffy, is working remarkably well. It keeps me from falling asleep soon after I get back from work in the late afternoon, which, in turn, raises my morale up a notch, which, in turn, makes me a better-ish person overall.

The afore-mentioned strategy is…cake-making. It’s brilliant. All this whisking, beating, and mixing have me skip around my kitchen area shooing hibernation away. Then it’s (usually) an hour wait for a cake to bake which has the same effect on me as a shot of inky espresso, only it’s milder and more considerate towards my heart rate. And of course it’s the eating of a cake itself that takes the edge off my tiredness completely. (Some irony: baking at work tires me, baking at home perks me up.)

I made my first cake when I was fourteen or fifteen of age (I was a late bloomer). It was an apple cake known in Russia as sharlotka (not to be confused with charlotte Russe). Growing up I was not really encouraged to cook. Reason being, tap water was a pleasant surprise rather than a 24/7 attribute in our household back then (brilliant post-Soviet reality). It’s well understood cooking goes hand-in-glove with washing up, but the latter in our situation was a rather dire endeavor to accomplish, what with the limited water stored in vats and buckets kept in the bathroom. In other words, no need for unnecessary whisking, whipping, and mixing, thank you very much. But I saw that cake on a Russian cooking show, and it seemed an easy one-bowl affair. All the domestic encumbrances be damned, I was so making it. The simplicity of the said confection laid in its use of all the ingredients in equal measure, the ingredients being flour, sugar, eggs and apples. You beat one part sugar with a few eggs, introduce one part flour to the mixture, and round the deal off by mixing in a few apples. The lot was baked in a frying pan, and regardless of one half of the cake going lopsided and the other burnt, my parents and I had a piece each with tea. We all agreed that theoretically it was a good no-nonsense cake, and that I shouldn’t be making it again.

Nigel Slater’s apple cake reminds me of my first baking affair, sharlotka. Similarly to the latter, it also calls for the equal quantities of the ingredients, only in addition to flour, eggs, sugar and apples it also cordially invites butter to the premises. Besides that, another difference is that nobody in their right mind would ever think of not making it again. You cream the butter with the sugar first, nudge the eggs in second, fold in the flour and baking powder third, and lastly, once the mixture is scraped in a baking tin, put spiced apples on top. At first you’ll most likely think that the cake batter is a dud, on the account of it being too thick, almost cookie dough thick. But go on notwithstanding -- the heat will take care of everything. The apples will surrender and sink in the batter, their juices trickling down and moisturizing the crumb. And the crumb, it will spring up a bit, carefully closing in around the apple pieces. The result is a loveable slim, tender, open-crumb apple cake that stays moist for a few days, no assistance of aluminum foil needed (as I accidentally discovered). It’s not overly sweet, with a quiet tart voice coming out from a little bit of lemon juice used with the apples. Last time I baked it I subbed whole wheat for plain flour. That is not necessary at all for the taste enhancement -- the cake is good as it is; I just think apple and whole wheat together make a fine autumn treat. In case if apple pies start to rub you the wrong way by now, give a chance to this apple cake. Some whipped cream on the side, it would look decent on your Thanksgiving table, that.

Happy Thanksgiving, Reader!

Nigel Slater’s Apple Cake

Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries
Yield: 8-10 servings

Slater calls the afore-mentioned sweetness English Apple Cake, but I’m not sure whether it’s because he uses local English apples for the recipe or because it’s originally an English recipe. I tend to think it’s the former, for the recipe is included in an entry christened A Basket of Apples. On the grounds that I’m not using the English fruit here and, generally, for the sake of clarity, I’ve taken to call this cake quite simply as Nigel Slater’s Apple Cake.

I don’t mind the apple-cinnamon flavor combination as such, but I personally prefer fresh vanilla as a spice for an apple. If cinnamon would be your choice, disregard my call for half a vanilla bean and use ½ tsp ground cinnamon instead, or use both, perhaps.

Slater uses a 24-cm square tin for this cake, but since I don’t own one I utilize a 24-cm round spring form here. It seems to work just fine too.

3 medium-size apples (I used
juice of ½ lemon
seeds from ½ vanilla bean
2 Tbsp demerara sugar
130 g (4.4 oz.) butter
130 g (4.4 oz) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
130 gr (4.4 oz) whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
a little extra sugar (optional)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (355 degrees Fahrenheit). Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. Butter and flour a 24-cm (9 1/2-inch) baking spring form; shake off excess flour.

2. Cut the apple into small chunks, removing the cores as you proceed and dumping the fruit in a small bowl with the lemon juice. Add the vanilla bean seeds and demerara sugar and toss well. Set aside.

3. Sift the whole-weat flour and baking powder together, set aside. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold the flour mix gently into the butter mixture (the mixture will be very thick). Scrape into the prepared baking form and smooth out. The cake mixture will be very shallow in the form. Put the spiced apples (together with the lemon juice, if you wish) on top of the cake mixture and scatter a little bit more demerara sugar, if desired.

4. Bake for 55-60 minutes. The centre should be firm and the edges should be nicely browning. Cool for 10 mins, still in the baking tin. Run a sharp knife around the cake and take off the side of the spring form. To remove the bottom of the spring form, you might want to run a long serrated knife under the cake. This cake is best eaten warm – reheat in a gentle oven before serving. Keeps well for two days.