Old-fashioned apple cake means buttery sponge with apple chunks mixed in, gorgeous autumnal spices and brown sugar frosting.
Time for apples – local and seasonal
Autumn is the time for apples: gorgeous Galas, golden Russets, green and enormous Granny Smith. I hope you agree that it’s positively a sin for supermarkets to stock apples imported from New Zealand or South Africa at this time of year.
Those suspiciously shiny Pink Ladies may be tasty, but they obviously are last season’s fruit. If you think what had to be done to them to preserve them so perfectly, your appetite is gone.
What apples can you grow in the garden?
The tastiest apples in the world are slightly skanky, ridiculously named Worcester Pearmain, an early season, garden grown apple.
I should know – we used to grow them. We had two apple trees in the garden: one eating, one cooking, fruiting every other year each, in alternative years – a perfect arrangement.
Most years there would be a bumper crop and I’d be juicing, jamming or chutney-ing and baking apple cakes. Or the eating apple tree would give birth to plenty of, certainly not flawless and shiny but tasty, apples; and we’d live on them for weeks on end.
Apple trees don’t live forever
But it turns out apple trees have their lifespan and kick the bucket when they get very old. Ours did, and so we had to have them chopped down with much regret.
To replace them, we got some new – and new-fangled – espalier fan-trained (no, me neither) apple and cherry trees. To grow against the fence.
Now call me old fashioned (or unworldly, or a townie; or crap gardener – or all of the above), but in my books a fruit tree stands alone, surrounded by its sisters, in a lovely orchard. If it wants to be gnarly, it is. If the fruit is ripe, it will drop. If you go scrumping, you risk being eaten by a vicious dog. The way of the world.
These poor espalier trees now are made to stand with their back against a stupid fence where the sun peeks in only in the morning, with their branches permanently splayed and tied to the fence. Pure Guantanamo.
And so I can only nod sardonically with a textbook ‘told you’ expression on my face while the Weather Man is wondering why there are all of five tiny fruits on our trees third year running, including the ones eaten by the birds.
How to make an old-fashioned apple cake?
This recipe comes from King Arthur Baking and is called old-fashioned apple cake. I’m not entirely sure what a modern apple cake would be like. Perhaps, like my poor new trees, without apples?
But whether old-fashioned or not, it’s a lovely buttery sponge that is made bish-bash-bosh by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl with a spoon or spatula.
The spices: a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger added to the batter makes it smell irresistible when it’s baking.
Apple chunks, and a few raisins just to be sociable, are mixed straight into the batter.
I suppose it could be made like the Norwegian cake, batter underneath a layer of sponge base, but the old-fashioned way is clearly quicker and easier than the Scandi way.
It bakes in just under an hour and that could very well be it, done and dusted with icing sugar, but the frosting suggested by the good King is awesomely scrumptious. It is really a brown sugar icing softened with butter and milk, spread thickly over the cake – the old-fashioned way of course.
The cake should be sliced thickly, ideally as soon as the frosting sets so the cake is still ever so barely warm. With a glass of milk, the old-fashioned way, or with a cup of coffee or tea, it is the nicest thing possible to have on a windy autumn evening.
More apple recipes
Apple jam is actually a thing, in case you didn’t know. Apple marmalade to be precise, is easy to make and undeservedly unpopular.
Bread with apples? Absolutely: wholemeal cider bread with chunks of apples is fairly easy to make, and the best bread for a cheese sandwich.
You can pair apples and cheese to make great savoury scones too.
More autumnal cake recipes
Figs come into season in autumn, and they are excellent in this upside down, sticky fig cake.
Autumn means nuts, too: cranberry and walnut loaf is just the thing, made with fresh or frozen cranberries.
Dates paired with apples work so well in the traditional Australian lumberjack cake (though nobody knows why it’s called that!).