Like all the best recipes, this one has a story behind it. Last year I wrote an article for a magazine lamenting the fact that apple cakes are so often dull and stodgy, and never seem ‘appley’ enough.
Out of the blue, a reader from Wiltshire, Mary Smalley, contacted me to say not so - she’s been making an apple cake for the last 25 years and it’s never disappointed. Furthermore - it’s a recipe of mine, which I wrote way back in 1999 for the Daily Express.
She kindly sent me a copy of her tattered and annotated cutting, and here is the best apple cake recipe in all its glory. I can’t believe I forgot about it - it truly is the dessert of autumn dreams.
Prepare 30 minutes
Bake 60-70 minutes
140g butter, softened, plus extra for the tin
85g golden caster sugar
1 medium egg
200g self-raising flour
FOR THE FILLING
450g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut in 1cm slices (about 375g prepared weight)
3 tbsp soft light brown or demerara sugar, plus 1 tbsp demerara
3 tbsp apricot jam
dusting of icing sugar (optional)
clotted or double cream, to serve
1. Butter a 20cm loose-based or springform tin - do this generously so the crust is golden and buttery. Using a stand or hand mixer, mix the first four ingredients to make a sticky cake mixture. (You can do this using a wooden spoon and elbow grease, but if so, make sure your butter is very soft.)
2. Spoon about ⅔ of the cake mixture into the buttered tin, and use a fork to spread it lightly over the base. A bit fiddly, but it does need to cover the base completely.
3. Toss the apples with 3tbsp sugar and arrange in a thick layer on top of the cake mixture. Dot with the jam and spread it roughly over the apples. Spoon on the remaining cake mixture, and using the fork and your fingers, spread it over the apples - try and get it more or less even, but don’t worry about gaps as it will spread.
4. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp demerara - to add light crunch - and bake at 160C/140C fan/gas 3 for 60-70 minutes - there is no need to preheat the oven. Rotate the cake half way through, and use a small sharp knife to check the apple is totally tender before removing from oven. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from tin and serve warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar if you wish, accompanied by clotted or double cream.
I like this plain and simple, but if you make it often - as I hope you will - you can get creative.
• Add 1tsp mixed spice, cinnamon or other spice to the sugar when tossing apples.
• Instead of apricot jam, use blackcurrant jam, honey or a mixture. Since a recent Damascene conversion to marmalade, I have been using that.
• Mix 1 tbsp flaked almonds, lightly crushed, with the 1 tbsp demerara before sprinkling on top.
Images by Heather Brown.