Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ending a hoodoo ... Sort of

Like Greg Norman and the majors, I have a long and fraught history with apple cakes. In fact, you could say they're my bogy cake.
The only apple cake I have had even the slightest hint of success with is Clotilde's grandmother's pear cake, a beautifully simple yet impressive cake that, as she promises, tastes even better the next day. I think one of the reasons that cake succeeds where so many others have failed (apart from being idiot-proof) is that it's so carefree - the recipe specifies that if bits of apple stick to the pan, just scrape them out and plop them back on the cake! How can you go wrong?
Sadly, it hasn't been the case with all the others I've tried. The first apple tea cake I ever attempted passed the skewer test with flying colours, looked delicious as I unmoulded it - then the whole middle section, which had stayed liquid despite an hour in the oven and the skewer test, gushed through the rack and on to the bench. It took me a while to get over that one.
Then I made an apple spice tea cake for my workmate Stacy's birthday from a cookbook that's never failed me before. Mindful of the liquid centre debacle, I left it in the oven for a full 15 minutes longer than the recipe said, skewer-tested it three times - and then dropped it as I tried to unmould it.
But, like Norman struggling back for one last British Open, I was determined not to let the cake beat me. And I had a recipe I'd torn out of one of those free supermarket magazines to attempt.
This cake required a hell of a lot of mucking about - I counted four bowls and two dishes on the bench at one point, plus the usual measuring cups and sifter - but it tasted great as I licked the bowl, so I slid it into the oven with a light heart. Until I noticed the thin batter was dripping out of the bottom of the springform tin as it cooked. Luckily it was a slow drip, so not too much batter was lost before the cake cooked enough to seal the leaks.
In the end it came out of the tin fully cooked and in one piece, and it was light and delicate - enough of a win that I took it to share at work a few days later.
The original recipe called for the apples to be tossed in 2tbsp Grand Marnier, which I replaced with orange juice as I don't like the taste of alcohol in cakes. But I found the orange taste overwhelming, so I've left that step out of the recipe below.
So I'm not declaring the hoodoo over just yet. But at least this time I've made the cut.

Apple and custard tea cake
550g Granny Smith apples
1 1/4 cups plain flour, plus 2tbsp extra
1 cup caster sugar, plus 1tbsp extra
2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
3/4tsp cinnamon, divided
1 cup canola oil
1 cup milk
2 large eggs 
2 tsp orange zest 
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
Sifted icing sugar, to serve

Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a 23cm pan.
Peel, core and quarter the apples and chop into chunks. Set aside.
Whisk together the 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup caster sugar, baking powder, salt and 1/4tsp of the cinnamon.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, milk, whole eggs, orange zest and vanilla.
Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until smooth, being careful not to over-mix.
Transfer one cup of batter into a small bowl and mix the last 2tbsp of flour in. Whisk egg yolks into the batter in the large bowl and stir in apples.
Transfer the apple batter into the cake tin and press the apples down to submerge them. Pour the reserved batter evenly over the apple batter.
In a small bowl, mix the remaining caster sugar and cinnamon together than sprinkle evenly over the batter.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and carefully unmould the cake.
Dust with icing sugar and serve with double cream. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Treading gingerly

Well, what a week it's been. Last weekend I was all geared up to make ice cream, but I had so much running around to do that taking a whole day to churn (I can't justify the cupboard space an ice cream maker would occupy) became impossible.
Then the past few days were such a shemozzle that ice cream just wasn't going to cut it - I needed cake. Preferably some sort of filling, warming cakey cake.
The cake I chose, gingerbread loaf, is one that I've paused on many times while flipping through the recipe folder, but somehow other cakes have always called to me more loudly. It's very quick and easy to make and I loved it, although it's not a cake that will be to everyone's taste; it has quite a dense, almost dry texture that still manages to stay fluffy inside a deliciously crunchy crust. I increased the ginger a little and, if you like ginger, another teaspoon wouldn't be overwhelming.
The original recipe suggests dusting it with icing sugar, but I've been dreaming about lemon icing for the past few days and, frankly, I think it would be a little too dry without some sort of icing or glaze. It has a lovely caramel flavour, so it'd also be nice with a syrup poured over it when it's straight out of the oven to enhance that sticky gingerbread quality.

Gingerbread loaf with lemon icing (adapted from a Donna Hay recipe)

1/4 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
65g butter, chopped
1 egg

1 1/2 cup sifted icing sugar
3 tsp boiling water
3 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 160C. Place honey, golden syrup, sugar and milk in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until all combined and the sugar is dissolved.
Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (I used a KitchenAid, but you could use a food processor or rub in the butter with your fingertips like a crumble). Add the syrup mixture and beat until smooth, then add the egg and mix until well combined.
Pour into a lined loaf tin and bake for an hour, or until it passes the skewer test.
Turn out on to a rack and allow to cool before icing.
For the icing, put the icing sugar in a bowl and stir in the water and lemon juice, a teaspoon at a time until it reaches the consistency you want. This icing sets hard quickly so pour or spoon it over the cake as soon as you're happy with it.