And now back to cake. This recipe belongs to my cousin, Lucas Hollweg, and you can find it in his book Good Things to Eat, which I think should be re-titled Fricken Amazin Things to Eat. Buttery and brisk, this cake is, and full of sharp and sweet delights. The apples are soft and fluffy and there is a lovely lemony sourness running throughout. The spices and sultanas make me think of Christmas and long, cold nights. Lucas calls the flavours “strudelish,” which I tried out on our recent German guests. Thinking they wouldn’t understand the “ish” I simply said “strudel” and spent the rest of the conversation backtracking. “It’s cake!” I said, finally, and we were all happy with that.
So to apples. My very first apple I do remember, because my dad knocked it out of the tree with a hoe. I think I told people we had “an orchard,” when actually it was two trees in the corner of our garden. It was also around this time that I invented a sister called Melanie which, you can imagine, took a lot more effort to conceal. Melanie was away a lot. Or she was sleeping. Then she died, which was a relief. But my love of apples only increased.
This first apple was my downfall. It was pale green, almost dun in appearance, and smooth and dry to the touch. This was what made the biting of it so exciting, because inside, once my teeth pierced the skin and those first droplets formed on my lips, was the sweet ivory flesh, full of crunch and juice. The bitter mahogany pips, the toughened core was something to work around, gnaw at until almost nothing remained; a little twig dangling from my stubby fingers. I discovered apple shampoo while on a French campsite a year or two later, and I marvelled at how they could have captured the fragrance so perfectly. There was probably not a single natural ingredient in the bottle, but to me it was like having a frothing orchard in my hair. So, apples remind me of being young, and of ‘firsts.’ And how I launched myself at things like a missile.
This cake takes me back to that first, and best ever, apple. It’s incredibly easy to make, yet rich and plump and gorgeous. It’s a happy cake. I left it out for the German girls for breakfast and asked afterwards if they liked it. One nodded a lot, and made a gasping sound. Her eyes also widened, which I took to be a good sign. The other one spoke for her. “We’re in heaven,” she said.
Just so you know, I have also made this cake with quince compote, left over from the quince paste I made, and it was wonderfully aromatic. I have also used plumped-up (soaked) raisins in place of sultanas, which are trickier to find in LA. As to Bramleys – there is no real substitute. Look for sour and tart apples that cook down well.
Apple and Sultana Cake
Lucas Hollweg, Good Things to Eat
125g (4½ oz) butter, plus extra for greasing
125g (4½ oz) light brown or light muscovado sugar
125g (4½ oz) self-raising flour
1 medium egg
200g (7 oz) Bramley apples (1-2 depending on size)
2 handfuls of sultanas
Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
½ tsp ground cinnamon
A handful of flaked almonds
“Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease an 18cm (7in) cake tin and line the bottom with a circle of baking parchment. Put the butter and 100g (3½ oz) sugar in a saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Quickly stir in the flour and beat in the egg. You’ll end up with something that looks like what it is – flour mixed with melted butter – rather than normal cake mixture. Don’t worry, it’s meant to look like that.
Spread half the mixture over the bottom of the cake tin, then arrange the apple slices on top. Scatter with 3 tablespoons sugar, then add the sultanas, lemon zest and spices (you want to grate in about one-eighth of a whole nutmeg). Spread the remaining cake mixture over the top, smoothing it out as best you can. Scatter with the flaked almonds and put the tin in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until it’s a deep gold and firm to the touch.
Have a look after 30 minutes and cover the top with a bit of foil if it’s browning too quickly. Remove from the oven, and leave to stand in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool on a rack for at least quarter of an hour. It’s best while still just warm.”