Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Spiced apple and hazelnut upside-down cake

The Orchard at the end of October

When we first took our allotment the orchard always felt like it was off-limits.  There were the bees, of course.  Seven hives of industry standing sentinel-like, strategically located at the northern end of the old orchard.  Through spring, summer and autumn activity is intense, a constant stream of one-track-mind bees roaming the allotments.  Dispersed, we welcome them, waggling from raspberry to gooseberry blossom, borage to squash flower.  Where they come together, in the vicinity of the hives, we growers keep a respectful distance most of the year.  Undoubtedly they are the most effective guardians of the orchard.  But there was also the Committee.  The first year we took on our allotment nobody mentioned the orchard.  In the second year we were invited to gather up a few windfall apples.  It was five years before we were invited to pick some plums and pluck a few apples direct from the trees.  Finally, it seemed, we were accepted.

One gnarled old apple tree hugs a hive, its weighted boughs bob invitingly in the breeze.  All through late summer we eye the tree, longing for the bees to calm down.  By the time the traffic to and from the hive slows to a lazy trickle, everyone else has filled their store and lost interest in the tree.  All except me.  Because this is the best variety in the orchard and this year the crop is spectacularly good - thank you bees.  Finally, right at the end of October, the bee activity began to slow down and we dared to approach the tree.  It was worth the wait.  Not that anyone knows what kind of apple it is.  Three varieties of plum and five apple of unknown variety in the orchard.  Each year there is a plan to find out what they are.  Each year this doesn't happen.  One day I will take on the task.

Late pickings in the Orchard

Apple trees thrive in wet and windy Britain.  The cultivation of over 2,000 dessert, cooker and 'inbetweener', in addition to several hundred cider apples is testament to our love for them.  Late July/early August sees the first apple harvests with Discovery, Gladstone, Laxton's Early Crimson, Beauty of Bath and Grenadier arriving at market.  Late summer brings Egremont Russet, James Grieve, Scarlet Permain and, in late September, a favourite of mine, the tiny but exquisite Oaken Pin.  Blenheim Orange, Falstaff,  Howgate Wonder and the cooking apple Bramley follow on through October, with Braeburn, Sturmer Pippin, Boiken and the cider apples like Herefordshire Redstreak bringing the season to an end by mid- to late November.

Spiced Apple and hazelnut upsidedown cake

I love an apple pie or crumble as much as the next person, but a good dessert apple cake recipe has eluded me up to now.  Having such a good crop this year, I've been able to experiment a bit and at last I have a recipe I will make again and again.  I knew I wanted a kind of apple upside-down cake, so I borrowed the creamed butter, muscovado sugar and honey mix from a Nigel Slater Honey Pear Cake recipe which I cut out of the Observer magazine a couple of years ago.  I wanted hazelnuts for flavour and for the oil they contain to keep the cake moist.  Personally if I'm buying nuts shelled I prefer skin-on.  I dry roast them in a frying pan until the skins loosen enough to, mostly, rub off.   I also wanted spice, particularly at this time of year, and went for plenty of cinnamon, a little vanilla and nutmeg.  I hope you like it too.

A helping of Spiced apple and hazelnut upside-down cake

Spiced apple and hazelnut Upside-down cake
(for an 18-20cm round cake tin)

50g (2oz) softened unsalted butter
65g (2½oz) muscovado sugar
1 tbsp mild honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 450g (16oz) eating apples
115g (4oz) softened unsalted butter
115g (4oz) raw cane caster sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract
A little grated nutmeg (about a quarter of a whole one)
2 large eggs, lightly mixed
65g (2½oz) plain soft flour
50g (2oz) hazelnuts, dry roasted and ground medium fine
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp milk

Heat oven to 180oC/160oC fan/Gas 4.

Lightly butter your cake tin.
Cream together 50g butter, 65g sugar and 1 tbsp honey and mix in the cinnamon.   
Spread evenly over the base of the cake tin.  

Peel (or not if you prefer), core and slice the apples fairly thinly.  Arrange in a closely overlapping spiral on top of the mixture.

Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir in the ground hazelnuts and nutmeg.  

In a separate bowl, mix very well 115g butter with the 115g raw cane sugar until soft and fluffy.  Add the vanilla extract and gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little of your dry mixture if it looks like it might curdle.  Fold the dry mixture in gently, incorporating the tablespoon of milk at the end.  Smooth the mixture over the top of the apples.

Bake for about 45 minutes.  Rest for 15 minutes.  Place a plate on top of the tin, hold securely and turn over to release the cake upside-down.  Give the plate and tin a jiggle if it doesn't turn out straight away.

Best served warm, with our without cream but the cake does keep well for 2-3 days.