Autumn – which it suddenly and decisively is – starts me thinking about cakes. About making them and carving them up for visitors, about sharing a wedge with the man I love or guiltily sneaking a second slice on my own before putting it away (all in the name of tidying up a ragged edge of course). Especially about warm apple cakes, which is my chief memory of a fleeting amble around Amsterdam decades ago (not the windmills or the tulips). Caféafter café offered warm apple cakes in their own special versions and it was a wonderfully restorative way of recovering from the hours of walking foreign countries demand.
And in autumn apples are particularly wonderful, especially that old favourite, the Granny Smith. You may be able to buy these tart green fruit all year around but it is only in their proper season that they taste the sharp way God meant them. Your teeth collide with that hard white flesh, the acidity sending tiny shudders through your salivary glands, the flavour so cleanly green, or greenly clean.
Better still is cooking with them, to which they lend themselves so well. Granny Smith apples originated in Australia in 1868, named after Maria Ann Smith who settled in Sydney’s Eastwood with her husband and children after emigrating from England as part of a government program recruiting people with agricultural skills sorely needed in the colony of New South Wales. Amongst other fruit they grew seedling apples and it is believed that Maria’s ‘discovery’ was related to the French crabapple. At any rate, it was she who discovered its versatility in cooking and eating and was involved in spreading its popularity. It became one of the original staple supermarket and international varieties, being vastly suited to easy shipping around the world with its tough skin and excellent keeping qualities.
A browse through my too-many cookbooks exposes a disappointing lack of apple cake recipes, just when I had my heart set on some weekend baking, just as I was imagining the warm spicy moist appley mouthfuls. Apple pie and apple crumble recipes abound, and of course I will happily make both throughout autumn and winter because they positively shout the presence of those seasons. The browse did yield two quick and luscious desserts I had forgotten about and will now share. Apple Galette requires an oven pre- heated to 200°C and a sheet of frozen puff pastry you can buy. Cut from it a 23 cm circle and place it on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Prick all over with a fork. Peel, core and thinly slice two large Granny Smiths and, starting in the centre, arrange the slices in overlapping circles on top of the pastry. Brush slices with melted butter and lavishly scatter over caster sugar then bake for about half an hour. The sugar will caramelise and the pastry become crisp and gold. Serve it hot with double cream. Or make Apple Cream by placing two peeled, cored and diced Granny Smiths in a baking dish then dot with 30 grams butter and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Place in a 180°C oven for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Beat one cup thickened cream with half a teaspoon vanilla essence, two tablespoons caster sugar, two eggs and one tablespoon brandy and pour over the apple – keep cooking until set, about 10 more minutes. Dust with cinnamon, rest five minutes, then serve straight from the dish.
These two are all very lovely – but it’s now back to my hunt for a Dutch apple cake!