Saturday, October 15, 2005
Dorset Apple Cake
It is apple season in Britain now, and for that reason I thought I should look out an apple recipe to test. It is also a good incentive to search out the more unusual varieties of native apple. Unusual in the sense of hard to find, thanks to the way that supermarkets operate (although consumers should recognise their own responsibility to demand a broader range of varieties). I did a quick lunch-time apple shopping test at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose - both of whom claim to support British producers. Marks & Spencer disappointingly could only offer Royal Gala, Cox and Bramley apples grown in England (pretty standard fare that are easy to obtain from all large shops). They had other varieties too, but these came from France and Australia. Waitrose however scored much better. In addition to Royal Gala, Cox, Bramley, they had Spartan, Egremont Russet, Early Windsor, Regal Prince and Meridian apples. All were grown in Kent, so have come a short distance up the road to be sold in London. Of the varieties sold in Waitrose, and grown in Kent, not all are native to Britain - for example, the Regal Prince was first discovered in Angers, France.
Clockwise from left: Early Windsor, Egremont Russet, Meridian, Regal Prince:
In Dorset, the areas around the towns of Bridport and Beaminster have a soil which particularly suits apple growing. Cider is made from some of the apples grown in the county, and in the past was used as a necessary supplement to farm labourers' wages.
Each year in October is held an Apple Day, to celebrate the season for best enjoying home-grown fruit. By complete coincidence (no, I am pretty sure that they haven't held it now to coincide with my Blog posting) in Dorset this year's celebration is being held today (15th October) in Symondsbury. 2005 has been designated Heritage Orchard year. For more information on events during October to celebrate English apples, click here.
There are many recipes for Dorset Apple Cake, as it seems to be one of those recipes which people find their own way with. As I have never tasted anyone's interpretation of the recipe, I have gone with the advice of a long-time Dorset resident, Marion Watson, who writes on The Great British Kitchen website that, 'most traditional recipes are based on the rubbed-in method mixed with milk to give a rather scone-like mixture.' My recipe comes from a page on Dorsetshire.com, and it follows the method just described (I am not sure if the rabbit custard recipe on the same web page would be a good accompaniment to the cake - I think probably not).
225g plain flour
1-2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
110g butter, cut into small pieces
110g caster sugar
225g of peeled and diced apples (I used two smallish Early Windsor dessert/eating apples)
1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4
2. Grease and line a square cake tin (I used a 20cm by 20cm square cake tin)
3. Sift the flour, baking powder and spice into a bowl, add the pinch of salt
4. Rub the butter into the flour mixture,
5. Stir in the sugar and the diced apples. Then add the egg and milk. Mix in to form a firm dough.
6. Fill the cake tin - the mixture will be quite shallow in the tin.
7. Bake for up to an hour - my cake was ready in 45 minutes,
8. Leave to cool in the tin.
Whilst my cake was baking I put to the test another bit of information that I had gained on English apples. The Egremont Russets which I had bought from Waitrose are part of a group known as russets because of their distinctive matt/rough golden skins. Russets have a nutty tannic flavouring which once made them popular as an after-dinner accompaniment to port. Well, frankly I didn't need to be told that twice before I poured myself a large one, and cut up an apple to eat alongside. Fantastic! If you like port, then try it for yourself.
The cake didn't rise very much, which was fine, but it would be interesting to see the difference that using self-raising flour would make. The sponge was fairly dense and reminiscent of scone consistency. My taster and I agreed that the cake was a little too subtly flavoured, and that it could easily have had another one, if not two, apples added to the sponge base. The nutmeg spicing was a little indistinct, although this could be more a matter of personal taste. I also felt that this could be served warm with thick cream or (non-rabbit) custard. YUM!
Remember what an apple a day does...
(...and I'm sure that a glass of port can't be bad either)