Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Welsh Harvest Cake / Teisen y Cynhaeaf
I have written of apple cakes before, and have also indulged in a cider cake, but as soon as British apples hit the shops once more then I feel duty bound to honour them with a spot of baking. The start of apple season and the completion of the year's harvest overlap, and a celebratory Harvest Cake using apples seems to me a fine idea. My recipe comes from Julie Duff's book 'Cakes - Regional & Traditional'. Grub Street Publishing very kindly sent me a copy of the book, astonishingly one that I had not previously indulged myself by purchasing. The same book contains a photograph of a coffee cake that my husband claims matches with the ideal coffee cake that he holds in his head - I guess that is a hint that I should unearth the Camp coffee...
There are many regional recipes for cakes to be baked at harvest time, with variations aplenty. Some of these cakes were cooked to fuel the workers during the hard manual labour, and some were produced to be enjoyed as part of post-harvesting celebrations. Before industrialisation bringing in the harvest would be muscle-wrenching, dirty, hot and exhausting; our boys and girls in the fields needed all the calories they could get, and traditional harvest foods went some way to providing these. The Harvest Supper (served by the farmer or land-owner after the harvest was completed) was very likely second only to Christmas in terms of what was provided for workers to consume. For the poorest labourers such food was a very welcome change from their usual monotonous diet. In the novel 'Adam Bede' by George Elliot (published 1859), there is a lovely description of a Harvest Supper, hosted by the farmer, Martin Poyser, who regards his workers with a paternal eye:
It was a goodly sight - that table, with Martin Poyser’s round good-humoured face and large person at the head of it, helping his servants to the fragrant roast-beef, and pleased when the empty plates came again. Martin, though usually blest with a good appetite, really forgot to finish his own beef to-night – it was so pleasant to him to look on in the intervals of carving, and see how the others enjoyed their supper; for were they not men who, on all the days of the year except Christmas Day and Sundays, ate their cold dinner, in a make-shift manner, under the hedgerows, and drank their beer out of wooden bottles – with relish certainly, but with their mouths toward the zenith, after a fashion more endurable to ducks than to human bipeds. Martin Poyser had some faint conception of the flavour such men must find in hot roast-beef and fresh-drawn ale. He held his head on one side, and screwed up his mouth, as he nudged Bartle Massey, and watched half-witted Tom Tholer, otherwise known as ‘Tom Soft’, receiving his second plateful of beef. A grin of delight broke over Tom’s face as the plate was set down before him, between his knife and fork, which he held erect, as if they had been sacred tapers; but the delight was too strong to continue smouldering in a grin – it burst out the next instant in a long-drawn ‘haw, haw!’ followed by a sudden collapse of gravity, as the knife and fork darted down on the prey.
Martin Poyser and his wife, also served plum pudding at their supper, but this was brought to the table ahead of the roast beef. Adam Bede, arriving late to the meal, misses out on the pudding. Plum pudding or plum cake (this could mean a pudding or cake of dried vine fruits) was traditional accompaniment to the harvest feast, but I am unsure why the Poysers served theirs ahead of the beef. Any suggestions? Exuberant drinking followed the meal, so perhaps it was to allow the men to enjoy the ale without the delay of serving the ‘afters’. Of course, for those amongst us who are strong believers in puddings, to consume dessert first – and then see if you have any room left for the main course – perhaps makes better sense than operating in the traditional manner.
Welsh Harvest Cake / Teisen y Cynhaeaf
175g unsalted butter
175g soft brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
225g self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces (I had 450g weight of fruit post-peeling, coring)
50g flaked almonds
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. (Ours is a fan oven, so I baked at 170C for an hour). Prepare an 18cm/9 inch cake tin.
2. In a pan melt together the butter and sugar (the sugar won’t dissolve completely, this is fine, but do stir the mixture). Allow to cool slightly before beating in the eggs.
3. Sift flour and spices into a bowl. Add the melted ingredients and beat together gently.
4. Put the apples, sultanas, currants and almonds into a second bowl, and mix up.
5. Spoon half the cake mixture into the bottom of the prepared tin, and then add the fruit and nuts – at this point I thought that I had created a cake disaster, with a hugely disproportionate amount of apple, and not enough cake ‘body’ to bind the whole together – then finish with the remainder of the cake mix.
6. Lightly smooth the surface of the cake, to press down the contents. Place in oven to bake for about an hour, or until firm to touch and a skewer comes out clean (60 minutes worked for me).
7. Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Once the cake had gone into the oven I spent a bit of time worrying about how it would turn out. So much fruit had gone into the middle of my ‘sandwich’, that I could only imagine that the result was going to be a formless apple subsidence. I kept on peeking through the oven door, to see if I could determine the outcome , but whilst in the tin and baking the cake looked innocent of bad intent. When the hour was up, the cake exited the oven and then sat patiently for a further half hour whilst I plucked up courage to liberate it. Ta-daa! The finger-crossing paid off, and my cake stayed cake-like. In fact, I hadn’t needed to worry at all. When I cut into the cake I could see that the sponge mixture placed top and bottom had cleverly found a way to unite, and the fruit in the middle was self-supporting. From the outside of the cake was discreetly visible a seam of fruit, but inside the centre was a glorious moist windfall.
I served slices of this Welsh Harvest Cake as a pudding, slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream – a well-stacked relative of the Eve’s Pudding. I think warmth enhances the juiciness of the fruit, and the spices are encouraged in their seductiveness. Cold, the cake was good, but warm it was pretty sensational.
Just think, the more you eat, the larger the portion of fruit that you are adding to your five-a-day checklist (I recommend this cake as part of a balanced diet – A very learned Dietician and Food Doctor).