Apple Of My Eye – apple and marzipan cake

A quick bonus recipe for you this evening – scribbling this down mostly for my own reference – as I definitely intend to make this again – but also because a couple of people on Twitter and elsewhere have asked for it.

Apple and Marzipan Cake

This rather spanking apple and marzipan cake is adapted from an apple cake recipe in the River Cottage Handbook ‘Cakes’ volume by Pam Corbin, adjusted for my taste and available store cupboard ingredients. Apologies for the lack of ‘making’ photographs – this one wasn’t really for the blog at all!

You will need –

  • 230g self raising flour
  • 20g wheat bran
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 125g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • Two decent sized apples – cookers or eaters, whatever you have that needs eating up, I used one of each.
  • 50g marzipan
  • 1 egg
  • 50ml milk

To decorate –

  • Another apple – ideally an eating apple
  • Handful of sliced almonds
  • 1 tbsp golden granulated sugar

First, set the oven to 180 C. Butter a 7″ or 8″ deep loose bottomed cake tin generously, and line the base.

Combine the flour, bran, bicarb, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl. The recipe called for a mix of white and wholemeal self raising flours, but I only had white so I made up the volume with a little bran, which after all is the stuff that you sift out to turn wholemeal flour into white flour in the first place! The spice mix is to my taste – cinnamon would be very traditional with apples, but Hubby doesn’t like it. The recipe called for ground cloves, but I find them medicinal-tasting and a bit overwhelming, so follow your inclination!

Chop up the softened butter roughly and rub it through the flour mixture with your fingers until it’s the consistency of breadcrumbs. Now mix in the soft brown sugar.

Peel & core your two apples (if they’re lovely freshly picked home-grown apples, you might consider leaving the skins on – but these had been stored a while, and looked it!) and chop them into dice about 1cm to a side, and do the same with the marzipan. Mix these cubes into the dry ingredients.

Beat your egg with a fork and mix in the milk. Add this liquid to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. It won’t look like there’s enough – but if you keep moving the contents of the bowl around, eventually all the dry ingredients will combine with the liquids to form a rough batter. It won’t look like there’s enough ‘cake mix’ for the diced apple, either, but don’t let this bother you too much. Spoon the mix into a deep sided cake tin – something like a 7″ or 8″ tin you’d make a Christmas cake in, rather than a sponge tin. Level the mix as well as you can.

Now take your extra apple and core it, leaving the skin on. Slice reasonably thinly and arrange the slices over the top of the cake to decorate. Sprinkle over some sliced almonds. Finally, dust the top of the cake with a tablespoon of granulated sugar.

Pop it into the oven (turning if necessary to keep the cooking even) for about 45 minutes, then check to see if a skewer comes out clean. Mine actually needed about an hour in all to cook through. The batter, implausible as it might seem, will have managed to step up to the mark, and it will look like a nicely risen cake, rather than the chunky mess that went into the oven. Leave the cake in the tin for about half an hour after it comes out of the oven (it’s quite a crumbly texture and I suspect it would just fall apart if you took it out straight away) then ease it out of the tin and leave it on a wire rack to cool completely. It will then keep in an airtight cake tin for longer than it’ll take you to eat it (2-3 days, easily).

Sliced appearance

I love this cake! With nutmeg the dominant spice, it’s not over-sweet, has lots going on in the texture department, and is a very ‘grown-up’ sort of treat (though I’m quite sure that kids would love it too)! The marzipan adds lovely gooey sugary melty bits, which I just adore, while the texture of the rest of the cake is nice and light. The granulated sugar, apple slices and almonds add a lovely appearance to the top, too; and it’s a ‘self-decorating’ cake, which is a bonus – it comes out of the oven ready to go, which is a great time saver. And it looks utterly mouthwatering, which is even better!

Tuck in!

Hubby loves this, and I think you will to – so give it a try. Make yourself a nice cup of tea, and tuck in!

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The Icing On The Cake – how I decorate my Christmas cake – Blog Advent (17)

Christmas cake is a real ‘anchor’ for me, one of those food experiences that connects back, right through my life and my family history.  I wrote a bit last year about how baking the cake takes me back, every year.  I learned my cake from my grandmother – she learned it from Delia! – and I’ve only ever baked it and decorated it this one way.

The Icing On The Cake

After it’s been baked, usually some time in early November, I wrap it up in a few layers of greaseproof paper and stash it away in a tin. To keep it happy, it gets a tot of booze every week or so.  For the last few years I’ve baked it with, and then fed it on calvados (French apple brandy), because I think it adds an extra lovely fruity note compared to the traditional sort.

Before dressingOnce it’s nicely sozzled, and in time for Christmas, it’s time to get it all dressed up in its party frock!  More years than I can count, I’ve ended up decorating the cake on Christmas Eve – but I’ve been a bit better organised this year (well, OK, I wanted to make sure it was all ready in case someone fancied a slice this weekend!).

Brushing on the jamI ice my cake in two layers, first a nice thick layer of marzipan, and then a layer of royal icing.  Finally, the cake gets a decorative marzipan poinsettia to top it off.

First, to make sure the marzipan sticks down securely, I brush the cake with melted apricot jam, slightly loosened with some water and warmed in a pan on the hob.  A desert spoon of jam or so is plenty.  Brush it on generously with a pastry brush.  This is home-made jam, so has some big chunks of apricot in it, which isn’t a problem, just work around them and leave them in the pan!

Rolled out marzipanNow roll out your marzipan.  Mine was bought (sorry!) nice golden marzipan.  There’s about a kilo here. When working with marzipan, use icing sugar to dust down your surfaces and rolling pin, the same way you’d use flour when working with bread or pastry. Roll the marzipan out to the thickness you prefer, and make sure that it’s plenty bigger than the cake and sides in all directions.

Lay the marzipan overI know the baking aficionados on telly would have you apply your marzipan in two pieces – a round piece for the top of the cake, and a long thin band around the side.  I can’t see any reason to do this, for this cake at least – if you’re careful it’s possible to get a perfect layer with a one-piece approach.  In fact, the only merit I can see to the two-piece approach would be if you’re trying to get a sharp, 90 degree edge between the top and sides of your cake – in which case you’ve already started by cutting the top off – what a waste!  Gently place the big, rolled out piece of marzipan straight over the centre of the cake.

With sides flushNow, very gently, using the palms of your hands (dusted with icing sugar as required) push the ‘skirts’ inwards, towards the sides of the cake.  As you can see, I managed to get it all to sit snugly against the side of the cake.  But if you muck it up and get folds?  Just trim off the excess marzipan from the fold with a sharp knife, and stick the edges back together using a little bit of tap water.  The icing will conceal a multitude of sins!

Marzipan - doneTrim off the excess marzipan. I used the edge of the board as a cutting guide.  This sounds a bit generous, but it’s about the distance you want to leave.  I’ve over-trimmed in the past, and had to add extra marzipan back, so I now subscribe to the adage that you can always cut more later!  Once cut, gently nudge the marzipan in towards the base of the cake all around.  Anywhere you have an excess of marzipan, trim a bit more at this stage. You’ll be surprised how little there is, though.  Wrap up any extra marzipan you have left over tightly in cling film, and store in the fridge.

Ideally, let the marzipan dry out for a couple of days before applying the icing, though I’ve done it all in one night from time to time when necessary!  This gap is supposed to reduce the oiliness in the marzipan to reduce the risk of this ‘striking through’ and discolouring the icing.  I’m not sure how or whether this works, to be honest, and I’d love to say I’ve noticed a difference.  But I had time this year, so I gave it the 48 hours.

Royal icing ingredientsMy royal icing is made up of 3 large egg whites (I weigh my home-produced eggs and compare them to the egg size guide for this sort of cooking, since obviously they don’t come out of the hens graded!) 500g of icing sugar, and a teaspoon of glycerine.  I have forgotten the glycerine once or twice – it’s not a disaster if you can’t get any, but doing so does mean the icing sets very hard, so mind your dentures!

Whisk icingStart by spooning your icing sugar into your egg whites a bit at a time, stirring as you go.  It will look horrible and lumpy until right at the end, so don’t despair. Once it’s all incorporated, and you have a heavy gloppy-sort of consistency, start beating the mix with an electric whisk.  You really do want the electric whisk for this job – trust me, I’ve made royal icing with just a hand whisk one year, it’s *incredibly* hard work! – and ideally, if you have one, use your stand mixer.

Stiff peaksEven with an electric whisk it will take about ten minutes to get to the consistency you want, and I found that even with a handheld whisk I tended to get to the ‘I’m bored, sod it, that’ll do’ stage before the mix was really done!

Stir through glycerineYou’re after ‘stiff peaks’, which roughly means that the icing stays in whatever shape you place it in.  If you stop the whisk, you’ll get an idea pretty quickly by watching what happens to the ripples in the icing, which should be very stable.  You can test this by raising some peaks with the point of a knife, or your spatula.  If they stay there, you’re done.  Add your spoon of glycerine and stir this through the mix.  It adds a lovely shine to the icing.

Now, start slapping it onto the cake.

Apply the icing 1  Apply the icing 2  Apply the icing 3

Rough is good – you’re after a ‘snow scene’ effect, though I’ll be honest and say I’ve never seen a snow scene quite like this!

Store extra icingStill, it’s what my grandmother’s cake looked like, so it is with mine!  Once you’re happy you have a good covering, spoon any extra icing into a small plastic bag, and tie this off securely, excluding all air, and stick this bag in the fridge for later.  The icing now needs to set for at least 24 hours.  Then, it’s time for the final flourish.  For me, it has to be a poinsettia pattern in marzipan, but you could just as easily add holly leaves & berries, or even a Christmas tree, using a very similar approach.

Colouring your marzipanDig out the surplus marzipan from the fridge, and divide it into uneven thirds (two larger, one smaller).  Dye the two larger portions red and green using food colouring.  I find putting a sheet of cling film down on the kitchen counter when playing with food dye seriously simplifies the clean-up.  Also use plenty of icing sugar to stop things sticking.

Coloured marzipanIt was around this point that I remembered that last year, I’d made a mental note to try to find some better food colouring – I’m sure the food colouring my grandmother had only ever took a couple of drops, I seemed to have to ladle this stuff in by the spoonful!   Mind you, it was probably full of nasty artificial colours we’re not allowed to use these days…   You’ll get there eventually, even if your food dye is as wimpy as mine, and have the building blocks of your final decoration.

Prepare your leavesRoll out your green marzipan, and cut out a first set of six poinsettia leaves (or however many holly leaves, whatever you fancy).  I do this freehand, but you could easily cut make yourself a paper or card template.  Snip the corner off the bag of royal icing, and you have a little prepared piping bag.  Blob a little onto the centre of the cake and use it to glue down your leaves.  Then carry on with the red leaves, in much the same way. Finally, finish with some plain yellow berries in the centre.

Add green leaves  ... then red...  and finish with berries

Dab the marzipan with a damp piece of kitchen paper to remove any loose icing sugar, and finish with a ribbon, if you like.

That’s it, all done!  Round about now, I get to feel quite proud, very Christmassy, and revel in the connection to decades of family Christmas tradition.

Advent - day 17

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

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