A Basket of Apples

It’s officially blackberry season here in the Swiss Alps, so I’ve been setting out two or three times a week armed with Tupperware, to raid my secret stash. I decided to make a dash yesterday in between bouts of heavy rainfall, but the ‘in between’ times didn’t last long, so I was confined to the kitchen, blackberryless.

I had planned to make my favourite blackberry recipe in the world, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Blackberry, Apple and Almond Cobbler (I could drool on for hours about how good it is, but to save myself the job of wiping down the keyboard later, I’ll leave you to find out for yourselves) but was left with a fruit bowl of six Rubinette apples and a hankering for the sweet and autumnal.

Literally, just less than a month ago, summer was still here. One sunny Sunday, we had decided to hike all the way up our mountain to its peak and on our way up (about halfway, around the 1.5 hour mark), we stumbled upon a somewhat ramshackle farm with a couple of small groups basking in the sunshine, drinking glasses of iced water and cold-looking beers. I had heard fabled stories of this farm and its wonderful handmade cheeses and sweet tarts and I vowed to make it a stopping point on our way back down.

Upon our return several hours later, we were sitting on a bench outside the farm building watching as a lady bustled out of the front door, her arms laiden with a vast, entire tarte à la crème. We had been waiting for some minutes wondering whether the farm was still open to hungry walkers and I was beginning to panic that the group next to us were just taking advantage of the chance to sit for a while, rather than waiting to be served. My relief at seeing the tart-bearing lady was immense. After enquiring whether we would like something salé ou sucre (and our quickly requesting the latter), she informed us that she had the remainder of the cream tart left and that there was a tarte au pomme inside. My insides bubbling with joy, I requested a small piece of the apple tart.

What emerged a few minutes later was not small and what not a tart. I tell you, it was a grandiose piece of apple heaven, somewhere between and cake and an ever-so-slightly gooey, non butter-heavy pie.

Were that farm not an hour and a half uphill, I would have made a pilgrimage back there half a dozen times by now…

Anyway, I digress. Left with my bowl of apples and cake-pie memories, I began to flick through a few of my favourite culinary blogs in search of inspiration. One of my favourites, Quaderno di Ricette (A Notebook of Recipes) is written by an Italian called Vivi. Although my Italian proficiency is still that of an infant, I know the words, ‘torta’, ‘mele’ and ‘nonna’ and I know that, although it won’t be the Swiss apple cake-pie of my dreams, Grandma’s Apple Cake is just what I want to make with my apples today.

So, tested and transcribed (rather than badly translated), here is the recipe, which will feed 8 (or 6 greedy people).

Plain flour (Italian 00 grade, for preference here) – 300g

Baking powder – 1 heaped tbsp

Eggs – 3

Salt – a pinch

Caster sugar – 150g, plus extra for sprinkling

Butter – 70g (or a mixture of butter and olive oil: I used 55g butter and 1 tbsp oil)

Ground cinnamon – ¼ tsp, plus extra for sprinkling

Vanilla essence – 1 tsp

Unwaxed lemons – zest and juice of 1 large/1.5 small

Apples – 1kg, or about 6

Milk – 4 tbsp

Apricot jam – a few tbsp, to glaze

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius/gas mark 4 and grease and flour a loose-bottomed/springform 20cm cake tin.

Peel the apples and drop them into a bowl in which you have squeezed the lemon juice, to stop them browning. Add 1 tbsp of sugar (taken from your total amount) and stir it in.

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl. In another bowl, cream the butter (or butter and oil) together with the sugar until pale and creamy, and then add the eggs one at a time, adding a tbsp of the flour mixture after each addition. Next add the lemon zest and vanilla essence, before adding the remaining flour mixture alternately with each tbsp of milk.

Core and finely slice the three (or three and a half) largest apples and stir them into the cake batter, before scraping it all into the cake tin and levelling the top.

Finely slice the remaining apples and arrange in concentric circles (or in whatever pattern you like) on top of the cake batter. Dust all over lightly with cinnamon, sprinkle with a little sugar and dot teeny bits of butter here and there.

Pop the cake tin in the oven and bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until a skewer comes out clean. I would start testing after an hour, but cover with foil after about 45 mins to stop the apples from browning too much on top.

When the cake is done, take it out of the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. While it is cooling, gently melt the apricot jam in a small pan and glaze the top of the cake all over.

My advice would be to unclip and eat this about half an hour out of the oven while still warm, so that a ball of vanilla ice-cream will still melt when cosily snuggled up next to a large wodge of the cake.

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