In search of Christmas: apple fruit cake

After a day of weighing, mixing, baking, licking spoons, (washing up) and eating cake, I just wanted a warm bath. My intrepid cake testers began to long for a bowl of salad. Luckily, the fourth stage of the Tour de Gateaux was a gentle downhill glide to the finish, with soft grass and field flowers to tempt us to the finish.

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This apple fruitcake was competing with two impressive cakes and one helluva Aussie panforte that Sunday afternoon for our flagging attention and sated appetites. Without the dark flamboyance of the Hot Toddy, or the kitsch glass plate of the panforte, I thought it was a lost cause. 

That is, until we cut into this cake, fresh out of the oven. The warm, faintly cinnamon-laced steam caught our attention, and we found reserve cake-tasting energy.

In many ways, the weight and flavour was similar to the Night before Christmas cake (minus the stupendous florentine topping). The use of grated apple gave the finished product an undertone of natural, endearing sweetness, countering the denser weight of muscovado sugar. Sultanas, raisins and apple gave the cake a rustic, and terribly English, simplicity. Stranger passages from books expressing a romantic Englishness also came to mind:

The red and white herd nearest at hand, which had been phlegmatically waiting for the call, now trooped towards the steading in the background, their great bags of milk swinging under them as they walked. … Long thatched sheds stretched round the enclosure, their slopes encrusted with vivid green moss, and their eaves supported by wooden posts rubbed to a glossy smoothness by the flanks of infinite cows and calves of bygone years, now passed to an oblivion almost inconceivable in its profundity.*

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Despite its Englishness, this cake would be a more suitable alternative to the traditional Christmas cake in an Australian summer. It just needed a little more excitement so the everyday milch cow turns into a festive reindeer. Or, to continue with the vaguely Hardy-esque train of thought, from Jo the farm hand to Tess the dazzling milkmaid.

Maybe a couple of tweaks would given this cake a more ‘come hither’ look, and taste – chunkier apples, a touch more spices, a sneaky splash of brandy. And buttery icing with candied apple? I’m already imagining new possibilities.

Stage 4: Easy apple Fruitcake

Available at BBC good food.

Ingredients

200g butter , softened plus extra for greasing

200g dark muscovado sugar

3 eggs , beaten

1 tbsp black treacle

200g self-raising flour

2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp baking powder

2 eating apples , grated (approx 100g each)

300g mixed sultanas and raisins

Method

Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter and line the bottom of a deep, round 20cm cake tin with greaseproof paper. Beat the first seven ingredients together in a large bowl (electric hand- beaters are best for this), until pale and thick. Using a large metal spoon, gently fold in the fruit until evenly combined.

Spoon the batter into the tin and bake for 50 mins-1 hr or until the cake is dark golden, springy to the touch and has shrunk away from the tin slightly. A skewer inserted into the centre will come out clean when it’s ready. Cool completely before decorating.

(Will keep, wrapped in an airtight container or iced, for up to a week, or can be frozen un-iced for up to a month – defrost fully before decorating.)

 

* Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Chapter XVI.

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