We are almost at the end of our road trip, and have eaten our way around a few villages and towns.
Sure, there are more Aussie meat pies and pub steaks than you can poke a kangaroo paw at; and at least one dinner in an RSL (soldiers and veterans) club Chinese restaurant, which served local favourites like honey chicken and sweet and sour pork… But, we also had freshly caught trout from the pristine Snowy Mountains lakes, home made jams and tea cosies (ok, tea cosies aren’t food, but they might just deserve a post to themselves), local beer, wine and schnapps, just baked bread and pastries, good coffee in surprisingly hipster cafes, and new season apples from Batlow, one of Australia’s apple producing regions at the foot of the Snowy.
If food was the icing on the cake for the trip, then the rural environment revealed itself to be a multi layered and endlessly fascinating cake.
One day we were climbing the granite peaks of Mount Kosciuszko, snuggled up in gloves and beanies; another day we were bare feet on the beach, having driven through a patch of rainforest, across rich dairy farms, on a dirt road (in our small city car! and we made it!!) and to the ocean. We looked at a wooden cabin tucked away on oh-so-picturesque acres and wondered if it could become our holiday retreat (maybe, if we had a sea plane that can land on the nearby lake, or became a lady & gent of leisure).
For days, I had that broad, slow-spoken rural Aussie accent in my ears. Farmer types that greeted each other with “G’day”, “yeah mate”, occasionally “strewth“, and generally as few words as possible. In the evenings, even in the smallest communities we visited, guys greeted other guys – and the publicans – in the local pub over a social beer or two.
New season apples began appearing in the shops before Easter, and I made this apple cake. While apple season lasts, I’ll probably make this a few more times.
The recipe is Marie-Hélène’s apple cake, from Dorie Greenspan and adapted by David Lebovitz. Many bloggers have written about this recipe, including the French Fridays with Dorie crew and Fiesta Friday party-goer Patty (though the experience was more, um, exciting for her). This really is a perfect example of pared back elegance.
The cake has more apples than cake batter, it really is all about the apples. The batter is simple, though heady with vanilla and calvados (apple brandy). The whole thing bakes into one moist, wonderful, fragrant whole. It tastes clean, homely, sweet but not too sweet. The combination of apples, vanilla, calvados tempts you back for just one more slice – time and again – until somehow there is no apple cake left.
This time, I dared to temper with perfection and added a hazelnut/cream topping, which added an extra bit of crunch to the cake. Think of a streusel topping, but with less than a quarter the amount of streusel.
And, to make easy sharing, I baked these in mini cake pans and mini pie dishes. The pie-cakes stayed at home as dessert. The mini cakes went to work to be shared with friends.
I’ve found this is a great way to show off those heirloom apple varieties, as the minimal, simple batter sits back and helps the apples’ flavours to shine, rather than distracting you from the apples.
Tonight, because it’s Anzac day, I’ll be serving some of our apple bounty baked, with an Anzac biscuits (cookies in American English 🙂 ) crumble topping. This is one of my go-to Anzac biscuits recipes, and the Sydney Living Museum blog recently featured a post about this Aussie and New Zealand food icon. Tonight’s crumble will be improvised with beach house pantry staples, probably with a handful of macadamia nuts and spoonfuls of local honey. I might even get some of the Fiesta Friday crowd to play two-up – but only if it’s legal to play on Anzac day in your state!!
Before my excitement bubbles over, I’ll leave you with the apple cake recipe.
French apple cake
(based on recipe from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)
3/4 cup or 110g flour (I’ve also used 70g plain flour + 50g finely chopped almonds instead)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (a mix of varieties)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar (I used mostly castor / granulated sugar plus a bit of brown sugar)
3 tablespoons calvados/apple brandy, substitute good brandy or dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or more if you don’t have calvados)
8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature
Topping, I made this bit up
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon castor sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.
2. Heavily butter a 20-23cm springform pan and place it on a baking tray. (Or, 5-6 mini-things, like pie dishes / cake pans)
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almond, baking powder, and salt.
4. Peel and core the apples, then dice into small-med bits. (If using mini-whatever, slice them smaller and thinner, as they will spend less time in the oven)
5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until foamy-ish, then rum/brandy and vanilla. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then stir in half of the butter, do the same with remaining flour /butter.
6. Fold in the apple until they’re well-coated with the batter and scrape them into the cake pan.
7. Bake for 40 minutes for full sized cake (about 20-25 min for mini-versions), mix topping ingredients together and randomly dollop over cake(s). Return to oven for another 10-20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean-ish. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, loosen from the pan and remove.