Shirley’s apple cake recipe
VERY sadly, most of us have all lost a family member or a close friend to cancer. This heart-breaking disease has no boundaries and can affect anyone at any time in many different ways. The good thing is we now talk about it openly and share the challenges it brings for our loved ones, supporting them however we can, while assisting the organisations which do so much admirable work for patients and their dependents.
The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning takes place in people’s homes, workplaces and other community venues throughout Scotland on the September 29. Social media has shared many posts about how members of the public can host local events to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Many people will gain from these occasions, new friendships will be made and many laughs shared on the day. If you have not already done so, sign up for your coffee morning kit and have fun getting organised for this immensely worthwhile cause. You can learn more about this and the exceptional work of Macmillan at www.macmillan.org.uk
Home baking is always best at this kind of get-together, but if you are not confident and don’t have much time, this is an easy recipe, given to me by a very close girlfriend whom I lost to cancer when she was still quite young. It seemed desperately unfair to lose her and I often think about what we would be like together today, supporting each other with grandchildren now, instead of our brand new babies. She left two wonderful sons and a very loving husband, whom I have lost contact with over the intervening years. However, I think they would be pleased to know I still have Jacqui’s apple cake recipe in an ancient and dog-eared recipe folder, written in fountain pen in her immaculate hand-writing.
We once offered this cake for afternoon tea at The Three Chimneys, served with Chantilly cream flavoured with cinnamon sugar. That much-handled sheet of paper is also covered in notes written in red ink in the tiny handwriting of another friend, Anne, who worked alongside me at the restaurant for a few years, baking beautiful cakes and great bread. She was a mathematician and her handwriting has all the hallmarks of precision workings on quantities and costs involved in producing Jacqui’s original domestic recipe to suit our commercial needs.
When Eddie and I left Croydon to move to Skye, Jacqui and her husband, an editor on BBC Radio’s World Tonight programme, moved to Gloucestershire. We took over a restaurant and they opened a coffee shop on the ground floor of their new home in the middle of the village street. It was a quirky old house built over three storeys with a long narrow garden which ran steeply down to the banks of the River Severn. We had met through having our babies at around the same time, both far away from home and without our own mums to lean upon. We shared lots of babysitting, tears and frustrations, moans and groans about the constant round of washing and soaking nappies. We also had a keen interest in cooking, shared all kinds of recipes, successes and failures, good laughs and many mugs of coffee.
Jacqui had been a stewardess on Laker Airways, one of the UK’s first independent, no-frills airlines which attempted to break the mould. She travelled across Europe and the Atlantic, glamorous in her scarlet uniform and bowler hat. We were both at a loss when landed with our “new” jobs as housebound, young mums and neighbours in Croydon. In those days there was virtually no childcare or nursery school provision and everyone supported each other, or volunteered to run playgroups and other activities for toddlers. This was also the era when using natural, wholemeal ingredients was very fashionable for home cooks.
Crisp, sharp-tasting cooking apples such as Bramleys are a must for Jacqui’s recipe, but better still, if you have apples growing in your own garden these would be perfect for this family cake which goes as well inside a lunchbox as it does served with a coffee or tea, or with cream for a dessert. Warm or cold, it tastes delicious.
I have added some ground hazelnuts and exchanged raisins for chopped dates to my special pal’s original recipe. I also added a crunchy topping, but a dusting of icing sugar would be perfect too. The last line on the paper, added in Jacqui’s handwriting reads: “Unbeatable eaten fresh – but keeps very well.” Coffee morning or not, I would urge you to give it a go. APPLE CAKE (Serves 12) 225g self-raising wholemeal flour 50g ground hazelnuts 175g demerara sugar 50g medjool dates, stoned and chopped small 1½ tsp ground cinnamon 110g salted butter 150ml milk 2 medium eggs 225g cooking apples, weighed when peeled and cored Finely grated zest of 1 orange, plus juice of ½ Method 1. Pre-heat oven to gas mark 4, 180°C. Line a 25cm square (or round) baking tin with parchment paper 2. Place flour, ground hazelnuts, sugar, cinnamon and dates in a mixing bowl. Grate the prepared apple on the coarse side of the grater into the same bowl and pour over the orange juice. Add the grated orange zest and mix together. Clean fingers are best for this job. 3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. 4. Mix the milk and eggs with a whisk in a separate bowl or jug. 5. Pour the warm butter over the other ingredients, followed by the milk and eggs. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Pour into prepared tin, spread roughly into the corners. Bake on the middle shelf for 65-75 minutes until golden and firm to touch. Cool on a wire tray before removing from the tin and dredging with sieved icing sugar, then serve. ALTERNATIVE TOPPING 25g hazelnuts, sliced thinly 1 rounded tbsp demerara sugar ¼ tsp ground cinnamon Method 1. Mix together the hazelnuts, demerara sugar and ground cinnamon. Sprinkle on the top of the cake for the final 10 minutes of cooking time. CHANTILLY CREAM FOR SERVING 125ml fresh double cream or whipping cream 1 rounded tsp icing sugar, sifted together with ¼ tsp ground cinnamon Method 1. Add icing sugar and cinnamon to the cream and whisk until soft peaks. 2. Serve a spoonful with the apple cake as a dessert, or add a little luxury to a slice of cake with coffee. Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www.threechimneys.co.uk