Last weekend’s Radio 2 Festival in a Day in Hyde Park was the perfect opportunity to pack up a picnic and relish the delights of outdoor eating. We always take a “posh” picnic to this kind of event, along with Wimbledon and Eastbourne tennis championships, and once you’ve set the standard, there’s no going back. Cheese sandwiches and a bag of crisps just won’t cut the mustard!
At this time of year I’m invariably inundated with apples, both at home – Katy – and down at the allotment, where I’ve an ever-bountiful Bramley tree, Greensleeves (my least favourite), a Cox type (variety unknown, but also a prolific fruiter with lovely, large, red/green fruit) and a small Spartan with its characteristic deep red to purplish apples. After last year’s bumper harvest, I thought this year wouldn’t be anywhere near as good, but I’ve had surprisingly healthy crops. The Greensleeves is the only one with very few fruit, and as I’m considering taking it out over winter to make more room for soft fruit on my downsized plot next year, it’s probably no bad thing.
With plenty of apples to go at, my menu for last Sunday was self-evident: a delicious sausage and apple plait, which is one of my family’s favourite picnic treats, and a spicy apple shortbread, which always goes down well with a flask of tea mid-afternoon. Take a box of salad (do NOT add dressing beforehand if you want to avoid soggy leaves!), fresh ciabatta, some upmarket crisps, olives (sadly left behind in the fridge in our case…) and a bottle of nice, chilled wine or beer, and you have the makings of a veritable feast!
Sausage & Apple Plait
350g ready-rolled puff pastry
3 tbsp semolina
500g good sausagemeat
75g Cheddar cheese, grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large cooking apples, grated (add lemon juice to stop browning)
Pinch of paprika
Handful of sage leaves, chopped
1 egg, beaten
Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Roll out pastry to a rectangle measuring 26 x 26 cm, neaten edges. Gently mark 3 strips lengthways without cutting through the pastry. Cut the side strips in diagonal sections at 2.5 cm intervals, leaving the centre strip intact. Sprinkle the centre with semolina to stop the pastry becoming soggy during cooking.
Mix together the sausagemeat, onion, apple, cheese, paprika, sage and seasoning. Place the mixture evenly down the centre strip. Dampen the outer strips with water and plait over the filling, folding each strip alternately over the next from each side. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle over sesame or poppy seeds if wished. Transfer carefully to a greased baking sheet.
Bake in the hot oven for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 150°C and cook for a further 40 minutes. Serve warm or cold – delicious!
Spiced apple shortbread
75g butter, softened
40g caster sugar
75g plain white flour
1 large cooking apple, grated
½ tsp mixed spice
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
Icing sugar and lemon juice to ice
Grease a shallow baking tin (18 cm square).
Mix first four ingredients in a food processor or beat with a hand whisk until the mixture forms a ball. Press into the greased tin and prick with a fork. Bake for 15 mins at 180°C or until just golden.
Mix the grated apple, sultanas, spice and brown sugar and spoon onto the cooked shortbread. Cook for a further 15 mins or so, then remove from oven and allow to cool.
Mix up a simple glacé icing with a couple of tbsp sifted icing sugar and lemon juice added until a drizzling consistency is reached. Drizzle in diagonal lines over the shortbread and set before serving, sliced into squares.