An apple a day….

An apple a day – or more, actually. At this time of year, I still have bags full of apples in the garage and overflowing fruit bowls in the house, so my thoughts tend to turn to apples when baking or making desserts. All my apples are long since safely gathered in, but they still need monitoring every so often to make sure that any rotten ones don’t spoil the rest. With so many creamy and/or chocolatey desserts in the run-up to Christmas, apple-based dishes are the ideal antidote to all that excess, nice though it is – think a simple mincemeat-stuffed baked apple, or apple compote topped with a refreshing oatmeal yogurt cream, to say nothing of a simple apple pie or a good old apple crumble, perhaps mixed with mincemeat or cranberries for a festive touch – or an added banana just before it goes in the oven is a nice twist too.

Earlier this autumn I made some dried apple rings, a perfect addition to my bowl of breakfast granola, and easy as pie to make, especially if you have a mandoline for ultra-thin slices – but hand-cut is fine too, if you haven’t.

Dried Apple Rings

Apple rings pre-cooking

Eating apples
Lemon juice
Ground cinnamon
Vanilla extract

Wash and core the apples and cut away any damaged areas. Slice into even rings about 2.5mm thick – a mandoline makes this extremely quick and easy, but you can do it by hand too.

Fill a large bowl with water, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a teaspoon of vanilla extract, then let the apple rings soak for 5 minutes to stop them discolouring.

Place the apple rings onto a clean tea towel and pat dry, then transfer them to baking trays lined with greaseproof paper making sure they don’t overlap. Sprinkle with a dusting of cinnamon powder, then transfer the trays to a cool oven (90˚C) for one hour, then turn the slices over before returning to the oven for a further hour and a half. Finally, turn the oven off and leave the rings to cool inside the oven.

When cool, store in an airtight jar, where they should keep for a good few months to brighten up your breakfasts.

apple rings in jar

Another favourite recipe that I can’t quite believe I haven’t shared here before is the nutty apple cake I’ve been making since time immemorial. This recipe is a hand-written scrawl in one of my very first recipe notebooks – so old, I can’t even remember where it came from in the first place, and of course the measurements are imperial, always a bit of a giveaway! The only thing I would add is that, as with other cakes containing fresh fruit (or veg), it does go off if you don’t eat it within 3-4 days, so either freeze half or make sure you serve it for a crowd.

Nutty Apple Cake

Nutty apple cake

1 large cooking apple
1 tsp lemon juice
1oz walnuts
6oz caster sugar
8oz self-raising flour, sifted
6oz softened butter (I use the spreadable variety)
1 rounded tsp mixed spice
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp milk
1 heaped tbsp demerara sugar

Pre-heat oven to 150˚C. Grease and line a round, deep 8″ cake tin with a loose base. Peel and core the apple, and cut off 6 even slices, placing these in cold water and sprinkling with lemon juice to prevent discolouring. remove the core and roughly chop the rest of the apple. Finely chop the walnuts.

Place the sugar, butter, sifted flour, mixed spice, beaten eggs and milk in a large bowl and beat with a hand whisk for several minutes until the mixture is smooth, creamy and lighter in colour. Fold in the chopped apple and walnuts, then transfer to the prepared tin. Level the top, then place the reserved apple slices neatly around the edge and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hr 20 – 1 hr 30 mins, checking towards the end as ovens vary. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then eat in generous slices with a lovely cup of tea.

My final offering is an adaptation of a gooseberry & pecan flapjack recipe I discovered earlier this year. I’d thought for a while that it would work well with apples, and sure enough, it did. You can ring the changes with walnuts or hazelnuts rather than pecans here, of course. Blackberries would work nicely with the apples too.

Apple & Pecan Flapjack – makes 12-16

Apple & pecan flapjack

200g butter
3-4 large cooking apples
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150g light soft brown sugar
200g spelt flour
150g oats
1 tsp cinnamon
100g pecans, chopped (or walnuts or hazelnuts if you prefer)
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan (Gas 5) and grease and line a rectangular baking tin – mine measures 28cm x 18cm x 3.5cm, but the original recipe from Waitrose uses a 20cm square tin.

Peel, core and roughly chop the apples, sprinkle with lemon juice, then place in a pan with 50g of the sugar (or to taste), a tbsp or so of water and 1 tsp ground cinnamon. Cook over a low heat until the apples start to fall. Turn up the heat and continue cooking, stirring regularly, for 10-15 minutes until you have a thickish, jam-like mixture.

Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix the flour, ground ginger, oats, salt and chopped pecans (or nuts of your choice) in a large bowl. In another pan, melt the butter and remaining 100g sugar, then pour over the flour mixture. Mix together until you have a rough dough.

Press half of the dough over the bottom of the baking tin, then spread the apple mixture on top. Sprinkle the remaining dough on top – I found it easier to crumble it with my fingers, so it didn’t cover the jam layer entirely and was quite chunky.

Place in the preheated oven and cook for 25-30 minutes until nicely browned. Cool in the tin, then cut into 12-16 bars (depending how hungry you feel!) and enjoy with your morning coffee. Delicious! They should keep well in an airtight tin for several days.

 

 

 

Pumpkin party

At this time of year, the amount of fresh stuff coming back from the allotment is much more limited: leeks and parsnips certainly, rocket and parsley of course, plus spinach and chard too. I even managed to pick a few side shoots of calabrese, but the main purple-sprouting broccoli won’t be ready until the New Year and the kale is slow this year, not helped by being attacked by caterpillars in the mild September weather. I haven’t checked on my flower sprouts (kalettes), and have only just realised that they grow up the stem like Brussels sprouts, so I really ought to look. However, the Crown Prince squash I harvested in October are still going strong in their basket in the conservatory and make a beautiful addition to autumn recipes, sweet and savoury. That said, I actually used a tin of pumpkin purée in the recipe I’m going to share today, mainly because my son and daughter-in-law brought a couple of tins over from the US when they visited in November, which just happened to coincide with this recipe appearing in the Weekend magazine.

I’ve made carrot, courgette and even beetroot cakes before, but never pumpkin, so I was pleasantly surprised by the texture and taste of this one. I tweaked the recipe slightly, mainly by using a different frosting to the rich double cream version suggested in Martha’s original recipe. Unless you’re catering for a houseful, I’d suggest you want something that keeps a little longer than a cream-based topping. In the end, I adapted an Ottolenghi cream cheese frosting – and froze half the cake (unfrosted), as the end result was quite large! I think it would also be good made as a traybake, adapting the cooking time accordingly. Here’s what I did:

Spiced Pumpkin Latte Cake – serves 10-12

Spiced pumpkin latte cake

½ x 425g can pumpkin purée (you could use steamed and puréed fresh squash too)
2 large eggs
100ml vegetable oil (I used groundnut, but sunflower would be fine)
100ml strong coffee
125g caster sugar
125g light brown sugar
250g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger

Coffee syrup:
50ml strong coffee
50g caster sugar

Frosting:
180g cream cheese
70g butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
50g icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp espresso powder (for dusting)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, gas mark 4, and line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the pumpkin purée, eggs, oil, coffee and both sugars.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until a smooth batter forms, with no flour visible. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 mins to 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin while you make the syrup.

Stir the coffee and sugar together in a small saucepan and warm over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat up and simmer for 2-3 minutes until thick and syrupy. While the cake is cooling, brush the top with the warm syrup.

To make the cream cheese frosting, whisk together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract using an electric whisk until smooth. Add the sifted icing sugar gradually until soft and fluffy. Pile on top of the cooled cake and dust with a fine sprinkling of sifted espresso powder (or more cinnamon if you prefer, as used in the original recipe).

Having made the cake, I was left with half a tin of pumpkin purée, but what to do with it? While I was deliberating, Rebekka Gross, a breadmaking colleague on Foodie Translators, suggested pumpkin bread and passed over her tried and tested recipe. It makes a huge loaf, so once again, I froze half – it freezes beautifully and is good fresh or toasted. Quite delicious with today’s carrot and coriander soup. Leave out the spices if you don’t want quite such a savoury taste, although I served it with peach and basil jam for breakfast and it worked really well. I proved it in a basket overnight in the fridge, according to Rebekka’s instructions, but it deflated when I turned it out, so I suspect it had overproved. Fortunately, it still rose again in the oven and tasted great, but I think it needs to be moulded and put in its baking receptacle first if you’re going to go down the overnight proving route! I also chickened out of baking it in a Le Creuset casserole, as suggested, but here’s what I did instead:

Spiced Pumpkin Bread – makes one large loaf

Pumpkin bread

200g wholemeal spelt flour
400g strong bread flour
1.5 tsp dried yeast (I like Dove’s Farm)
280ml lukewarm water
1.5 tsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
200g puréed butternut squash (or 1/2 x 425g tin)
1/4 tsp ground cumin (optional)
1/4 tsp ground coriander (optional)
Pinch ground cloves (optional)
Grated nutmeg

Mix the dough using the dough setting of a breadmaker – or mix in a KitchenAid or by hand if you prefer. Shape and place on a baking tray or in a large bread tin, then prove overnight in the fridge (or at room temperature for 1-2 hours). The following morning, remove from the fridge, allow to stand at room temperature for 30 mins or so while you heat the oven to 180ºC, Gas 5 (it should have risen quite dramatically!). Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the bread is nicely brown and sounds hollow when you tap underneath. Cool on a rack and enjoy!

(Rebekka suggested the Le Creuset method: heat a large Le Creuset casserole at full whack for 20 minutes – only heat the lid if it has an ovenproof handle. Bake for 50 minutes altogether: 30 minutes at 225ºC with the lid on, 20 minutes at 180-200ºC (depending how brown it is) with the lid off.)

Pumpkin bread, cut

Baking aside, I even managed to snatch an hour up at the allotment on Sunday afternoon: finally planting out the tulip bulbs from last year’s containers in the new cutting garden beds. Of course, I had to clear the beds of the spent sunflower stems and cosmos plants from the summer first – surprisingly tough to get out of the ground! Those sunflowers must have been well over 15 feet tall and had extremely thick stems that required a pruning saw to cut through them, to say nothing of the effort required to extract the roots… All done at long last, with two strenuous treks up to the bonfire site pushing an overladen wheelbarrow over muddy ground – phew! I cut back the blackened stalks of this year’s new dahlias too, and mounded them up with compost from some of the tomato pots from home – waste not, want not. Hopefully, it will help the tubers come through the winter, whatever the weather….

Crochet workshop
Crochet workshop in Tenterden – a lovely way to spend a December afternoon

 

 

Better late than never

Tulips planted

This weekend I finally got around to emptying out my summer containers in the garden and planting up my winter displays. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite this late, but this year’s wettest autumn I can remember has called a halt to most gardening activities since the end of September. I’ve had other engagements on the rare dry weekend days we’ve had, but even they have been few and far between – and of course, there’s so little daylight at this time of year. To really make the most of it, you have to put all your other household chores on hold, and get outside as soon as you can! I usually resist going out to “play” in the garden until I’ve done my less appealing household tasks, knowing I’ll get carried away and not want to come back inside. But if I’m to get anything done at this time of year, I have to resist the lure of the duster and head out first thing – how sad….

I’ve had this year’s tulip selections since September: Flaming Flag and Peach Blossom from a 20% off day at my local garden centre, and Copper Image, Ridgedale and Louvre Orange ordered mail order from Sarah Raven, who always has a fantastic range of new and exciting tulips.

A friend then ordered more in a late sale at the end of October and asked me to share half the Sarah Raven Pewter Collection, so of course, I couldn’t resist that either – there are always plenty of pots to fill in Spring. This collection includes the sombre Continental, exotic two-tone Slawa and peach-hued Salmon Van Eijk and Salmon Jimmy. I’ve planted them all in one container near the front door, and am looking forward to a fabulous show; as long as they all flower at the same time. I’ve been disappointed in the past when collections don’t flower together, so you don’t get maximum effect – but here’s hoping.

Pewter collection

I also added last year’s narcissus and crocuses, plus some bog-standard “fill-a-bag for a £1” daffodils from the garden centre and more Ruby Giant crocuses to fill the gaps. Topped off with pansies in raspberry shades and Pink Giant wallflowers – there should be more seed-grown wallflowers at the allotment, but they went in late and have been terribly slow to take off because of the damp weather. When I last looked, there weren’t many, but I’ll retrieve what I can when I next go down.

I’ve still got to plant out last year’s tulips in the new cutting garden at the allotment, where I’ve plenty of space around the dahlias. As long as I do it at some point in December, there should still be chance for them to grow and give me tulips to pick in April. Tulips are always fine planted well into December anyway – my aunt used to buy hers at bargain basement prices in the January sales and plant out in the early New Year, with no ill effects!

I’m relieved to have finally got my containers planted anyway – now I can turn my attention to Christmas! Happy Advent 🙂

Tulip barrel near arch with Leo