In case it wasn’t already clear, I’m a big fan of cookbooks. Nigel Slater, Edd Kimber, Dan Lepard, The Great British Bake-Off, Tom and Henry Herbert (aka The Fabulous Baker Brothers); all these and more line my bookshelves. I love the satisfying weight of cookbooks, the well-thumbed pages and the way they fall open at my favourite and most-frequently read recipes. I like scanning through the index, looking for something new to try. I love reading the author’s notes that accompany recipes, the personal touches that make them interesting and individual. I love being inspired by a good recipe.
However, books can only take you so far in cooking, and I prefer to think of them as guidelines rather strict instructions; recommendations that can be experimented and tinkered with according to your own tastes. Of course, you always follow the recipe the first time you make something; it’s a good way to learn. But once you understand the dish, that’s when the fun begins, when you can really start making it your own. (I’m also a firm believer in cook’s intuition and instinct and in trying things out; perhaps that’s why I see recipes more as suggestions than rules.)
As a baker, I tend to apply this practice more towards cakes and sweet things; I love playing around with flavour combinations, fillings, textures. This has been a theme in my recent baking in particular, as I’ve been experimenting with the basic idea of sponge cake. Orange cake with orange cream, vanilla cake with chocolate and chestnut cream, wholewheat banana and walnut cake; these are just a few ideas I’ve been trying and testing.
I’m aware that this is very similar to the apple and cinnamon streusel cake that I wrote about a few weeks ago, but that was partially the idea. The flavour combination of sharp apple, warm cinnamon, wholemeal flour and deep, sugary maple syrup is a winning one and one which is perfect as the days grow colder. The difference with this cake is that I reserved the apples for the top of the cake, rather than incorporating them into the batter itself; this made for a slightly drier crumb, but added another textural element in the soft, slightly caramelised fruit that adorned the cake. A maple syrup glaze, brushed on top while the cake was still warm, gave a depth and sweetness that added to the autumnal feel, a perfect complement to the brown sugar in the sponge.
This is a lovely afternoon tea sort of cake, full of warm flavours and very comforting to eat. Exactly right for a cold winter’s day!
(Cake recipe is adapted from a standard basic sponge cake recipe, taken from the book Best-Ever Cake Decorating by Angela Nilsen & Sarah Maxwell. I used light brown sugar instead of white caster and added cinnamon and apples, plus maple syrup to glaze.)