Hmmmm, yes I have indeed been up to my tonsils of late - yet somehow I have managed to fit a large amount of cake into my life. Curious. Or not so much - I mean, everyone thinks that baking is really hard but to be honest once you stick to what you're told then you're not going to go too wide of the mark. And time-wise I personally think that you get more return on your investment than when you cook a regular meal - like, it'll be there for the guts of a week, whereas a savoury, main coursey type meal things, well, they kind of disappear in a jiffy to be honest - in my presence, at any rate. When I was tweeting/FBing excitedly about my new Ottolenghi cookbook, my friend Gemma commented that I really must make the apple and olive oil cake with maple icing. Given that decisions are not always my forte when faced with an array of attractive options, I considered this one made.
First off, the sultanas (80g) go into 4tbsp water for a good old fattening up, and simmer away until the water has been absorbed.
280g plain flour, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 1/4 tsp bicarb soda.
I get VERY excited when I see that a recipe calls for a vanilla pod - particularly when I already have one in the cupboard and don't have to fork out for some. The SMELL. And the very lovely sight of those hardy little specks - there seems to be so little on the inside of a vanilla pod, you think that it's going to get completely lost in the mix of your ingredients, and then when it is all whizzes up there they are holding their own in their inimitable black specky way. 120ml olive oil and 160g caster sugar are beaten together along with 1/2 a vanilla pod, and then in go two lightly-beaten eggs.
Note picture of cake on display in kitchen so that the work-in-progress can get a good look at what it's supposed to look like. NO PRESSURE, cake.
Aaaaaah, would you look at those knobbly, knarldy, imperfect Bramleys. We had cooking apples in the garden when I was small, I loved eating them on their own but I wasn't really allowed to - my mam thought that they would make me sick. But you can't beat that sharp hit on the tongue.
Chunks of apple go into the mix along with the sultanas. This mix has quite a Christmassy vibe to it. Loving the chunky fruityness of it. Surely a slice of cake (by which I mean roughly about a quarter of it, obviously) constitutes at least one of your five a day?
Add a perky zing with the grated zest of one lemon.
Here comes the bit where I have to concentrate so hard that something is bound to go wrong - like when I try to get alarm codes right and end up thinking about it so much that I set the alarm off and cause mayhem. Yes, it's the beating of egg whites. Two here. Actually went rather successfully - PHEW.
The very non-vigorous activity of folding in the whites with a nice light hand - not an easy task for a tall, clumsy person like me, but I do my best.
Right, into the oven with it for 1 1/2 hours at 170 degrees.
I know that it's not the most amazing shot ever, but looking back at the pics of the cake basking in the sunshine in the kitchen gives me a little glow and fills me with (admittedly, vomit-inducing) Pollyanna-type love for life in general. Pottering in the kitchen on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with no-one to annoy me and not a whole lot else to do apart from wander out and water the garden in between stages of cake icing makes for sheer simple contentment.
The icing was a joy and a cinch to make - just 100g unsalted butter, 100g light muscovado sugar, 85 ml maple syrup and 220g cream cheese whizzed together. The maple syrup and cream cheese were cause for much drooling, though the presence of the butter disappointed me somewhat, as I had thought that maybe since the cake is made from olive oil rather than butter it would practically be a health food. Not that the indulgence bothers me so much, but sometimes I find you have to cajole people into having dessert and soothing words are often needed to assuage their guilt at eating sugary treats. At any rate I tend to ignore them, and I also ignore pleas for small slices, and just deposit huge helpings of cake in front of them. Pretty hard to resist when it's right there. Somehow it always manages to disappear.
I debated whether or not to bother slicing the cake in two in order to put icing in the middle, as it felt like inviting disaster; the cake had made it out of the oven in an edible state - why risk that by taking a knife to it? I do prefer the even distribution of icing that you get when you have a sandwichy cake-type situation, though - much better than when you have to take a bit of icing from the top and then a bit of cake from the bottom on your spoon to try and get enough of both in the one mouthful. In order to spare myself this horrific trauma and much under-explored peril of cake eating, I took to the cake with a knife and met with surprising success. I guess that a lifelong devotion to bagels at the weekend has paid off for my slicing skills.
The thick gloopy drip of the icing off the side of the cake is like the physical embodiment of my greed: slow and lazy and abundant and unapologetic. Rather than have the icing descend into a disastrously runny mess, I stuck it in the fridge pronto to firm it up a little.
I don't know whether it was my osmosis-style experiment attempt, or perhaps I just somehow managed to get it right first time, but my very obedient cake mimicked beautifully the slice that went before it on the pages of the Ottolenghi cookbook. Not that being pretty did it much good in the life-saving stakes, mind - it still ended up in the depths of my seemingly bottomless stomach.