Mom’s Apple Cake: The Best ‘Welcome Home’ Delight!
A Symphony of Scents and Flavours
Disclaimer: Know your allergies and adjust this recipe accordingly!
My cruising job contracts were normally six months long. That meant a lot of exploring the ports of call or floating at sea in between destination.
Of course, that involved some office work (the small Shore Excursions department onboard usually made either the first or the second-largest profit per cruise after the Casino). It also meant an early morning start to dispatch the tours and send the passengers to see the wonders they wanted to see on their cruise.
Most of the times, though, early mornings finished early enough for me to jump on a coach and be on my way together with forty-fifty passengers. I would see the same things they were seeing, probably more if I happened to be a place I had visited before and known what hidden corners I wanted to explore or (re)discover.
Yep, I was paid to do this and enjoyed it 200%!
It was a lot of work and equally fun. Towards the end of the contract, I would experience some wear and tear. The worst was dealing with complaints such as “I went on this Rain Forest Canopy tour and it was raining all day. I was not happy at all!”
I tried to put it on the fact that people were on vacation and left their brains at home. As I was providing a service that brought millions to the company, I had to plaster a smile on my face, feel empathic and apologise that it rained in the blooming rain forest, not for the brain situation – God forbid! Five-star services require steel nerves!
As the end of the contract was nearing, I used to feel divided. A part of me wanted to stay longer, visit more of the world, be in the company of onboard friends from all over the Globe. But at the same time, I was looking forward to flying back home and seeing my family and friends who were waiting for my travel stories. And to not waking up before eight am!
After months of repetitive menus, I was craving for mum’s cooking. I was dreaming of a proper moussaka! But most of all, I missed her baking. And most of the times there would be a massive cake in the fridge waiting for when the effects of jet lag would wear off.
The “welcome home” favourite in mom’s recipe book was an apple cake. I can’t call it pie or tart because it is not. It is a soft sponge covering entire apples filled with nuts (we don’t have any food allergies).
The scent of it, the apples filled with nuts and cinnamon that reminded me of Christmas (which, by the way, I never spent at home in six years of working on cruise ships), everything was marvellous and made the start of my two months-long vacations stellar.
The first glimpse of the cake was reason enough to forget sailing the oceans. After all, the cruise ships will always furrow the seas, and I will get a new contract until I decide it is time for a career change or settling on firm land. It was time I enjoyed my vacation!
At least it is how it used to be, this being still a memoir an’ all. The moment of writing recalls other times than the doomed year of the pandemic!
That was the story, let’s get to the recipe, which I still make today since I now own my mom’s old recipe book!
What you need for Apple Cake:
For the sponge:
100g caster sugar
300 g plain flour
One teaspoon baking powder
One pack vanilla sugar (or one teaspoon vanilla extract)
A pinch of salt
For the filling:
100g ground nuts (any kind or a mix, as long as you don’t have an allergy to nuts!)
Substitute for nuts: jam, sugar+cinnamon, banana (pureed and mixed with little sugar and raisins), any dry fruit mix. Be creative!
One tablespoon of sugar
A handful of raisins
Mulled wine spices: ground cinnamon, clove, aniseed
For the sirup:
One tablespoon of sugar
Optional: rum essence
500ml whipping cream
One tablespoon of icing sugar
How you make the apple cake:
Wash and peel the apples if you bought them. Even if they are organic, they are still waxed, and you don’t need that wax in your body cells. Of course, if you have an apple tree in the garden, skip this step.
Remove the core and pips with an apple corer. Use the mix of nuts, sugar, spices and raisins (or any substitutes) to fill the space thus created.
Cut a piece of baking paper and adjust it properly into the baking tin you will use (I use a rounded one, 26cm in diameter).
Next, Mom’s recipe says to sprinkle some sugar in the tin. I made this cake either following or ignoring this step. The only difference was that with the sugar version, the crust had burnt a little. It was perfectly fine without sugar. I would say it is an optional step.
Place the apples in the baking tin, living an equal distance in between them.
Preheat the oven to maximum 170°C fan/190°/gas 5.
Now it’s time to prepare the sponge. Separate the eggs: the whites in a larger bowl, the yolks in a cereal bowl. Use a hand mixer to whip the whites with a pinch of salt until they stiff.
Using a tablespoon, add the sugar a spoon at the time and continue mixing.
Add one yolk at a time and keep stirring until you incorporate all of them. Continue with half of the water quantity, spoon by spoon, mixing well again.
From now on, you can use a silicone spatula or a wooden spoon for mixing and always add the ingredients gradually, not the entire quantity at once. The sponge needs a chance to incorporate everything slowly to remain fluffy.
Sieve the flour (mixed with baking powder) over the bowl in small quantities. Use a slow, circular hand movement to incorporate the ingredients from the bottom of the bowl up to keep it airy.
Add the rest of the water quantity until you get a creamy consistency (you might not need to use it all).
Finish by adding the vanilla, then pour the sponge mix over the apples. Even if they won’t be covered entirely, the sponge will rise at high temperature and will do the job during baking.
Place it on the middle grate and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until it turns into a golden brown. For certainty, do the toothpick test to check if it is thoroughly baked (stick it in the middle of the cake; the sponge is ready if the toothpick is clean when you remove it.)
Before you turn it:
- Allow the cake to cool a little.
- Don some oven gloves and place a plate over the tin (large enough to cover it completely, like a lid).
- Grip the covered tin securely with both hands and turn it upside down.
It might sound a bit tricky, but it is doable. Be careful not to burn yourself and ask any audience to take a few steps back until all is safe!
Also, please keep the tin over the table when you perform the turning manoeuvre; I’m not saying that it should happen, but you want to prevent your cake from accidentally flying off your hands and landing on the floor!
Now that the cake is on the plate, you can remove the tin, then peel off the baking paper and permit it to cool almost completely.
Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by boiling the water with the sugar for a few minutes until it reduces a little. When it cools, you can add some rum essence and mix (the essence is oily; will not dissolve but that’s okay).
You can now spread it all over the sponge using a tablespoon. When absorbed, the syrup will make the sponge moist and softer.
The last step is decorating. Whip the cream with the required quantity of icing sugar until stiff. Cover the cake uniformly with it. If you have an icing bag, get creative and decorate upon your heart’s desire!
It is essential to use cold ingredients for this step and if necessary, to cool the icing bag for a while before you get creative. Whipped cream works better if it is well refrigerated.
When you are happy with the results, place the cake in the fridge for a few hours. If you can, wait until next day to cut it (I can’t and I won’t!)
Your apple cake is ready, and the house is filled with the scent of Christmas, no matter the season. Make yourself a nice cup of coffee (even better, a cappuccino!) and savour a slice.
Poftă bună! This is your first step in learning a new language, and it means Bon appetite in Romanian!
I hope you enjoyed reading this recipe! Please share the love by saving this pin to your baking boards; it will help this blog grow and motivate me to write more for your enjoyment! Thank you!