I love cakes made in frying pans, and last week when I had a big bowl of apples that needed using up, I opened up a recipe from the blog in 2016 for a delicious sweet and soft apple cake, under a crunchy blanket of sugar. I make no apologies for re-running a revised version of that post today because it is the perfect January recipe – a comforting, dense, sweet cake for dark, cold nights.
That recipe had been a long time in gestation: When we were children we visited The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, which has a restored working watermill where my mother bought a bag of their flour. The recipe on the back was for apple cake and that cake became part of our family repertoire, with big chunks wrapped in greaseproof paper finding their way into pockets for sailing afternoon, and into school lunch boxes.
Inspired by that cake, an apple cake first appeared on the blog back in 2007, and I reworked it for my cookbook, Friends, Food, Family, as Warm Apple and Hazelnut Cake with Hazelnut Streusel. It appeared in the Desserts section because there’s nothing easier for pudding than slinging cake mixture in a pan just as your guests arrive so it’s ready for pudding, and because there’s nothing more delicious than hot cake.
When I came to do yet another revision of the recipe I didn’t have any ground hazelnuts so I reached for the ground almonds that always live in my larder. I also wanted to make this cake in a cast iron frying pan. That’s partly because the high metal sides give a wonderful crispy almost caramelised quality to the cake edge, and partly because cooking cake mixture in a pan takes the stress away. There’s no worry about the cake sticking to a tin because it’s an oven to table recipe, and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t rise because it still taste great. Just make sure you grease the pan well so you aren’t hacking seared on apple from the bottom when you come to do the washing up.
(The original hazelnut addition came from the discovery of a package of hazelnut flour from the New York deli Dean & Deluca which I found languishing in the back of my kitchen cupboard. Upon further investigation it turned out to be a fancy name for ground hazelnuts and I thought they would be perfect in a cake with apples, as ground nuts of any variety add a lovely, squidgy quality.)
Whilst this eats beautifully cold as a picnic cake wrapped in greaseproof paper, I do think that this cake comes into its own in the winter months as a pudding, served warm from the oven, with a blanket of either cold double cream or silky egg custard.
Slightly tarter dessert apples like Cox’s and Orange Pippin are best here. It’s also a fantastic way to use up those slightly past-it apples in the fruit bowl. Make sure you have two or three spares to cut horizontally to provide the pretty slices for decorating the top of the cake.
SERVES four generously
110g butter, softened
225g apples (about two medium) plus 2 or 3 for slicing for decoration
75g caster sugar
40g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
110g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
25g ground almonds
1tbsp soft brown sugar to sprinkle over the top of the cake
Extra butter or cooking spray for greasing
Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F/ gas mark 4
Grease the frying pan with either cooking spray or soft butter. (I use cooking spray.)
Peel, core and chop the apples into 1cm chunks.
You can do this next bit by hand but, seriously, unless you are looking for ways to incorporate exercise into every moment of your daily routine, I highly recommend a food processor or electric mixer. Put the butter and both sugars into a stand mixing bowl and beat together. You are aiming for a light and fluffy mixture. Beat in the vanilla essence
Beat the two eggs together, and add approximately half the mixture and beat into the butter sugar mixture.
Mix together the baking powder, cinnamon and ground hazelnuts with the rest of the flour and add to the batter one heaped spoonful at a time, being careful to stop beating the moment the flour is incorporated. (Over beating leads to a heavier cake.)
If the mixture feels very dense add a little more of the egg to loosen it.
If using a food processor, scoop out the batter into a bowl and add the apple pieces. Fold them all together. If using a stand or hand mixer, just add the apples to the mixing bowl and fold together. Make sure that the apple pieces are distributed throughout the cake batter.
Spoon the batter into the frying pan
Lick the cake bowl.
Make sure that the top of the cake mixture is level-ish (use a spatula or the back of a spoon). Slice the reserved apples into thin slices – do not peel or core them (although I do pop out the seeds with the point of a knife), and use to decorate the top
Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of soft brown sugar evenly over the top.
Pop in oven for 20 minutes. As oven temperatures can vary, do test the cake for done-ness at 20 minutes with a skewer. If the cake is cooked, the skewer will come out clean. Test in several places around the centre of the cake, because if you hit a piece of apple the skewer will come out clean, giving a false positive. If there is any hint of batter on the skewer it needs more cooking.
When the cake is done, remove from the oven. This cake should be served warm, straight from the oven.