Bonfire night, for me, conjures up thoughts of food: watching fireworks in a cold, dark field, is synonymous with almost-too-hot-to-hold baked potatoes, thick, steaming soup in gloved hands, and charred sausages. So why do we waste our time with the eternally disappointing toffee apple?
I’m going to go out on a limb and crown them the king of deeply unsatisfying seasonal treats (America: I am giving your candied yams a pass here. Know that it is only because I dislike toffee apples so intensely). They are a sorely sorry end to a menu of foods that have such promise.
Surely we can do better.
The greatest disappointment is that they should be a delight. All the right elements are there: an inherently autumnal fruit, the contrast of sharp apple and sweet caramel are obvious bedfellows. So here is a toffee apple cake, and it will lay to rest those disappointing toffee apple ghosts.
I promise you, it is everything you want a toffee apple to be, and so much better. It has all the flavours that a toffee apple consistently fails to deliver: a dark, almost-treacly, grown up toffee sauce enveloping moist caramelly spiced sponge, which gives way to crisp chunks of tart apple. And I could write love poems about the toffee sauce. It is such a breeze to make, with everything thrown into one pan and left to gently melt for a few minutes; no jam thermometers or boiling sugar to contend with. It’s reminiscent of a sticky toffee pudding, but it can be eaten standing up, with gloved hands. The dark muscovado sugar makes the sauce dark, grown up, almost treacly in flavour, and it elevates the cake to something smokey, bonfirey. It’s bonfire night in a cake. And it goes like this:
Bonfire Night Toffee Apple Cake
Makes: 9-12 slabs
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour
For the sponge:
110g dark muscovado sugar
110 g soft light brown sugar
2 large cooking apples
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
For the toffee sauce:
100g dark muscovado sugar
½ tsp salt
150 ml double cream
1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C and line a square cake tin, about 8 inches by 8 inches. Don’t use a shallow tin here as this mixture will rise a bit before it settles. When lining the tin, cut two long strips of paper, about 7 inches wide. Place them in the tin (the mixture will force them to sit flat), with the overhang overhanging the tin sides.
2. Melt the butter. If you want to brown it, allow it to cook until it foams up and you can see brown flecks. It should smell nutty and savoury and when the foam subsides it will be a deep, clear chestnut. Once you can smell it, remove from the heat, or it may burn.
3. While the butter is melting, peel and core your apples, and chop them into rough pieces, approximately 1.5 inches squares.
4. Mix both sugars and vanilla extract into the butter. Decant into a mixing bowl, and one by one, add the eggs and mix well.
4. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and all spices. Fold in until the mixture is combined and all one colour.
5. Fold in the pieces of apple, and pour the mixture into the tin, smoothing it so that the batter is evenly distributed.
6. Bake for 1 hour. Gently press the cake with a finger: if it’s cooked the sponge should feel slightly firm and spring back up when pressed.
7. In the last five minutes of baking, make your toffee sauce: heat the double cream, sugar, salt and butter until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted, and is just beginning to bubble. You should have a dark amber, thick sauce.
8. Remove the cake from the oven and pierce it with a cake tester or a chopstick. Pour the toffee sauce slowly over the cake. If possible, allow the sauce to cool and settle a little (leave for at least an hour, ideally). Serve in large squares, wrapped in greaseproof paper, around a bonfire.
9. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
This cake begs to be eaten outside on a cold evening, but we ate it surreptitiously for breakfast, served it at a conference, dug into an outsize slab with multiple forks, and warmed it back up in a bowl and ate it with custard.
(a) If possible, do use bramley/cooking apples for this cake: they’re firmer and tarter than normal apples, and they bake better (and any grocery or decent supermarket will have them in at this time of year).
(b) I have a small obsession with browned butter, so chose to brown it here when I melted it. Browned butter gives the cake a savoury, nutty depth to the cake, which complements the spice, and slightly offsets the sweetness of the toffee sauce. This cake will still be lovely without it.
(c) the sauce ingredients do make a little bit more than you need for this cake, and you could comfortably reduce it by a third. But then you wouldn’t have spare toffee sauce, and who would want to live in a world like that?