Nothing could have been more appealing to me at nine years old than a series of books about cute woodland creatures, which happened to be set in a medieval world of warriors and battles, and which included lengthy descriptions of food. In fact, twenty years later those three elements would still draw me in. Brian Jacques' Redwall series was perfect reading in Berkshire, especially in the autumn, when nature is in full attention-seeking mode. This description of how the Great Hall Cake is made serves to give you an idea of what I mean.
I've been meaning to make an autumnal dessert using some seasonal, local fruit, and I don't think this would be out of place in Redwall. Since I'm really feeling the cold (despite it being reasonably mild) I wanted to incorporate lots of toasty elements, so there's browned butter and a little bit of cinnamon. For a weighty sponge, with almost a pudding texture I toast and grind hazelnuts to make a fine flour which I mixed with stoneground spelt.
I am obsessed with Williams pears, which I obstinately used in this, in spite of thinking maybe Comice or Conference would be better suited for their firmness. Cox apples were the only choice since they're in season and abundant in the shires.
Ingredients - for a large cake
- 2 Cox apples
- 2 Williams pears
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup soft brown sugar
- 300g whole blanched hazelnuts
- 100g stoneground spelt flour
- 6 eggs
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
1. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan. Do not take your eyes off them, they need you. Toss frequently. Cool and blend in a food processor to a fine crumb.
2. Peel and chop the fruit into 2cm cubes, if the pears are soft you can leave them aside but the apples will need some light cooking in a knob of butter until they are soft but holding their shape.
3. Brown your butter by cooking it gently in a non-stick saucepan until it smells nutty and starts to look brown. It will take longer than you imagine, but watch carefully or it will burn.
4. Whisk together eggs and sugar for a good five minutes, until the mixture looks pale and fluffy. Add the butter and keep whisking until blended.
5. Stir together the ground hazelnuts, cinnamon, spelt flour, baking powder and salt, then fold into the wet ingredients until combined.
6. Pour the batter into a greased and lined round tin (18 cm), then scatter the fruit chunks evenly over the top so that they sink in slightly.
7. Bake at 180 degrees for half an hour, then cover with foil and cook until a skewer through the centre comes out clean!
8. Serve warm with yogurt or cold with coffee. This cake tastes remarkably good after resting for a few hours as the hazelnuts ease into their new cake lifestyle.