While I haven’t actually ventured outside at all today, I can finally feel that autumn has arrived in Toulouse. The leaves on the tree outside are still stubbornly green, but I proudly wore a jumper all day which is, naturally, the defining factor of a seasonal change. Autumn got waylaid, stuck behind the sleepy sun-drunk summer who hung around until last week. It was 30C until three days ago and, now I actually have to leave my flat to work, deciding what to wear in the cold mornings has made me despair at the barren state of my wardrobe. But still, at long last, I have an excuse to make apple and sultana cake.
As with most baked goods in this flat, this cake was eaten by me, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s good, dear reader. It’s not as though Gaylord doesn’t have a sweet tooth – oh lordy he does, our kitchen turns into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory on the regular – but I like to make desserts with fruit, often dried fruit, and Gaylord, well I think he mistrusts a grape that’s dry and wrinkly. Incidentally, while the French love their glacé fruits, dried fruits are shunted to the back of the queue in the French dessert line-up. Unfortunately for him though, he lives with a Brit and the festive season of dried fruit is fast approaching.
So, this might be the first French cake that includes sultanas in the title. Although, I do wonder what makes this apple and sultana cake French? The fact it was made in my kitchen in France perhaps? Often, we slap a location in the name of a food item, maybe to ground it in a cultural landscape – Boston cream pie, for instance, Yorkshire pudding, and in this city, Toulouse sausage (although I am curious about Swiss cheese – does that cover all the cheese from Switzerland?). Sometimes though, for a general food item that is beloved all over the world, the location is the only defining factor.
Take apple cake – there is German apple cake, Russian apple cake, Polish apple cake, and then we get into local regions like that famous apple cake from down in Dorset. And apparently, there’s French apple cake too! When really, honestly, how many different ways are there to make a cake with some chopped up apples?
Examining the ‘French’ in French apple and sultana cake
Googling French apple cake, I found loads of hits, but few of them were actually French. Normandy, a place I will always visualise as frosty, leafy and autumnal, is famous for its apples and calvados and cider, and it will no doubt have a regional apple cake of its own just like its tarte normande.
I had the option of adding calvados to this apple and sultana cake, or even rum as that also seemed to be surprisingly popular, but I need my desserts to be resolutely sweet, I’d rather have alcohol in a cocktail, so the booze, possibly the element that is considered French, was dismissed. Geographical rules are blurry here.
Yet, while many of us will reach for the cinnamon this season, the French probably won’t as they already have a spice of their own which, by coincidence, pairs perfectly with apple – vanilla. So, it’s this subtle creamy, spicy flavour, one we don’t usually associate with autumn, that scents that soft sponge, those velvety apple chunks… and now I’m salivating again.
I mean I’ve already announced that I ate the whole damn cake, so me getting distracted by it again is really no surprise. The sultanas, no longer gnarled and wizened, had plumped turning into clusters of juicy sweetness, and my favourite part, the topping of the apple cake had transformed into flaky layers sparkling in sugar. Oh, and of course, the star of the show, the apples – Granny Smiths for as much punch as possible, their tartness mollified by the general cosy surroundings of this cake.
And then, as if a nice slice of snacking cake isn’t enough, I then went and made some custard, didn’t I?
We should never do anything by halves should we? French apple and sultana cake was taken to the ball, glammed up with a drizzle of creamy crème anglaise (I mean, calling it the French name makes the whole thing seem more French), and I grinned like a real weirdo as I ate because it is now autumn so I can eat an apple and sultana cake with custard whenever I want.
French Apple and Sultana Cake
- 125 g flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 apples Granny Smiths ideally
- 115 g unsalted butter softened
- 130 g sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 6 tbsp milk
- 100 g sultanas
- 2 tsp demerara sugar
- Preheat the oven to 175°C/155°C fan/350°F. Grease a 23cm/9in springform cake tin with butter and line the base with baking parchment.
- Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Peel the apples, core and dice them into bite-sized chunks.
- In another large mixing bowl, add the softened butter and the sugar. Mix with electric beaters for 5 minutes until pale, light and creamy. Break in an egg at a time, scrape the sides of mixture and beat again after each addition. Add the vanilla and milk and stir it all to combine.
- Fold in the dry ingredients, the apple chunks and sultanas until everything is well combined.
- Tip the cake batter into the prepared cake in, level the surface until flat then sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Slide the tin into the oven to bake for 40 minutes until the cake is risen and the surface is golden and flaky.
- Allow to cool for 5 minutes then run a knife around the inside of the cake tin before releasing it, sliding the cake off the base and placing it on a cooling rack. Serve warm or cold, with custard or just as a quick delicious snack.