Around this time every year, when most of the world revels in the sights and sounds of fall, Mumbai continues to suffer an identity crisis, often swinging between very humid, hot, and occasionally, like today, murky and overcast. Things could go either way from here- the clouds could switch filters to a lovely gold, bathing everything in a tint of turmeric yellow, or it could suddenly start raining and you’d find yourself under house arrest for the rest of the day.
When it’s this gloomy outside, I naturally want to bake, but moreso, I want to have enough time to enjoy toothsome cake at my window alongside coffee as black as night. It transports me to the sights and sounds of Carnaby Street many years ago where I’d go to hide from the chill in London’s streets. Inside Camellia’s tea shop, I’d huddle with a large slice of Victoria sponge slathered with jam and a strong English breakfast brew that felt so warm in my gloved hands. I’d allow myself this luxury at least twice a month back then, but now I wish I’d visited more. When I visited last in July, the tea shop wasn’t there anymore, and while I did stumble upon new favourites like ‘The Violet Bakery’ in the quiet lanes of Hackney, nothing will ever compare to the charm of Camellia’s tisanes.
The clouds have burst into fat drops of rain. The thunder shakes me out of my reverie, which I take as a sign to busy myself with the cake. I fasten my apron, and flit to the freezer to thaw my cognac-laced applesauce- just one of the many indulgent things I’ve kept hidden in the recesses of my freezer for days like this. I want to make a cake with an incredibly moist, tender crumb with accents of ginger. I’m using almond flour because when combined with flours that possess gluten, it develops the kind of dense rich texture that I like in an apple cake. The applesauce helps keep the whole cake incredibly moist, while adding a boost of fruity fresh apple flavour to the finished product.
Yield 1 cup. Double the recipe easily to make more applesauce than you need for this recipe
Don’t use green Granny Smith apples to make this applesauce. A combination of firm Washington Reds and Golden Delicious apples or lots of the spotted green and red mini Mcintosh variety work best here. Use the best quality cinnamon you can find.
Apples 300g, unpeeled, cored and roughly chopped
Cognac or any other type of Brandy 80ml
Brown sugar 2 1/2 tbsp
Lemon juice 2 tsp
Vanilla essence 1 bottle cap or 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon 1/4 tsp ground, plus one whole cinnamon stick
Garam masala 1/4 tsp
In a large saucepan combine all the ingredients together and let it cook over medium-heat for 20-30 minutes or till the apples look like they’re very tender.
Fish out the cinnamon stick and using a hand-blender, blitz the apples to a puree and transfer to a jar and let it cool.
To ice the cake, I simply combine honey, ginger, cream cheese and countertop creme fraiche (made by adding one or two tablespoons of yoghurt to dairy cream and allowing it to stand undisturbed overnight or for 12 hours at least). Don’t bother using a good quality honey here because you’re going to be heating it slightly.
This applesauce cake is special for a number of reasons— It’s made with a cognac-laced applesauce; it uses ginger both inside the cake as well as in the icing, and the tender, moist crumb comes from a mixture of all-purpose and almond flour.
Butter 100g, melted
Yoghurt or Creme Fraiche 80ml (to make countertop creme fraiche add one or two tablespoons of yoghurt to a few cups of dairy cream, and let this stand for 12-24 hours at room temperature)
Honey 2 tbsp
Lemon juice 1 tbsp
Ginger 1 tbsp, freshly grated
Caster sugar 250g/ 1 1/4 cup
All-purpose flour 1 1/4 cup’
Almond flour 3/4 cup
Salt 1 tsp
Baking powder 1 1/2 tsp
Applesauce 3/4 cup (recipe above)
HONEY AND GINGER ICING
Makes a cup of icing. You can double this recipe easily.
Cream cheese 110g
Creme fraiche 55ml/ 1/4 cup (to make countertop creme fraiche add one or two tablespoons of yoghurt to a few cups of dairy cream, and let this stand for 12-24 hours at room temperature)
Ginger 1 tsp, freshly grated
Icing sugar 60g
Honey 2 tbsp
Corn syrup 3 tbsp
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. While the temperature is definitely on the higher side for a cake with almond flour in it, we shall be covering the cake with foil once it finishes its initial 25-30 minute cycle inside the oven.
Line an 8-inch cake pan with baking paper and grease the pan. Whisk together the melted butter, milk, yoghurt/creme fraiche, eggs, honey, lemon juice and ginger together. Separately whisk the caster sugar, all-purpose flour, almond flour, salt and baking powder. Slowly combine the dry ingredients into the wet, slowly whisking through the batter, being careful not to be too aggressive.
Put a third of the cake batter into the tin and spoon over 1/4 th of the applesauce. Repeat with more cake batter and alternate with the applesauce. If any applesauce is remaining, add it to the cake batter in the tin and swirl the top to mix it.
Bake this for 25-30 minutes. Then, take a piece of foil and cover the cake and continue to bake it for another 20-25 minutes, checking in the last ten minutes with a skewer to see if it’s done, that is, the skewer comes out clean. Once the cake is out of the oven, let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes before unfolding the cake and letting it cool completely.
For the icing, bring the honey and corn syrup up to a boil over medium-high heat and immediately reduce the flame. Stand and watch for two to three minutes as the honey changes colour and becomes fragrant very quickly. Take it off the flame immediately and let this cool to room temperature. Beat the cream cheese and the creme fraiche together till creamy.
In a slow stream, add the honey and continue to mix on medium speed with the hand mixer, till you have used up all the honey mixture. Add in the ginger and mix briefly. Tip in the icing sugar and use the hand mixer to beat till fluffy. Refrigerate and use as needed. Roughly decorate the cake by smearing the icing over and around the cake.