Irish apple cake: make it year ‘round and enjoy

I’ve been waxing poetic, or perhaps obnoxious, about apples all Fall, after I heard Rowan Jacobsen talk about heirloom varieties that are long gone, or endangered. His latest book is Apples of Uncommon Character: 123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics & Little-Known Wonders, which outlines in great detail the origins of apple growing in this country, and its demise after Prohibition.

Apples of Uncommon Character

By the end of the 19th century, there were about 7500 American varieties of apples. After Prohibition and with the rise of industrial scale orchards…trains and highways that allowed  national distribution of produce possible, “American’s diversity crashed.” (p. 6). One of the rare apples that John Bunker of Fedco Trees, whose love affair with apples is outlined in the book, is bringing back in the Heritage Orchard at MOFGA is the Kavanaugh, named for the man who brought it over to Damariscotta from Ireland in 1780.

Apples have been grown in Ireland for centuries too. One of my favorite cookbooks is Myrtle Allen’s Cooking at Ballymaloe House.

Ballymaloe House Cookbook

Ballymaloe House Cookbook

Mrs. Allen and her husband Ivan bought the old house in 1947 and after reading an article about French cooking, she eventually she opened a restaurant there. Her daughter-in-law Darina now runs it along with a world-renowned cooking school and inn. Each recipe in the cookbook is prefaced by  Mrs. Allen’s memories of the Ireland in which she grew up, long lost ways of doing things, a time we all long for, even if we didn’t know it ourselves.

“Homemade apple cakes are the most popular sweet in Ireland. They are found on the table in every home. Some people make stiff  pastries resembling shortcrust, while others, like us, prefer a softer dough, difficult to handle but delicious. We serve the cake with softly whipped cream. All the apple cakes are made with cooking, not eating, apples. Bramley Seedlings, the most widely grown commercial variety at present, break down in the required way to a white foamy mass when cooked.”

Lovely shortbread hybrid cake

Lovely shortbread hybrid cake

Irish apple cake: make it year ‘round and enjoy
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Irish
Serves: 6 to 8
 
Myrtle Allen's Irish Apple Cake from Cooking at Ballymaloe House
Ingredients
  • 2 c. cake flour
  • ¼ tsp. double-acting baking powder
  • 1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ½ c. plus 2-3 T. sugar
  • 2 extra large eggs, 1 of them beaten with 1 T. milk for glaze
  • 7 T. Cold milk
  • 1 to 2 tart cooking apples such as Rome Beauty or Granny Smith peeled, cored and cut into rought ¾" chunks
  • 2 whole cloves (optional)
  • Lightly butter a 9" pie plate.
  • Sift flour and baking powder together into a large bowl.
  • Rub in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  • Stir in ½ c. sugar. Make a well in the center of the mixture and into it pour the unblended egg, beaten, and the milk all at once. Stir to make avery soft, wet, sticky doughthat does not clean the sides of the bowl. Dip your hands into flour and then pat about half the dough into the prepared pie plate, covering the bottom and sides.
  • Distribute apple cubes over the dough to within ¼ " of the edge and sprinkle them with the remaining 2 to 3 T. sugar, depending on the tartness of the apples. Stud with cloves. Brush the edge of the dough with some of the glaze.
  • Sprinkle a large dinner plate generously with flour and pat the remaining dough onto the plate. Invert the plate and the dough over the apples in the pie plate, dropping the dough into place over the apples. (If the dough breaks, simply patch it and don't worry if it looks a bit raggedy.) Press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together with the tines of a fork (I like to gently pinch my way around the pie crust, making pretty "thumbprint" swirls/KC), sealing the edge all around, and make a single slit in the top as a steam vent. Brush the top with remaining glaze.
  • Bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the dough is golden and the apples are tender and juicy when pierced with the tip of a knife. Serve warm.
Instructions
  1. Lightly butter a 9" pie plate.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder together into a large bowl.
  3. Rub in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  4. Stir in ½ c. sugar. Make a well in the center of the mixture and into it pour the unblended egg, beaten, and the milk all at once.
  5. Stir to make a very soft, wet, sticky dough that does not clean the sides of the bowl.
  6. Dip your hands into flour and then pat about half the dough into the prepared pie plate, covering the bottom and sides.
  7. Distribute apple cubes over the dough to within ¼ " of the edge and sprinkle them with the remaining 2 to 3 T. sugar, depending on the tartness of the apples.
  8. Stud with cloves.
  9. Brush the edge of the dough with some of the glaze.
  10. Sprinkle a large dinner plate generously with flour and pat the remaining dough onto the plate. Invert the plate and the dough over the apples in the pie plate, dropping the dough into place over the apples. (If the dough breaks, simply patch it and don't worry if it looks a bit raggedy.) Press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together with the tines of a fork (I like to gently pinch my around the pie crust, making pretty "thumbprint" swirls/KC), sealing the edge all around, and make a single slit in the top as a steam vent.
  11. Brush the top with remaining glaze.
  12. Bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the dough is golden and the apples are tender and juicy when pierced with the tip of a knife.
  13. Serve warm.

I thought I had made this cake before, but when I began, I quickly knew I had not. I was thinking of Patricia Wells’ The Apple Lady’s Apple Cake from her Paris cookbook. Myrtle Allen’s cake will be my go-to apple dessert from now on. When you are putting the dough in the pie plate, you think, “Oh, this is a pie, not a cake.” But when it is baked, you see that the dough is a bit like shortbread, but not quite. And it’s not quite a pie dough. It “grows” up around the apples, coming out like a rich, buttery cake that has enveloped its filling.

Irish Apple Cake

Irish Apple Cake

And that butter! Go for it. Butter’s back in the okay-for-you fold of once-vilified foods. This uses very little sugar, a plus, and you don’t have to search out Bramley’s seedlings. I used four different apple varieties – what I had on hand: two  McIntosh, a Tolman Sweet (another rare apple being brought back—this one grown by a local farmer and sold at Uncle Dean’s in Waterville) and a Liberty. I think this recipe is forgiving…just no Red Delicious!

 

 

Kate Cone

About Kate Cone

Kate Cone has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, is a freelance writer and the author of "What's Brewing in New England: A Guide to Brewpubs and Microbreweries," published by Downeast Publications in 1997. She is currently updating What's Brewing with a second book about New England craft beer to be published in 2015.