For the last 14 days, I have been sourcing flours, mixing, kneading, baking – and most importantly – eating, all thanks to Dan Lepard’s wonderful book The Handmade Loaf. Never before have I enjoyed bread so much. However, that is another story…
Therefore, ears attuned to the name Dan Lepard, and impossible to miss the twitteratis’ enthusiasm for his new book Short and Sweet, I got that one in the post too. Its size is similar to that of the OED and every chapter introduces the whys, whens and wherefores of different ingredients, encouraging bakers to take things a little more freestyle. Of this, I wholeheartedly approve, and I guess that is why doughy-fingered, kitchenaid-loving bakers across the country are sharing photographs of and enthusiasm for the recipes on a weekly basis at http://shortandtweet.tumblr.com/
This week’s Team Bake is the Rye Apple Cake (p.136 for the book owners among you or here on the Guardian website), with which I joined in.
Rye flour was bought (not realizing I had one and half bags already in the cupboard). The apple was peeled, cored, and chopped – one apple from my tree was 180g rather than the specified 125-150g, but less than a whole apple in an apple cake? Absurd!
The mix was mixed, the loaf-tin lined, and 30g (rather than the specified 25g) of almonds – my even sprinkling left a little to be desired – were scattered over the top.
It was ready after the specified 40 minutes, and when I returned home from walking the dog it looked deliciously like this
It held its texture on slicing, with tantalising cubes of apple scattered through a perfect crumb
And closer in
The cake looked wonderful. Well risen and golden, appetising almond slices sprinkled over the top. On slicing the texture was perfect, beautifully moist.
And yet, with great sadness I have to say that it tasted of close to nothing. I checked back to the recipe: had I added enough sugar? Yes, and the golden syrup. Had I included the spices? Yes, just a teaspoon of cinnamon. Had I used too much baking powder? Nope, definitely not. Should there have been any lemon? Nu-uh. Should the apple have been stewed with spices, before adding? Should I have added more apple? No, and no. Somehow, the bake had managed to turn the flavours of each individual and wonderful ingredient to very little: apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, butter, golden syrup. What could be wrong? For me, it really needed something else. A little cardamom, a squeeze of lemon or some zest, perhaps some ginger. Calvados soaked raisins, perhaps.
It seems I am the only person in the challenge thinking this. Maybe it’s because I’ve entered an obsessive sourdough making phase, using flavoursome grains and unusual flours, and what I really wanted for breakfast was a slice of my latest loaf; this recipe just didn’t do it for me. I want a cake to taste like a cake, and bread to taste like bread. This sat on the bleak and unhappy ground in between.
I still love the idea of the book, and am off to the corner shop for a tin of peaches to cook up the fantastic-sounding “Saffron Peach Cake” on the facing page. But I think I’ll try that tomorrow instead of today.
UPDATE: It’s a little tastier later in the day, and on reflection perhaps the apple was just too finely diced (5mm rather than the specified 1cm). Can that make it all ok? Perhaps. And maybe I’d add a touch more sugar. Oh, and DEFINITELY sieve the bits out of the flour (of course save them for sprinkling on top of your next loaf) – to my mind, Dove’s rye flour is just too rustic for a ‘cake’. Give it a whirl if you dare!