Bonfire Night, for me, conjures up thoughts of food: watching fireworks in a cold, dark field is synonymous with almost-too-hot-to-hold baked potatoes, steaming soup in gloved hands and charred sausages. So why do we waste our time with the eternally disappointing toffee apple?
I’m going to go out on a limb and crown them the king of deeply dissatisfying seasonal treats (America: I am giving your candied yams a pass here. Know that it is only because I dislike toffee apples so intensely). They are a sorely sorry end to a menu of foods that hold such promise. Surely we can do better?
The greatest disappointment, of course, is that, really, toffee apples should be a delight. All the right elements are there: the contrast of sharp apple and sweet caramel are obvious bedfellows, making the most of windfalls of autumnal fruit and dressing it in dark, sticky sugar. And they’re portable which is a feature not to be underestimated on Bonfire Night. But the apples too often are at best insipid, at worst wooly, soft-skinned, and crumbly. The caramel, preternaturally red and glowing, tastes sweet without any depth or complexity. It, frankly, tastes nothing like caramel. The ratio is all wrong, with that miserable apple seeming endless after that first bite, and before you even make it a third of the way through, the toffee has become a red, sticky mass, gravitating towards hair, glove fluff, and clothes. So here is a toffee apple cake that will lay to rest all those disappointing toffee apple ghosts.
I promise you, it is everything you want a toffee apple to be and more. It has all the flavours that a toffee apple consistently fails to deliver: a dark, almost-treacly toffee sauce enveloping moist caramelly spiced sponge, which gives way to crisp chunks of tart apple. And the toffee sauce, I could write love poems about the toffee sauce. It’s a complete breeze to make, with everything thrown into one pan and left to gently melt for a few minutes; no jam thermometers or boiling sugar to contend with. The dark muscovado sugar makes the sauce dark and grown up, and it elevates the cake to something smokey, bonfirey. It’s reminiscent of a sticky toffee pudding, but one that can be eaten standing up, with gloved hands. It’s bonfire night in a cake. And it goes like this…
Bonfire Night Toffee Apple Cake
Makes: 9-12 slabs
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour
For the sponge
110g dark muscovado sugar
110 g soft light brown sugar
2 large cooking apples
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
For the toffee sauce
100g dark muscovado sugar
½ tsp salt
150 ml double cream
Note: The sauce ingredients do make a little bit more than you need for this cake, and you could comfortably reduce it by a third if you’re feeling less indulgent. But then you wouldn’t have spare toffee sauce, and who would want to live in a world like that?
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C and line a square cake tin, about eight inches by eight inches. Don’t use a shallow tin here as this mixture will rise a bit before it settles. When lining the tin, cut two long strips of paper, about seven inches wide. Place them in the tin (the mixture will force them to sit flat), with the overhang overhanging the tin sides.
2. Brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan until it foams up and you can see brown flecks. It should smell nutty and savoury and when the foam subsides it will be a deep, clear chestnut. Once you can smell the nuttiness, remove from the heat, or it may burn.
3. Peel and core your apples, chopping them into rough pieces, approximately one inch square.
4. Mix both sugars and vanilla extract into the browned butter. Decant into a large mixing bowl, and one by one, add the eggs and mix well.
5. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and all the spices. Fold in until the mixture is combined and a uniform colour.
6. Fold pieces of apple into the cake batter, and pour the mixture into the tin, smoothing it so that the batter is evenly distributed.
7. Bake for one hour. Gently press the cake with a finger: if it’s cooked the sponge should feel slightly firm and spring back up when pressed. If not, leave for a further five minutes.
8. In the last five minutes of baking, make your toffee sauce: heat the double cream, sugar, salt and butter until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted, and is just beginning to bubble. You should have a thick, dark amber, sauce.
9. Remove the cake from the oven and pierce all over it with a cake tester or a chopstick. Pour the toffee sauce slowly over the cake. If possible, allow the sauce to cool and settle a little (leave for at least an hour). Serve in large squares, wrapped in greaseproof paper, around a bonfire.
10. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
This cake begs to be eaten outside on a bracing evening, but we finished it off the next day, heated up in the oven, in big bowls overflowing with thick, cold custard.