Heading off to the train this week, I took the time to notice the signs of season’s change; the washed-out blue of the sky, the growing leaf litters on the pavement, and the thin armour of a new burgundy jumper. A different quality to the air.
And as I walked, it occurred to me that autumn is taking her time this year; the approach more considered, the decay slowed to a recognisable – visible – pace.
We’re rounding off the first week of October and I haven’t yet looked in the direction of a jacket, or ruffled through my basket – yes, basket – of scarves and wraps. But I’m glad for this. Often we’re so eager for the arrival of the cosy ideals of coats, hats and boots, fire-side afternoons in pubs and the race to the Christmas holidays, that we miss its approach. And this approach, the very transition itself, is more fleeting than we realise. It doesn’t take long for lawns and pavements to be piled high and crisp with orange leaves one day, and choked with a sodden, slippery carpet the next – November brings cold rains, remember?
So now is the time to breathe and drink it all in – through all the senses. Feel the gentle morning sun through closed eyelids on the morning commute (as long as you’re not driving), smell the trees and the last of summer’s roses as they become sickly sweet and release their pungent farewell, and revel in the freedom to walk outside with an extra layer – before it becomes two or three.
And of course, revel in the flavours that make October so memorable. For this recipe, I’ve tried to capture a reflection of these thoughts, together with those of the apple harvest – for us, and for nature. If you happen upon any windfall apples around this time of year, you’ll notice them rotting slowly, and being feasted upon by drowsy wasps. It’s precisely this image that gave me the idea for the cider toffee sauce to accompany the cake: the warming alcohol of the cider is a wonderful embodiment of fruit fermenting, and changing into something more magical for the longer nights.
This is a cake of substance; for wrapping in paper and taking on a walk, for savouring with a big mug of tea (or hot cider), for books and Saturday papers. It’s not light, but neither is October. It’s grown-up, serious in it’s spicing, and lovely and satisfying.
What flavours await? This cinnamon apple tahini cake and cider toffee sauce has:
- rich, warming spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger;
- sticky-sweet dates;
- nutty tahini and walnuts;
- apples upon apples upon apples, prepared three ways: pureed, chopped and cinnamon-dusted; and
- a heady, boozy, toffee-coated kick of seriously pleasing cider.
The cake, on its own, is perfectly delicious – and child-friendly – without the sauce, but I urge you to give the grown-up version a taste. Warmed-up or enjoyed straight from the jar, the cider toffee sauce is something I see being a permanent fixture in our autumn-to-winter line-up. It’s so simple to make, too, with only six ingredients: dry cider (the more organic and straight-up, the better), medjool dates, ground almonds, coconut oil, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. I think it’ll be just the thing for a delicious crumble, or even better – a fortifying sticky toffee pudding – come November 5th.
To autumn, and slow living. I hope you love celebrating this time of quiet observation with a wedge of cake and a dollop of sauce.
- 5 eating apples (I used Braeburn), about 550g in total
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Dry Ingredients
- 170g wholemeal flour
- 55g ground almonds
- 50g chopped walnuts
- 4 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of good salt
- Wet Ingredients
- 4 tbsp tahini
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 90ml unsweetened soy milk
- Cider Toffee Sauce
- 150 ml dry cider
- 5 medjool dates, pitted
- 20g ground almonds
- 2 tsp coconut oil
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp good salt
- Heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
- Begin by making the apple puree*. Core and chop three of the apples. In a saucepan, cover with water and boil for 5-10 minutes until soft, then drain. In a food processor, or using a potato masher, puree until soft and set aside.
- Core and chop into 1 cm pieces one of the remaining apples; and core and slice the last, coating with the lemon juice and cinnamon in a bowl.
- Sift the wholemeal flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the rest of the dry ingredients.
- Now rub in the tahini and coconut oil using your fingers - it should become crumbly. Mix in the apple puree, soy milk and chopped apple.
- Line a 7-inch** spring-form cake tin with parchment paper and pour in the cake mixture. Arrange the sliced cinnamon apples on top.
- Cook for 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. If the top is browning too much, cover with parchment.
- While the cake is cooking, make the sauce. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth. If not using all at once, store in a sterilised jar in the fridge. Serve as is, or gently warmed on the hob.
**An 8-inch square tin also works well, but the cake will have less of a rise.
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