The truth about Just Desserts is it was never meant to be a one-person job. For some time, I had the boon of a helpful and enthusiastic fellow dessert-maker in Richard McMahon. Now thanks to our circumstances he is rarely able to assist me (and readers might have noticed a decline in the complexity of desserts attempted as a result).
I'm pleased he's on deck today for a Just Desserts adventure like old times.
We're testing the recipe for apple and rosemary olive oil cake from east-London artisan baker to the stars Lily Vanilli (or, if you'd rather, Lily Jones). This is the second dessert I have attempted; the pecan brittle was a smash hit.
This recipe is appealing for the can't-beat-it combination of baked apple and spices and for its common ingredients, the vast majority of which are already in our pantry.
Its point of difference is its use of rosemary, which I associate with roast meats rather than sweets and also olive oil which again gives the impression it's a near-savoury cake. Jones explains that olive oil has been used in baking for centuries and is common in Mediterranean cooking. She finds it gives baked goods a light texture and that it's a fine substitute for butter or other oils. Lower-intensity extra-virgin olive oil ensures a subtle flavour.
This cake is easy. We mix dry ingredients. We cream sugar and flour. McMahon, who is more methodical with a knife than I am, perfectly cubes granny smith apples. The recipe asks for Bramley cooking apples; our local supermarket does not seem to have them. Bramleys are apparently a great favourite of British cooks as they balance sugar and acidity. The apples retain their tangy flavour when cooked and have a melt-in-the-mouth texture which is also kept when cooked.
The cubed apple added to the wet ingredients gives a bit of a goopy texture and I worry the batter will be too wet. The dry ingredients counteract this and we're left with a lumpy and paste-like batter that has to be coaxed to the edges of the springform tin.
Shamefully, we don't have a wonderful kitchen garden full of herbs. That would be nice at times like this. Instead I've got a few costly rosemary sprigs that came packaged in plastic.
We dust the top of the cake batter with brown sugar to caramelise it in the oven and add the apple and rosemary to garnish. It looks cute like a charming tea cake.
The taste is light, pleasingly so, with no cloying sweetness. The taste is quite mild with the rosemary well to the fore. The top of the cake has a slight crunch and the inside is soft. Surprisingly enough the cake is ever so slightly dry, even in light of its fruit content. It would go well with your favourite cup of tea or a glass of milk.
>> Claire Low is a staff features writer on a mission to master dessert and pastry-making.
Apple, rosemary and olive oil cake
190g plain white flour
⅓ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
⅓ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
85g unsalted butter, room temperature
85g dark brown sugar, plus extra for dusting
1½ tbsp olive oil
240g peeled and cored Bramley cooking apples, very finely diced
½ tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
One 23cm round cake tin, greased and lined
2-3 Bramley apple slices
2 fresh rosemary sprigs to decorate
Preheat the oven to 180C. Whisk together the flour, spices and baking powder to ensure they are evenly mixed. Set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy - about four minutes. Beat in the eggs, then add the oil and beat to incorporate. Mix in the diced apple and chopped rosemary, then fold in the dry ingredients.
Transfer into the prepared cake tin, level the edges and lay the slices of apple on top. Coat the surface of the cake with a thin layer of brown sugar. Dip sprigs of rosemary into cold water, dust with brown sugar, then press on to the top of the cake.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until firm in the centre and a cocktail stick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin before turning out to cool, or serve warm.
>> Recipe from Lily Vanilli's Sweet Tooth: Recipes and Tips from a Modern Artisan Bakery (Allen and Unwin, November 2012, $40).