Apple cake with maple cream cheese icing and caramelised walnuts

Helen Goh's apple cake, icing and praline optional.
Helen Goh's apple cake, icing and praline optional. Photo: William Meppem

Olive oil and rye flour give this simple cake a wonderfully complex flavour. Rye is known for its dense texture in breads but its low gluten content means that it produces a light crumb in cakes. Unadorned, this makes a great afternoon tea cake, but the maple cream cheese icing and caramelised walnuts transform it into a cake fit for any occasion.

Ingredients

3 apples* (450g), peeled, cored and chopped into 1.5cm pieces

200g plain flour

100g rye flour

3 tsp ground aniseeds

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp salt

140g castor sugar

140g light brown sugar

250ml olive oil (use extra virgin if you like a stronger flavour)

1 orange, zested

seeds from ½ vanilla bean

2 eggs (at room temperature)

For the caramelised walnuts

60g castor sugar

40g walnuts

For the maple cream cheese icing

80g butter (at room temperature)

80g light brown sugar

70g maple syrup

170g cream cheese (at room temperature)

Method

1. For the caramelised walnuts, line a small tray with baking paper and set aside. Sprinkle sugar evenly over the bottom of a small saucepan and place over medium heat. Without stirring, allow the sugar to melt, swirling the pan gently so that it doesn't catch and burn. Continue to cook until it turns a dark amber colour, then add the walnuts. Stir gently to coat in the caramel, then quickly pour onto the lined tray. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt on top, and allow to set. When hardened, roughly chop the caramelised walnuts and keep in a small container until needed.

2. Preheat the oven to 195C (175C fan-forced). Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm round cake tin with parchment paper and set aside.

3. Sift the flours, ground aniseeds, bicarb and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

4. Place the sugars, olive oil, zest and vanilla seeds in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium-high speed for about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Pour the wet mix over the sifted dry ingredients and fold with a large rubber spatula. When almost combined, fold in the chopped apples and mix gently. Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin and into the oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan.

5. For the icing, place the butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until light and airy. Add the cream cheese, a few pieces at a time, and continue to beat until smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Keep chilled in the fridge until ready to ice the cake.

6. When the cake is completely cool, remove it from the tin and transfer to a cake plate. Spread the maple cream cheese icing on top and sprinkle with the chopped caramelised walnuts.

*Tip: I like to use a mix of apples for contrast, pink lady for their sweet effervescent flavour and granny smith for a sharper tang and soft texture when cooked.