I love a chocolate Easter egg as much as anyone – probably more – but these days I tend to offer a cake. There is so much chocolate around, it is almost a relief when someone brings a cake out instead.
It was probably sheer impatience that led me to eat this week’s cake warm from the oven, but in my defence I maintain that certain cakes do possess a more dessert-like quality, and this was one of them. The recipe has cooked apples threaded through the cake’s sweet crumbs and there are notes of butterscotch from the inclusion of light muscovado sugar. The idea of offering it with a jug of cardamom-scented custard was as much gluttony as inspiration. Cake and custard. There’s really no arguing with that at a time of celebration.
While others will be roasting a shoulder of lamb – surely the tastiest cut of all if you let the fat crisp nicely – I will be setting about making something special for the non-meat eaters, namely a vast tangle of noodles with coconut milk, lime and shredded dark green cabbage. Initially a first course before the meat, it is the sort of dish that I tend to prefer as a main course, as long as it is served in generous amounts.
The shredded cabbage you toss with the noodles can be the last of the winter savoys and blue-green plumes of cavolo nero or the first of the young spring varieties, whichever you are blessed with.
Noodles with cabbage and coconut
Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course
black peppercorns 1 tsp
coriander seeds 1½ tsp
ground turmeric 1½ tsp
groundnut or vegetable oil 2 tbsp
onion 1, large, peeled and finely sliced
garlic 2 cloves, peeled and finely sliced
ginger 1 x 30g piece, peeled and grated
coconut milk 1 x 400ml can
cabbage, dark green or cavolo nero 150g
coriander leaves a generous handful
Grind the peppercorns, coriander seeds and turmeric together then toast until fragrant, about 30 seconds, in a dry, shallow pan. Finely grate the zest of one of the limes and squeeze both, then add the juice and zest to the spices.
Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, then drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a deep-sided pan, add the onion and let it soften over a moderate heat until soft and translucent. Stir the garlic and ginger into the onion. Continue cooking for a minute or so, then add the spice paste.
Pour in the coconut milk and bring to the boil. Shred the cabbage into ribbons the width of a pencil, then stir into the hot sauce. They will soften in the heat. Stir in the coriander and serve in large bowls.
Warm apple cake with cardamom custard
I use big, fat cooking apples – as sour as they come – to contrast the sweet crumb of the cake, but ny apple will do. The custard can be replaced by crème fraîche or a jug of double cream, if you wish.
For the apples:
lemon 1 large, juicy one
cooking apples 750g
caster sugar 3 tbsp
For the crumble:
plain flour 100g
demerara sugar 2 tbsp
poppy seeds 2 tbsp
For the cake:
butter 175g, softened
golden caster sugar 85g
light muscovado sugar 85g
hazelnuts 80g, skinned
self-raising flour 165g
ground cinnamon ½ tsp
vanilla extract a few drops
For the custard:
egg yolks 4
cardamom pods 10
full cream milk 400ml
Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Line the base of a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment.
For the apples, halve the lemon and squeeze the juice into a pan. Peel and core the apples, then cut them into 3cm square pieces, and add to the lemon juice.
Place the pan over a low to moderate heat, add the sugar and 2 tbsp of water, and bring to the boil. Immediately lower the heat, cover with a lid and leave to cook for 5-6 minutes, or until the apples begin to soften. They should be soft enough to pierce effortlessly with a skewer.
Make the crumble topping by rubbing the flour and butter together until you have coarse crumbs – use your fingers and thumb or a food processor – then stir in the sugar and set aside.
For the cake, beat the butter and sugars in a food mixer until light and pale coffee-coloured. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan until golden brown, then grind quite finely using a food processor.
Break the eggs and beat them lightly with a fork, then add them to the butter and sugar, a little at a time. Fold in the hazelnuts, flour and cinnamon, then add a couple of drops of vanilla extract. Fold the apples gently into the cake mixture.
Transfer the mixture to the cake tin, scatter the crumble topping over the surface, sprinkle with the poppy seeds and bake for 60 minutes until lightly firm and pale golden brown.
To make the custard, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Crack the cardamom pods with a heavy weight, extract the black seeds, then grind them to a powder. Put the milk in a pan over a moderate heat and add the cardamom. When the milk is almost boiling remove from the heat, cover and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Pour the milk through a sieve into the egg mixture, then return to a clean pan. Stir over a moderate heat until the custard thickens.
Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater