My mother is not much of a sweet dessert person. She enjoys the flavour of ginger, vanilla, lemon, raspberries and blueberries. If my mother has chocolate it is dark and bitter with cocoa. She would be perfectly happy with a strong piece of cheese, a few oat crackers and maybe a handful of grapes or slices of firm pear.

When it comes to cakes, simple is best. Fruits are the stars of these cakes: pears, plums, oranges or apples. They are very rarely big cakes, never the sort with a few centimetres of icing on top. They are of the understated flat variety, like wide discs. Perhaps with a drizzle icing, a shake of icing sugar, or nothing at all.

For my mother’s birthday last week I made Nigel Slater‘s English Apple Cake from his book, The Kitchen Diaries. This is perhaps my most loved cook book. It is simple in its progression through the year. A northern hemisphere year but easily translated. In February there is slow roast lamb with chickpea mash, a treacle tart, a recipe for sausage and black pudding with baked parsnips. In May there are orange and ricotta pancakes, a white bean and tarragon soup and salmon and dill fishcakes. The book is written like a diary, each recipe has an introduction; the inspiration for the recipe, or what occasion it marked. Some entries contain no recipe at all but are titled “A feast of plums” or “An extravagant supper of rare beef, red salad and cheeses.” I love that the word supper describes nearly every dinner dish in the book. Let’s have supper.

The English Apple Cake I made for my mother was perfectly fine. It was light and reasonably moist. The cake itself had the pleasing taste of a simple butter cake while the apples on top were slightly stewed and sweet all of their own accord. But I wanted something a little bit more. There is a reason why most apple cake recipes call for cinnamon, mixed spice, or ginger, or chopped dates, broken walnuts, or rolled oats and brown sugar; apple cakes are better with these flavours.

So I made another cake. The equal parts of butter to sugar to flour is a simple cake base to work with and embellish as you please. Apple and Ginger this time, perfect for a blustery autumn day. The warming smell of ginger and the sweet scent of apples was almost overwhelming. It was maple syrupey and slightly heady with spices. This cake was for our friend Jason on his birthday. We had a wonderful birthday dinner on Monday night: a Pegasus Bay riesling with blue cheese and brie to start, then Ollie and Jason’s famous roast chicken and this little cake for dessert with sloppy whipped cream.

We lit birthday candles, Jason made a wish, and then it was gone. This cake barely touched our plates. My mother (and Mr. Slater) would enjoy it.

Apple and Ginger Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater

130 grams butter
130 grams brown sugar
2 eggs
130 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger, plus 1 teaspoon for apples
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small knob of fresh ginger, finely grated
2 medium apples, un-peeled & diced
juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons sugar, brown or white
1/2 cup roughly chopped crystallised ginger

Pre-heat oven to 180°. Line a small, shallow round or square tin of about 24 cm. Cream butter and sugar together until lighter in colour, about 4-5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Sieve dry ingredients and stir through the mixture until just combined. Scrap mixture into tin. Set aside.

In a separate bowl toss together diced apples, lemon juice, sugar and the extra ground ginger. Sprinkle apples on top of the cake with the chopped crystallised ginger. Bake for 45-50 minutes until the batter is golden at the edges and the centre is no longer gooey.

Serve warm with thick yoghurt or whipped cream.