My next stop in the World in One City brings me to a party in Peckham. It was a few weeks back and a Saturday night – there is never any time off for a food writer. When people find out what I do for work they always ask me what I think of such and such a contestant on the latest food TV show. I will let you into a little secret, watching food TV is not what I call entertainment, I live food in my work and writing for 12 hours a day, every day and would rather relax with a good documentary in the evening. Back to the party and I meet this lady called Marjo with pink and purple hair who tells me she is from The Netherlands. As we chat and she finds out what I do for a living she tells me that I absolutely must try her Dutch Apple Cake.
I’ve been to the Netherlands, once changing planes on the way to Japan, and once a trip to Amsterdam. The obligatory trip for a stag night every chap in his 20’s must attend (not my stag night, may I add). I’ve taken the boat along the canals, seen some interesting sights, eaten croquette and nearly got run over by a bicycle on every street corner while trying to find the home of Anne Frank. A beautiful city, but sadly I have not seen any more of this land than Old Amsterdam. The land of windmills and tulips with mice on the stairs with clogs on.
Googling The Netherlands, or is it Holland? I’m not sure, but there is a thriving community in London with Dutch bars and Dutch coffee shops and even a Dutch Church and a community of over 40,000 people. King William III, Audrey Hepburn and even Nick Glegg have Dutch connections. If as a race they have influenced our Royalty, Government and cinema they must have been raised on good food to gain such high esteem in a foreign land.
Marjo meets me at Divertimenti in Marylebone High Street to start cooking; I have all the ingredients ready except one. Dutch Rusks. I have no idea what these are but I’m sure they are not Farley’s. Properly called Beschuit they are twice baked bread that is eaten at breakfast or lunch and special for the birth of a baby. Later I find these rusks are crumbled to line the inside of the pastry base of our Dutch Apple Cake to soak up any apple juices resulting in a crisp pastry base.
We run through the ingredients and Marjo starts telling me the method. “Rub the butter and flour together until like breadcrumbs, stir in the sugar and salt,” I say. Marjo looks at me and wonders how I know this. It’s my job to know. But this pastry was so high in butter, a sticky mixture that needed a good 20 minutes in the fridge before rolling. We line the spring form tin, base and sides and fill it with the apple, vanilla sugar, cinnamon, raisins and currants and brown sugar and make a lattice for the top, quickly egg wash the top and pop it in to the AGA. While it’s cooking in the Baking Oven for 40 minutes I tell Marjo that there are many AGA Cookers in The Netherlands and a few months ago as I attended the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris I was very pleased to see that an AGA entertaining book in Dutch was held in high esteem by the judges. The cake comes out; I look at all of the serving plates available in Divertimenti and ask Marjo which one would be best. Blue and white she tells me. Well, after all these colour schemes are globally known from the town of Delft and date back to the 16th century, so famous it was depicted on the tail fin of Boeing 767 aircraft for British Airways in 2001.
The AGA bakes cakes brilliantly, never in my years of AGA cooking have I had a cake
turned out to disappoint. The Baking Oven browns a cake beautifully while it rises and sets with splendor. Using a 2 Oven AGA that does not have a dedicated Baking Oven, this can easily be achieved to get the same results by placing the Cold Plain Shelf just above a cake while it cooks.
As I eat a piece of the cake I realise now why Marjo was just so particular that I made it in a certain way. I try it, look to the camera; the buttery crisp pastry melts in my mouth as the flavors of vanilla and cinnamon combine with the apple. I do wonder, did Audrey Hepburn have Marjo’s Dutch Apple Cake for breakfast at Tiffany’s? I’m sure Sabrina must have dreamt of such a taste and if she were a contestant on Masterchef with Marjo’s cake, Gregg and John I’m sure would have loved it.
Marjo’s Dutch Apple Cake
A classic cake from The Netherlands of apple, cinnamon and dried fruit encased in a butter pastry shell with lattice top.
Makes 8 slices
300g plain flour
200g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
125g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
Plain flour for dusting
2 Dutch rusks, crumbled
6 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced
4 tbsp demerara sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp each raisins and currants, soaked and drained
1 egg, lightly beaten
- To make the pastry, place the flour into a large bowl and rub the fat through with the fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir sugar and salt through. Add the egg a little at a time and bind together using a table knife until a ball forms. Cover in cling film and place into the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to rest.
- Lightly flour the worktop and roll the pastry into a log shape. Cut 1/3 off, cover and place back into the refrigerator. Roll the large piece of pastry into a circle and line the inside of a 20cm (6”) spring form cake tin, ensuring the base and sides are lined. To help, it may be easier to line the tin as well you can with the pastry and place some clingfilm over and rub the pastry up the sides through the cling film. Place back into the refrigerator to rest for 20 minutes.
- Make the filling by mixing all of the ingredients together and place into the pastry-lined tin.
- Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into strips, weave over the top of the apple and glaze with the egg.
- 3, 4 and 5 Oven AGA, place into the Baking Oven on the grid shelf on the 4th set of runners. 2 Oven AGA, place into the Roasting Oven on the grid shelf on the 4th set of runners with the Cold Plain Shelf on top. Bake for 40-50 minutes until golden on top and the apple is soft.
- Allow to cool in the tin, run a palate knife around the outside and serve on a plate. Enjoy with fresh cream, ice cream or custard.