"I have always felt that a recipe should be something to inspire, remind and lightly influence rather than a set of instructions to be followed, pedantically, to the letter."
Since I bought Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries a few years ago, it's made every move with me. Dorm to dorm to house to house to apartment, The Kitchen Diaries is always the key book that gets packed, right after the socks and rainbow flair and other daily essentials. It's like a security blanket to me, the book I can pull out when I feel like plopping down on the couch and reading with a cup of tea.
This book has served me well. It's just as good to cook from as it is to sit and read. It's organized by seasonality into months, so I can easily flip to the right section when I want to make something and don't quite know what. And to be truthful, I think Nigel and I may be connected by blood in some far-off capacity. Learning about his sensibilities around food feels like coming home to me, and he's always saying what I mean better than I could.
Nigel loves food when it's dressed-down, unfussy. He takes his fruit just at the tip of its freshness, spilling over into too-done juiciness. He isn't particular about measuring and doling out patronizing instructions; rather, he seems to know that you know what's best and that you know what you like.
In short, I felt that Nigel might just be okay with me making his plum cake with what I had on hand instead: the first little New England McIntosh apples of the season. I took a few liberties, as well, baking it in a springform pan instead of a square pan because I didn't have one, and substituting quite a bit of the flour with white whole wheat flour. I don't think this cake was worth for the wear. Crumbly and stuffed chock-full of apples, it uses very little sugar and flour, making it just as nice to serve alongside your breakfast eggs and coffee as it is as an after dinner treat topped with vanilla whipped cream.
Nigel Slater's Plum (I Mean Apple) Cake
Adapted form The Kitchen Diaries
10 Tb butter
1/2 cup sugar
6 McIntosh apples
3 large eggs
2/3 cup white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 Tbs. baking powder
2/3 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup shelled walnuts
Set the oven to 350 degrees. Line the base of a square 8-inch cake pan or springform pan with parchment. Grease the pan's sides.
Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer. Beat it until it is, as Nigel says, "light, soft and the color of vanilla ice-cream". Peel and core the apples and cut each one into eight sections.
Break the eggs, beat them lightly with a fork, then add them bit by bit to the butter and sugar. Whisk together the flour and baking powder, and fold them gently into the mixture using a wooden spoon. In a food processor, grind 2/3 of a cup of almonds until they are the texture of cornmeal, and fold them into the batter. Chop the walnuts to "the size of small gravel" and fold them in, too.
Scrape the mixture into the cake pan, dropping the apple sections in on top. Push the apples down into the batter a bit. Bake for 45 minutes, then test for doneness by inserting a paring knife to the bottom of the pan. If it comes up clean and free of batter, the cake is done. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for fifteen minutes before turning it gently out of the pan.
Cut into slices, and serve alone, with whipped cream or a drizzle of heavy cream.
Serves about 12