One of the great advantages of being obsessed with food is that, regardless of your weather preferences, seasonal change is always an exciting time. After a weirdly hot August, this week saw the first signs of blustery autumn winds and rain, and I immediately starting thinking about apple-based puddings (also squashes and stews and minerally green vegetables and stodgy potato based meals and sticky ginger cake but that’s a bit too much for one blog post).
Apple and blackberry really is the perfect Summer into Autumn combination. What better way to spend the last few warm days foraging in hedgerows for those dark and glistening fruits? Well perhaps having someone else forage while you soak up the dying summer rays with a margarita in hand, but foraging comes a close second. And while hedgerows may be the bucolic ideal, the wonderful thing about brambles is that you can find them anywhere – even if you are city-based the chances are that your local park or unkempt scrap of land or abandoned plot or railway sidings or waterway might have a few springing up (obviously ensure you have permission or are on public land, and it’s safe for you to be there). Plus they are really easy to freeze; simply spread them on a baking tray and flash freeze for an hour or so, then bag them up.
Of course, you can also forage for blackberries in greengrocers and supermarkets, but they do charge, and as someone who has grown up in the countryside the idea of paying for blackberries seems very unnatural. But whether you are channeling your inner Ray Mears (British outdoor/survivalist type) or your inner Dale Winton (presenter of 90s gameshow triumph ‘Supermarket Sweep’), this cake will be equally delicious.
Essentially this is my ideal apple cake. It is incredibly moist, with pockets of fruit from blackberries and chunks of apple that have almost melted into the surrounding sponge. It’s lightly spiced, with caramel-undertones from the use of brown sugar, and a crunchy caramelised crust due to a liberal topping of demerara sugar and flaked almonds. It’s also gluten-free, meaning everyone in my family can eat it, and would be perfect for an afternoon treat by itself, or with generous quantities of vegan vanilla ice-cream, custard or cream for a sumptuously comforting pud.
The method, as with most vegan cakes, involves mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately and combining them at the last minute. However there are a few extra steps so I have tried to order the instructions for maximum efficiency. After greasing your tin and turning on the oven, start by measuring out the non-dairy milk and mixing in 1 tsp cider vinegar, and then making the flax or chia ‘egg’ by mixing 1 tbsp ground seeds with 3 tbsp water. Both of these get set aside while you measure the dry ingredients.
For the perfect cakey texture that doesn’t completely fall apart, I suggest using equal amounts of gluten-free flour and ground almonds, along with a small quantity oat flour (essentially oats whizzed in a blender). These are whisked together with the raising agents, spices and a little salt.
For the wet ingredients, you’ll need some apple puree. You can buy this in supermarkets (often it’s called smooth apple sauce) but it’s also really easy to make yourself. Simply peel, core and dice whatever apples you have (if using cooking apples such as bramley’s add a little sugar e.g. 1 tbsp per 500g), put in a saucepan over a medium-low heat, and cover and simmer for 25 mins. Once cool, puree with a blender and either keep in the fridge for a week or measure out into ice cube trays and freeze for use whenever you need.
To your (defrosted) apple puree, whisk in the oil, vanilla extract and soft light brown sugar (you can also use light muscavado, and caster sugar will also work but you won’t get so much caramel flavour). Add the soya milk, which should now have curdled, and the flax/chia egg which should be thick and gloopy, and whisk until combined.
Before you combine the wet and dry ingredients, you want to make sure you have all of the other ingredients ready and to hand. Peel, core and dice your eating apples (about 1–2 cm dice), and measure out your blackberries. I use frozen blackberries as they hold their shape a little better while baking, but the cake will need to be in the oven a little longer to compensate. Into small bowls measure out the demerara sugar and flaked almonds for the topping. With the oven at temperature and everything assembled, scrape the wet ingredients into the dry and stir vigorously until just combined. Stir in the diced apples until evenly distributed then stir in the blackberries. Tip into your baking tin and sprinkle over the flaked almonds and demerara sugar, then place in the oven.
The cake will need between 50–65 minutes and there are a few things to bear in mind. I suggest a baking tin or dish of approximately 20×30 cm. If your tin is on the small side and/or is ceramic rather than metal, your cake will be more likely to need the full 65 minutes. If your tin is slightly larger, or made of metal then it will probably be more like 50 minutes. Either way, check after 50 mins to see if a skewer comes out clean, in which case it’s ready, and if it needs longer but the top is looking a little dark, cover with tin foil and return to the oven.
And after all this, what should emerge is a cake that is moist and squidgy, fruity and lightly spiced, sweet and crumbly, with a delectable crunchy caramelised topping and an overall vibe that is so deliciously moreish it will make even the most avid sun-worshiper excited for autumn.
I would love to know if you try this out! You can comment below or tag me on Instagram or Twitter @greedybearbakes.
Apple, Blackberry and Almond Cake (Vegan + Gluten-free)
A moist, squidgy and fruity cake, with apples, blackberries, ground almonds and a crunchy caramelised topping
Vegan, Gluten-free, Soya-free option
For the cake:
- 1 tbsp ground flax or chia seeds + 3 tbsp water
- 150ml soya milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 50g oats (gluten-free if necessary)
- 150g gluten-free flour (or plain flour if not gluten-free)
- 150g ground almonds
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cloves (optional)
- ½ tsp salt
- 75g apple puree (or smooth apple sauce)
- 150ml light oil (e.g. vegetable, sunflower or light olive)
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 175g soft light brown sugar (or light muscovado)
- 2 medium eating apples
- 150g blackberries (fresh or frozen)
For the topping:
- 50g demerara sugar
- 35g flaked almonds (optional)
- Grease and line an approximately 20×30 cm oven-proof dish or tin with baking parchment (you can use a ceramic or pyrex dish, or a roasting or baking tin). Pre-heat the oven to 165C.
- In a small bowl mix 1 tbsp ground flax or chia seed with 3 tbsp water and set aside. In a small jug, measure 150ml non-dairy milk and mix with 1 tsp cider vinegar, and set aside.
- In a food processor, high-speed blender or spice-grinder, grind 50g oats to a flour-like texture and transfer to a large bowl along with 150g gluten-free flour, 150g ground almonds, 2 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp bicarb, 1½ tsp ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground cloves (if using) and ½ tsp salt. Whisk to combine.
- In a separate bowl or jug, mix together 75g apple puree, 150ml light oil, 2 tsp vanilla essence, and 175g soft light brown sugar. Stir in the soya milk and chia or flax mixture and whisk until everything is incorporated.
- Peel and core 2 eating apples and chop into roughly 2 cm dice. Weigh out the blackberries, and in separate bowls, weigh out the topping ingredients: 50g demerara sugar and 35g flaked almonds (if using).
- With all of the ingredients prepared and within reach, and the oven at temperature, scrape the apple puree mixture into the flour mixture and stir vigorously until just combined. Stir in the diced apple and then the blackberries until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Tip into your baking dish, level out, and sprinkle evenly with demerara sugar and flaked almonds.
- Bake for 50–65 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean (bearing in mind that there will be pockets of cooked fruit). Using a ceramic dish, a dish that is slightly smaller than 20×30 cm, or frozen blackberries, will all be lightly to increase the baking time. Check after 50 mins and if the top is browning but the batter needs longer, cover with tin foil and return to the oven.
- Cool in the tin for 10–15 minutes then transfer to a wire rack – be careful as the cake will be quite fragile due to the quantity of fruit, but will firm up a little as it cools.