There’s something about seeing boats and the sea that always soothes me, whether the sea is calm or stormy, and if I ever feel a bit down and just need to get outside, I tend to seek out a view of the ocean. This was easy enough in St Andrews, where there was only a squat church and some rather high cliffs that separated the end of my street and the sea. I was spoilt – there were plenty stunning sea views around town, and most of them no more than a 5 minute walk from my flat, if that. Here in Auckland, I’m not quite as lucky, but the Viaduct harbour is a 15 minute walk from my flat, and full of beautiful yachts, so I can’t complain too much. This weekend I happened to be near the harbour as the sun was setting, so I headed over for a wander around (incidentally, there are restaurants and bars around the harbour, so there are always people around and it feels quite safe to hang around even in the evenings).
I hadn’t realised that I’d been feeling quite so down until I got to the harbour and watched the sun set over the gorgeous yachts. Feeling more at peace (and having satisfied my Instagram addiction for the day), I headed home and baked, just to reinforce my improved mood. I find the process of creating something scrumptious out of butter, flour, sugar, eggs and a few added extras really therapeutic (well, when it works… which isn’t always the case). The only problem with baking to cheer myself up is that, whilst I do have a sweet tooth, there’s no way I can eat an entire batch of cupcakes or a whole cake all by myself before they go stale (except that Greek yoghurt and honey cake, which provided me with breakfast for several days, thanks to the syrup that kept it moist and flavourful). Luckily the issue is easily solved by bringing surplus baked goods into the lab, and they get polished off rather quickly.
My post-harbour baking choice was an apple and pecan streusel cake, a fantastic autumnal combination made with the last of the season’s apples (actually, I think the season might have just ended here, so I guess we’re now getting the stragglers that were hanging out in storage). I love pecans, but sadly they tend to be a little expensive, so I hoard them whenever they’re on sale (which is how I happened to have 325g of pecans lying around). The cake itself is moist thanks to the apples, with a bit of crunch running through it due to the pecans, and topped off more pecans in the form of a crunchy pecan and brown sugar streusel topping (I never said it was a healthy cake). I really think it’s the topping that makes this cake so special. Some of the topping fell off the cake in transport (although more of it stayed intact than I was expecting), and once all the cake was gone, fingers were surreptitiously dipping into the cake tin to pick up remaining bits of topping. The tin was exceptionally clean by the time we were done…
Apple & pecan streusel cake
Makes about 25 squares
Adapted from Bubby’s Brunch Cookbook
This cake makes a wonderful afternoon snack, accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee, and is delicious served both warm or cold. It would also work very well with walnuts instead of pecans (the original recipe actually uses walnuts). The cake will keep for a few days in an airtight container.
For the streusel topping:
110g light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
15g unsalted butter
For the cake:
100g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
312g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2 large apples
225g unsalted butter
4 medium eggs
250ml (230g) sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1. Line a 22 x 30 cm baking tin with baking paper (or if you don’t have such a large tin, use a 19 x 25 cm baking tin and a 9 x 20 cm loaf tin). Preheat the oven to 175°C.
2. Prepare the streusel topping. Roughly chop the pecans and mix them together in a medium mixing bowl with the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingertips until crumbly. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine the two sugars for the cake. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt. Set both aside. Roughly chop the pecans and dice the apple into 1cm pieces. Set aside.
4. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the butter in a large bowl for 2-3 mins until pale and fluffy. Add the sugar gradually, and mix until fully incorporated. Then beat in the eggs one by one, making sure to beat well between each addition. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla (don’t worry if it looks like the mixture has curdled, this will be fixed in the next step).
5. Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated, but with no visible flour. Fold in the apples and pecans.
6. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking tin(s), and try to spread it out more or less evenly (I found that the batter wasn’t very spreadable, but just do the best you can, and make sure to push it into the corners). Evenly sprinkle the topping over the cake.
7. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 mins before either cutting into squares to serve or allowing to cool fully on a wire rack.