This Halloween was probably my spookiest to date. I attended a party which was decked out to the masses- broomsticks hanging out the windows, sharp toothed vampires, weird big babies with milk squiriting out of bottles, jack o’lantern sculptures galore and, of course a Halloween bake off.
Baking has been the focus of social gatherings for like ever, but never as inventive and complex as these days. The world’s gone bake off mad lately. When we’re not worrying about Brexit, we are worrying who will be the next Mel and Sue, and how Paul Hollywood could sell out to Channel 4. I haven’t watched this latest series, but was excited at the prospect of a seasonal bake- I love a good theme, and so at the annoucement of a Halloween bake off I went in search of autumnal flavours. Toffee apples are symbolic of this time of year for me, one of wrapping up warm, getting out in the fog to see the fireworks and breaking your teeth on illuminious red toffee apples. Or rather, like this year, staying in trying to be all smug and #hygge but proceeding to sweat over various mixing bowls, concocting a monster of a cake. This one is complete with a Snow White style poisonous apple and sharp edged confectionary to truly capture the spirit of Halloween.
I wanted to make something quite carrot cakey- sweet and spicy with cream cheese frosting, and found this amazing recipe from the Sylvia’s kitchen blog. I followed this, but found it was quite dense- more of a banana bread texture than a fluffy sponge, due to the huge measures of dates and apple. Fine, but a bit stodgy when you have a 2 layer 9 inch cake to get through. So if you want a lighter version, with less fruit, less soggy bottoms and cream cheese over buttercream, try out my recipe…
200g chopped dates
400g cooking apples peeled and grated
350g self raising flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp mixed spice
250g soft brown sugar
4 large free range eggs
150g butter, melted
a mug of english breakfast tea (no milk no sugar)
Salted caramel sauce-I used a jar of the Tesco Finest one (soz but this recipe takes long enough without knocking out a caramel)
280g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc and grease and line two, 8 or 9 inch cake tins. (You could also use half this recipe and 6 inch tins and a reduced baking time of 25-30mins)
Put the dates in a saucepan with the mug of tea and slowly bring it to the boil, let it simmer and bubble for five minutes, then whizz in a blender until smooth. Whisk the eggs and sugar and together for a good five minutes until they are nice and pale and fluffy-this is important to really get the air in!- then gradually whisk in the melted butter. Fold in the apple and date paste, then sieve over flour, bicarb and mixed spice. Gently fold it in so you don’t knock all the air out, and then split evenly between your two tins and bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean from the middle.
When you take your cakes out of the oven, prick all over with a skewer and drizzle some of the caramel sauce over both sponges, then take out the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile… make the icing. Soften your butter very briefly in the microwave and beat it up until smooth. If you have a kitchen aid that is helpful. I don’t and broke my whisk in the process. Add the cream cheese and mix further, and then sieve in the icing sugar. Blend it all together- a hand blender is ideal for this- then put it in the fridge to firm up. You could also add some salted caramel sauce here and take it up a level. I forgot to do this and was gutted.
When the cakes are cooled, sandwich them together with a good generous layer of the icing in between and the rest piled on top. Then the fun part- decoration. Contrasting textures to the cake are good so i went for ahopped up Crunchie, which looks quite like little twigs and forest debris when artfully arranged, see above. Fudge chopped into mini chunks were also scattered which worked well. You might consider drizzling some of the sauce over in a nice pattern, decorating with crushed Werther’s Originals, or foraging some cinder toffee to ‘shave’ on top. Whatever fanciness you decide, if it is caramelly or salty it will taste great.