“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul,” Jean Cocteau
A short post this week, but with a recipe that warmly invites Autumn into the kitchen. If you have an apple tree go out and gather any windfalls; give them a scrub and a chop. You are now one step closer to a house saturated with the comfort-blanket aroma of Autumn spices: like a Glade candle, but nicer – and more edible.
The little quote is how I feel about my two cats, Max and Mimi. Sadly, Max is very unwell and is unlikely to be with us for much longer. This week has seen us all focused on caring for Max in the best way we know how – the medical and nutritional care, but more importantly the increasingly gentle strokes and cuddles from a family besotted. As corny as it sounds, I feel time slow and become more precious when he is curled up against my arm, his little head resting contentedly and companionably on my shoulder. I think – I hope – Max feels our devotion to him.
For years Max has been the unofficial king of our cul-de-sac, patrolling his radius of influence with majesty and extreme fluffiness. His assuredness – and possibly kinship with us – extended to following us, dog-like, to the post box a couple of blocks away. People would drive past and do an amused double take at the sight of black and white, long-haired Max running to keep up with us, his coat ruffling and swishing with every step. Now his kingdom is confined to our drive and back step, but still he stands and observes, with the same seriousness of purpose. He has definitely been the visible soul of our house.
Max using a storm-felled branch as a scratching post
So this recipe is really about me and my family wanting a bit of comfort; you can’t remain too sad when you smell this cake baking. You don’t of course need such motivation to make this slightly sweet and decadently moist cake. It’s a perfect Autumn recipe, whatever your mood. And, as ever, it is a little bit good for you too.
Apple and Oat Bars
Don’t be shocked by the amount of apples in this recipe, they are essential to keeping the bars moist, as well as adding flavour and nutrients. Use any apples you like but do keep the skin on. Although the ingredients look a bit worthy these bars really do taste very nice, and are popular with children; they love the warm spices. If you don’t have all of the specified spices just use the ones you do have and maybe increase them a little.
You could make this recipe as soft biscuits, but I prefer the ease of pressing the mixture into a pan rather than fiddling with shaping individual mounds of dough. If you do make these as biscuits grate the apple and only bake for between 9 and 12 minutes. As biscuits they don’t really spread much so you might want to flatten them a bit with the back of a wet fork.
150 g dark brown sugar
100 g butter, softened, or 75 ml rapeseed oil
2 eggs or vegan egg replacer (I use Vegan Whole Egg Replacer from Allergycare, available widely from health food stores and on-line)
½ tsp vanilla extract
125 g plain unbleached flour, or ½ wholemeal and ½ plain (can use gluten-free flour, e.g. Dove’s brand)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
good pinch of ground cardamom (from the seeds of about 8 green cardamom pods)
150 g porridge oats (Nairn’s have gluten-free oats)
200 g chopped apple (any kind you like)
To top: 50 g walnuts or pecans, chopped roughly – OR sesame seeds (optional)
chock full of autumn apples
Fully line a 18 x 23 cm baking tin with baking parchment. I tend to use two crossed pieces, or to use one large piece and notch where it will fit into the tin’s corners, so that it overlaps.
Mix together the sugar and butter, or oil, and beat until a bit fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the remaining ingredients, folding in the apples at the end. Press this fragrant mixture into the prepared tin with wet fingers and top with the chopped nuts or sesame seeds, pressing these lightly into the mixture. Bake the cake at 180C for 25-28 minutes, or until it is just starting to pull away from the sides of the tin. Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars. The bars will keep for up to four days in an airtight tin, and they freeze well.
Makes 16 bars/squares