O.K., I’m envisioning a quiet little spot in the house – a perfect little spot that would transport me and Murph, a pair of big comfy wing chairs and an ancient tea table from Maine, into an old cozy cottage in Ireland – anywhere in Ireland would be fine by me!
I’m thinking the sitting room at Connecticut Country House would be perfect. This little room is just that - little, retaining the most authenticity of this 18th century house with it’s wavy plaster walls and ceiling, and 9 over 6 wavy glass windows. To me, spontaneously moving things – like furniture – is no big deal. (Murph affectionately – maybe it’s more like jokingly – calls it ‘Murphy Aerobics’.) By pushing things around to different spots really does transform a space. And my mission today is to transform my wee sitting room (a little Irish note there) into my make believe Irish cottage that I will reveal to you tomorrow on St. Patrick’s Day in Part Two – the decor.
When I think of a tea in an ancient Irish cottage, I think simplicity, charm, and a kind of down to earthiness. In my case, the timing will be for a breakfast tea, featuring a black tea, Twining’s Irish Breakfast Tea (naturally) and an Irish Apple Cake – sort of a cross between a coffee cake and a tart. Simplicity at it’s best – presented and enjoyed in a spot set with a lot of thought and care – the characteristics I remember best of my first time in Ireland.
I chose an apple cake because legend has it that St. Patrick planted an apple tree in Armagh County – today also called “Orchard County” – known for its apple blossom tours and festivals. I found this cake easy to make, and so honest in its appearance and deliciously satisfying flavor.
An Honest Apple Cake
(Serves 8-12, depending on the size of your slices)
2 large baking apples (I used Matsu apples)
1 1/4 cup self-rising flour (I did not have this on hand – I used Swan’s Down Cake Flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (have a little extra on hand for greasing the pan)
Optional garnish: Confectioner’s sugar for dusting, if you are serving it cold. Sprigs of fresh mint.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take a 9-inch springform pan, and grease generously with butter.
Make the crumb topping first. Sift the flour into a medium sized bowl and cut the butter into it. With your hands, work the two parts together by rubbing them together with your hands. It will turn into a bread crumb-like texture. Then fold in the sugar with your hands. This part is done – set aside for now.
For the cake, peel the apples, core, and then slice pretty thin – about 1/8 – 1/4 inch thickness. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and the sugar until light in color and smoothly blended. Add the eggs and beat at low speed. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, and salt – and gradually add flour mixture to the wet mixture – beat on low. Gradually add the milk. When fully incorporated – you’re done mixing.
Scoop the batter into the greased springform pan and make as level as you can. Using a circular design, place the apple slices on top of the batter. Finish off with the crumb mixture.
Bake for 1 hour or until lightly browned and firm to your touch. Serve warm, or completely cooled with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar (my fav when it comes to elevating the look of a dessert). If you serve this warm for a dessert – try it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream!
Until tomorrow with Part 2 – Erin go bragh!