I've been reading Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast for about two years now. It's a trilogy set within the walls of a large and oppressive castle, filled with strange people. To give you a taste of what the book is like, none of the incredibly large cast of characters likes anyone else, nor are they likeable themselves. A mother gives birth to the heir to the throne and tells the nurse not to bring the child back to her until he is six. The narrative is also incredibly punishing to read; Peake will spend several pages describing a room, but an important character dies and it's covered in a single paragraph.
Somehow, I managed to persevere and read two of the three books in the Gormenghast series (with a long gap between them). After a good few attempts at starting the third, however, I've decided to end the masochism and put the book down.
I was contemplating picking the book up to read it and, realising that one should not feel boredom when just thinking of such an act, decided that enough was enough. I asked myself if I would regret it if I never found out what happened to Titus Groan (the heir mentioned above, and protagonist of the final book), and decided that the answer was no. There are more books that I would rather lend my time to, and if I died reading this one I'd regret not having read the others more than not finishing Gormenghast.
I suppose the moral to this story is that some things in life are just not worth the struggle, and it's not a bad thing to let them go.
Now, before I deposit Gormengast at the local charity shop whilst laughing maniacally, let's talk about this Brandy Apple & Caramel Upside Down Cake. It is moist. It is dense. It is packed with apple chunks and practically oozing caramel. It has a brandy-vanilla background flavour that really accentuates the main ingredients. Though the cake is of the Upside Down variety, it looked pretty impressive when it came out of the oven:
This cake can be served hot or cold, but at this time of year I think it would go down best warmed up with custard or ice cream.
For the caramel
- 160g Caster Sugar
- 100mL Double Cream
- 25mL Brandy
- 25g Butter
For the cake
- 3 Medium Apples (I used Gala)
- 200g Caster Sugar
- 200g Butter
- 3 Eggs
- 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
- 50mL Brandy
- 200g Plain Flour
- 2 Tsp Baking Powder
For the caramel
- Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a low heat.
- Without stirring, let the sugar caramelise until golden brown. Lift the pan and gently swirl the sugar around to ensure it browns evenly.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, followed by the cream and the brandy.
- Place to one side.
For the cake
- Preheat the oven to 160C and line a loaf tin with baking parchment.
- Peel and chop two of the apples into small cubes, then place to one side.
- Peel and slice the third apple. Layer the slices in the bottom of the loaf tin.
- Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the batter is smooth.
- Fold in the vanilla extract and brandy.
- Sieve the flour and baking powder into the batter and fold in.
- Cover the apple slices in the loaf tin with caramel.
- Cover with 2/3 of the cake batter, then pour the remaining caramel over.
- Use a spoon to swirl the caramel and batter together a bit.
- Cover with the remaining batter.
- Place in the oven for 1 hour 15 mins, or until a skewer comes out without any batter on it (it will pick up caramel and apple at the same time). Pro tip: put a baking tray on the shelf below the cake as it bakes to catch any caramel that bubbles over.
- Flip the cake upside down onto a serving dish and allow to cool (or eat hot).
This month I set the Baking With Spirit challenge as warming. This cake is my entry as it contains brandy (thus passing the alcohol requirement), and is excellent served warm.