Going back home is always very inspiring.
I spent Easter with my grandmother in Germany, in the little town I was born in. My Oma (the German word for grandmother) lives in an idyllic spot - looking out the kitchen window to the left side, all you see are open green fields that stretch out as far as the eye can see. In the middle, a cherry tree orchard in full bloom for spring, pink cherry blossom petals flittering everywhere in the wind. On the right side, a thick pine forest that smells of a million happy exploratory childhood memories.
Above all this: wide open, big blue skies, filled with parallel & criss-crossing plane trails in the daytime, and endless twinkling stars at night - the universe sprawled out before my eyes. Coming from London, my Oma's is truly the greatest escape, somewhere I can just be myself, think, plan and dream.
As most of you know, my Oma is the inspiration for my passion for baking. Both she and her father ran a bakery from when she was just a young girl, and the stories she tells me about it fascinate me to this day - I could sit there for hours listening to her stories.
The most interesting of which I found is that way back in the day, the way bakeries worked was quite different to how they work now: the customers would bring in most of the ingredients for what they wanted baked, and the baker would provide the flour, and perhaps a few other basic ingredients, and would then bake the desired cake. I love the idea, it's such an organic process, and if for some reason you couldn't bake, which back in those days, not everyone could, you would know exactly what's going in your cake.
Oma learned so much during those early days, and the result was 112 books filled with her recipes, all meticulously handwritten in pencil. I spent most of my Easter holiday last week at her kitchen table surrounded by piles of those books, going through them with her, trying to find some interesting recipes, recipes I haven't tried before, and some old favourites, making notes as I went along.
One of those favourites is this apple pancake.
A traditionalist through and through, my Oma likes doing things by the book, whereas I love experimenting, trying new things, mixing up ingredients, changing amounts and mould/tin shapes, and having fun while doing it, not taking it too seriously - you don't always have to be precise and follow things exactly to the gram to make something this comforting & delicious.
This recipe was originally something very traditionally German that you would have as a light lunch. It's so easy to make by just stewing a few apples and adding some pancake batter to the pan. I've changed it slightly by putting them in bowls and baking them instead of frying them, so if you're going to try them out, just remember you can achieve similar results in a pan over a medium heat.
The smell of the apples and vanilla is probably one of the most comforting smells I have ever known, reminiscent of fun times spent in the kitchen, and around a lunch table in the garden with family and friends.
Baked Apple Pancake Recipe (printable version)
3tbs amber sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
4 apples, cored, peeled and cut into eighths
1tsp vanilla paste
100g plain flour
2tbs caster sugar
A pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 220˚C. Mix the apple pieces with the lemon juice, vanilla paste and amber sugar.
2. Melt the butter in a large pan and add the apple mixture. Allow to stew for 5 minutes, stirring constantly - the smells emanating from the pan at this point is amazing. Place an equal amount of apples in 4 bowls, holding back the buttery liquid in the pan.
3. Mix the flour, caster sugar, salt, eggs and milk to form the pancake batter. Fold under any buttery mixture remaining in the pan.
4. Pour the batter over the apples in the bowls. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
5. Serve immediately, topped with vanilla yogurt and/or rhubarb & ginger conserve.