A spiced apple cake born out of procrastination


You’ll often hear freelancers, or people who work from home, say that their house has never been cleaner than when they’re working to a deadline. Especially if their line of work happens to be creative. Soothing is the regimented task of bleaching out the bathroom tiles, or following the prescribed formula of re-alphabetising a bookshelf when you’re supposed to be sifting through the messier parts of your brain hoping to find gold.

It’s a peculiar kind of ennui that can set in when you find yourself filled with ideas but unable to focus them in any particular direction. I’ve spent the last six months working as a freelance writer and the hunt for commissions takes up a lot of my time, but when an editor bites, actually writing the thing can become more daunting than the prospect of a financial drought, should my pitch emails go unanswered. I’ve mapped out an entire short story collection while spending my evenings running (my latest form of procrastination), but when it comes to committing ideas to words, I’m stumped. What if those ideas sound naive and juvenile once let loose from my own mind? How could I possibly create something that isn’t a laughable imitation of all the Nora Ephron, Miranda July, A.L. Kennedy, Raymond Carver or Samuel Beckett I’ve been filling my mind with lately in an attempt at expertise by osmosis? Beckett! Who do you think you are? Says the sleep-preventing voice of self-doubt that whispers in my ear at 3am most Sundays.

This isn’t a case of writer’s block, to me that self-aggrandising excuse conjures images of old Victorian novelists, clutching their brows while waiting to be struck with a lightening bolt of inspiration. Instead it’s a creeping sense of inadequacy, a resistance to creating for fear it won’t be good enough, the feeling of drowning in a sea of ideas that rages stormily, out of my control.

With cooking, there’s none of that. You follow reliable steps, safe in the knowledge that you will have a tangible end product. Even a recipe that doesn’t turn out as you expected, it still yields a valuable thing. Your story may turn out to be boring or derivative, but you can still enjoy a dry roast chicken with enough gravy.

And so I found myself yesterday, amidst a slew of writing deadlines, accountable to actual editors and ones I’d imposed on myself, baking a spiced apple cake. I have no need for cake. Sweet things have never been my favourite, I’m always ridiculously chasing a weight five pounds below what it’ll ever be and I certainly don’t have the money to splash on ingredients for the most superfluous of foods. You can’t have cake for breakfast, lunch or dinner (although that’s what I’ll be doing now that I have a massive, unnecessary cake that needs eating), and I don’t have plans for guests to consume it.

But while I may have only got through two thirds of my work yesterday, and god knows when I’ll manage to move the stories I’ve been thinking about beyond wild declarations in the pub, I found triumph in the simplicity of a cake. It was the kind of damp sponge created by baking stewed fruit into it at the bottom of the pan, like an ‘Eve’s pudding’ I distinctly remember my mother making once, even though she never really baked (hey, maybe she had work to do). Laced with cloves, cinnamon and star anise its flavour turned out to be as warming as the comfort I got from feeling like I’d achieved at least something this weekend.

So here’s the recipe, should you find yourself in need of a creative escape, or just fancy a simple, autumnal dessert.

Writing about avoiding writing might seem paradoxical, I know, but then I’m sitting here with my coat on, avoiding going to the gym, ‘just quickly bashing out a couple of sentences’ that came to mind while staring mindlessly out the window earlier. Justifying wasting time on the internet in The New Yorker recently, Kenneth Goldsmith said that ‘drifting, daydreaming, and procrastination have long been a part of the writing process’. Here’s hoping he’s right.


6 apples (I used Granny Smith, any kind will do)

250g of butter

220g of caster sugar (plus a spoonful more for the topping)

200g of wholemeal flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (Side-note, I was out of baking powder and 2tspns of bicarb worked fine)

4 eggs

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

A few cloves

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of all spice

1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

100mls of ginger wine

A handful of sultanas

A handful of oats

A handful of flaked almonds


Peel and chop the apples into cubes. Place in a saucepan with a nob of butter, the ginger wine, the cinnamon, cloves and the star anise and allow to stew on a med heat for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally. It should end up looking like apple pie filling. Remove the whole spices and set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.

Whisk the eggs and little by little, alternately add them, the baking powder/bicarb and the flour, sieved, to the butter and sugar, whipping in as you go.

Stir in the powdered spices, the sultanas and a couple of tablespoons of the apple mix.

Grease a cake tin with butter and add the apples. Top with the cake batter and spread evenly.

Bake at 180c for 45mins-1hr, checking that a knife comes out dry before removing from the oven.

Meanwhile, add the oats, almonds and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to a dry frying pan. Allow the sugar to melt and toast the nuts and oats in it while constantly stirring, being careful not to burn it (turn the heat down med-low once the sugar bubbles), for a few mins. Spread onto a chopping board to cool.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool for ten mins. Turn out onto a plate allowing the apples to tumble over the cake.

Break up the oat/almond mix and sprinkle over the cake. Slice and serve warm with vanilla ice cream now, and cold with a cup of tea later.




2 Responses to “A spiced apple cake born out of procrastination”

  1. Helen Says:

    I hear you on the freelancing. My god, do I hear you. Problem is though, when your freelance work is cooking, sometimes the relaxing stuff becomes stressful, like when a recipe doesn’t work. Argh! Cooking for pleasure like this is one thing and then cooking as a job…I’m constantly terrified I might ruin it for myself. Anyway I must get back to writing now…or maybe I’ll just put a wash on first.

  2. Charlie Elliott (@charlienin) Says:

    I’m terrible for procrastinating, especially when I have deadlines. Luckily though (or unluckily many would think), I work in an office, so any procrastinating baking can be taking away from my house the next day and I don’t feel like I have to eat it all. Because I will!
    charliedistracted.com / Bloglovin

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