A fruit sponge or cobbler

My mother loved cooking desserts, probably, I guess, because she received so many standing ovations. The earlier courses were just food for fuel, but desserts were a different matter. And the most consistent winner was probably the simplest — stewed fruit, usually apples, or blackcurrants during Christmas, topped by a butter cake. She called it a sponge, the Americans call it a cobbler. Delicious firm cake on top, bursting through to a bubbling, richly flavoured chunky fruit puree underneath. Doused with cream or ice cream, it made for a wonderful finale. Not surprisingly, in a big family, there was never any left for tomorrow. My favourite of all would be blackcurrants, but they have such a short and glorious season. blackcurrants are particularly appropriate for this sort of pudding without a base. When cooked in a pastry case, they (gooseberries too) give out a tremendous amount of juice, affecting the crispness of the pastry.

This recipe makes enough for eight. Why make less? It lasts well for days, if you can hold the children off. Use whatever stewed fruit you like in a pie. Apples, or pears, or rhubarb, or quinces, or plums or apricots, or blackcurrants, or gooseberries, or raspberries, separately or together, are my favourites. Take eight apples or a punnet of the berries as a guide for quantities for the rest. Stone the apricots and remove any loose stems from the blackcurrants and gooseberries.

8 apples

60-100g sugar for the puree

180g unsalted butter, at room temperature

200g caster sugar for the sponge

1 vanilla bean

4 eggs (at room temperature), lightly beaten

zest of 1 lemon

250g sifted self-raising flour, or plain flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder

1 cup milk, out of the fridge for an hour or so


Using whichever method you prefer, stew the fruit with the sugar until it softens. This is best done in the microwave, covered. You might like a puree, or a mix of puree and chunks of fruit, or entirely chunky. Whatever, keep it warm, or gently warm it through when you have finished making the batter.


Cream the butter with the sugar, scraping the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mix. Do it by hand for the first time. It takes time, but it is good for the spirit, and gives you the feeling in your hands forever. You never need do it again this way, but you must know how the mix feels as it goes through its various stages. The butter should be chopped into quarters and then carefully softened in your hands. Work the mix with a strong wooden spoon, adding the sugar bit by bit. It is tough work, believe me. Beat and beat and beat until the sugar is incorporated, and the mix lightens and whitens and expands. The end result will be a very light, white, fluffy mix, something like whipped cream.


Toss away the spoon and go with a whisk. It’s time for the eggs. The eggs must be added very gently and slowly. The idea is to maintain the aeration from the beating of the butter. Let the eggs drip into the butter, whisking them firmly as you go. The mixture will remain light and fluffy. If it separates, you can get it back together in a whizzer. Add the zest.


Now for the spatula. This is something like surgery. Keep thinking light as you fold in the flour, gently, little by little, alternating with the milk. You will end up with a very light, but thick, yellow- white batter, not quite at pouring consistency, but just thick enough to spread on its own.


That all takes about half an hour by hand, but a food processor or Kenwood (with K-beater) will do it in about 5 minutes. Do it that way next time.


Spread the batter over the warm stewed fruit (it must be warm), and bake in a 200°C oven for about an hour, or until the kitchen is filled with sweet smells, and a knife poked into the sponge comes out clean. Serve hot with cream, ice cream, custard, or some very cold low-fat yoghurt.

WINE: It will depend on what fruit filling you use. Botrytis white wines would be nice or even an aged spaetlese riesling style.