I was once again at a loss for something to write about this week when providence struck. It is after all, almost the holiday season. The ski stations are getting ready to open, the crazy perfume commercials are starting to make a timid appearance on television before they start their all out onslaught in December straight through to Valentine’s day and Beaujolais Nouveau day is on Thursday.
Beaujolais Nouveau actually has nothing to do with the holiday season.
But the local pompiers do.
Pompier is French for fireman. Don’t get them confused with pamplemousse, like I did my first year in France because if you tell people you have to call the grapefruit they will think you are a fruit. Never fear, my husband once confused the English word avocado with the French word for lawyer: avocat. That was a crazy New Years.
Each year, to kick off the holiday season les Pompiers go door to door brandishing , not axes or firefighting gear or asking if your cat is OK, but calendars. That’s right calendars. Which for a nominal donation they will give you your calendar for the coming year, a receipt that names you a friend of your local fire department, and a handshake and best wishes for a bonne fête.
My first year in France, I was home alone when the pompiers arrived, but I was prepared. Peter Mayle mentions this yearly ritual in his masterwork A Year in Provence. I was excited. I gave them 20 Euros. They were excited. My husband returned home and I told him about the firemen.
“You gave them 20 Euros!!!” His jaw dropped.
“5 Euros is typically the maximum.”
Well, Americans are known for over-tipping in Europe anyway, aren’t they?
Unfortunately, I think there’s a reason for these low and somewhat depressing donations. The content of the calendars are boring. Photos of equipment abound: trucks and hoses, the planes to collect sea water that gets dumped on the summer brush fires, fireproof jackets, axes and helmets are all good things to have. But where’s the beefcake? Aren’t firefighters supposed to be physically fit with cool tattoos? That’s what I want to see. And as I said to my husband when I flipped through this years’ calendar, even without a job I’d be willing to give a bit more money for a bit more beefcake.
So Pompiers de la France, take a hint. Sex sells. This is France after all.
In conclusion, I made apple cake.
What intrigued me about this recipe, found once again in the latest issue of Saveurs (French edition) is that there is no butter. Only oil, milk and a whole lot of eggs.
It’s a super simple recipe. Almost too simple. But that isn’t really a bad thing as that leaves a ton of room for improvement. My husband suggested more apple than the four small ones I used. I proposed walnuts and even replacing the oil with butter – maybe a half and half kind of a thing.
It was super light, super moist and actually got better after a day out on the counter. I recommend giving this one a go when you need an easy and very adaptable cake for a holiday party. Preferably one your mother-in-law tells you about at the last minute.
- 4-6 medium to large apples
- 4 eggs
- 150 g powdered sugar
- 170 g flour
- 1 packet (about 2 tsp) baking powder
- 3 tbsp neutral oil
- 4 tbsp milk
- some powdered sugar for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 180°C
- Peel and cut the apples into small, thin slices. Set aside. Maybe add a little bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning if you desire.
- In a large bowl beat the eggs and sugar until it whitens: if you’re doing this by hand it’s going to take about 10-15 minutes. Get that elbow grease going. Add the flour and baking powder and mix just until homogeneous. Then add the milk and the oil and mix until you have a smooth shiny batter.
- In a greased cake tin, pour in some of the batter – about half – then add half the apples. Pour the last half of the batter on top and then add the rest of the apples. It’s going to seem like ALOT of apple, but it’s all good. Trust me.
- Cook 30-40 minutes. The top should be nicely browned when done.
- Let cool and powder the top with a bit of sugar. Serve.