This extraordinarily deep-flavoured stew is one for a day when there is frost on the ground. The inclusion of apple sauce isn’t quite as daft as it sounds, and there is much magic to be found at the point where the sharp apple sauce oozes into the onion gravy. Boiled potatoes as big as your fist, their edges bruised and floury, are the ideal accompaniment.
Set the oven at 180°C/Gas 4. Melt the butter in a large casserole to which you have a lid. The heat should be quite sprightly. Cut the beef into four pieces, each nicely seasoned with salt and black pepper, then lower into the lightly sizzling butter. Let the meat colour on one side, then turn it over. Peel, halve and thinly slice the onions while the meat browns. Once coloured, remove the meat to a plate and lower the heat.
Add the onions to the pan, with the leaves from the thyme sprigs, and cook over a low to moderate heat until the onions are soft and pale gold.
Stir in the flour and leave until it is the palest biscuit colour, then pour in the beer and add the bay leaves. Once the sizzling has subsided and it is approaching boiling point, return the beef and its juices to the pan and lower the heat. Season with salt and black pepper, cover with a lid and place in the oven. Leave for a good hour to an hour and a half.
Peel the apples for the sauce, core them and cut into rough chunks.
Put them into a pan with a little water and the butter and bring to the boil.
Turn down the heat, cover with a lid and leave to cook to a sloppy mass.
Sweeten with a little sugar and the ground cinnamon, then beat with a fork or wooden spoon till smooth.
Lift the lid from the casserole and stir in the jelly. Check the seasoning, adding salt, pepper and jelly as you go. Serve with the apple sauce.