Holiday baking: Torta di mele
For some reason I never feel guilty baking something complicated in the holidays, even if this year, my holidays are really only a break from classes rather than actual Uni work. This apple, lemon and fig layered cake is a good example of that. I always feel I need to at least take one day off (or…er, more like three so far, with work thrown in when the guilt becomes truly overwhelming).
So yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon peeling apples, slicing apples, and then arranging them for this stunning cake. In some ways the fact that this is labor intensive makes it that much more special. It means that you’ve fully decided to set aside a moment in your life for something you love, and all afternoon I was dancing in my head, not even to actual music. The laptop was set up to play some cheery tunes, and I didn’t even bother playing anything. I didn’t need to.
Given how long I spent making the thing, you’d think something immaculately, pristinely perfect would have resulted. Instead I picked the more homely looking torta di mele from Gourmet Traveller’s Italian Cookbook (The Australian version), which should still be out now (see my previous post if you want more reasons to buy it). The recipe is originally from chef David McLellan. In any case, I’m proud to say mine looks very much like the photo in the magazine, which, let’s face it, doesn’t always happen! While it may look a little like the ugly sister on the outside, on the inside it’s all very exciting.
The insides aren’t as pretty as they could have been, of course, because I was rather messy with the arranging of the apple slices, but it’s still rather interesting. Also, I know the outside looks like it’s burnt, but actually it just reflects the darker colour of the batter, which uses dark brown sugar. Also, the top is scattered with dark brown sugar and cinnamon. I know, right?!
Taste verdict: a really refreshing combination of slight tang from the apples and lemon, and rich dark cake batter. The cinnamon sugar topping and the dense sticky figs take this cake over the edge. I simply adore apples and cake, but often the apple is too dry or too raw or too soggy – not a problem here. The figs soaked up excess juices from the apples nicely. The cake was delightfully soft and moist the next day. Win! A great season transition cake, in my opinion. Oh, and did I mention it’s drizzled in glossy lemon syrup? Mmm. Thought that would get your attention. Served with double cream or vanilla ice cream, it makes a very decadent dessert. It’s very, very moist, so if you want to skip out on the syrup, that’s fine, although I couldn’t resist adding some sparkle. Makes it so much more girl-next-door, ha. If you’re sharing it, drizzle the syrup over at the last minute if you want the gloss, otherwise the cake will just drink it up. By the way, you can also convince yourself that it’s healthier than the average cake, as it uses dark brown sugar and lots of fruit. Gotta love those Italians.
I have adapted the recipe, as I ended up with waaaay too many apples. If it happens that you run out of apples, then you can always cut up some more, but now I’m stuck with slices apples tossed in lemon juice. Not problematic, but not ideal. I also omitted 100g roasted pine nuts (I think the cake has more than enough going on), and used almonds but I think you could just grease and flour your pan. Also I would line this next time, although my cake came out with some patience. I used less figs I think, and that made it more than sweet enough for me, so I have changed that. Also, while the fig seeds add a nice crunch, you could use dried dates, apricots or peaches instead, and the flavour would still be fantastic.
Torta di mele, or apple, lemon and fig layered cake
adapted from Gourmet Traveller
- 50g ground walnuts or almonds, or some plain flour
- 600g granny smith (you must use a tart cooking apple or your cake will be too sweet….trust me) apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
- 1 lemon, juice and zest
- 115g unsalted butter, melted
- 3 eggs
- 165g (3/4c) dark brown sugar
- 110g (1/2c) raw or regular caster sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 100ml milk
- 150g (1c) plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- about 100g dried figs, finely chopped
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- about 150g raw or white sugar or 180g honey
- splash (about 1 Tbs) water
- juice of half a lemon (or whole lemon if you want it tart-er)
Generously grease the sides of an 8″ springform cake tin (up to the very top), line the base with greased baking paper or foil (then place greased ring on top), and dust with ground nuts or 1 Tbs flour. Rotate pan and tap to distribute the nuts/flour evenly across every surface of the pan. Set aside.
Combine apple slices and lemon juice and zest in a bowl and toss to coat the slices. Set aside. Preheat oven to 180C (355F)
In a medium sized bowl whisk eggs, 110g of the dark brown sugar, all the caster sugar, and vanilla, until paler, creamy and thick. Stir in melted butter, then flour, baking powder and milk, until fully incorporated, but do not keep mixing once fully incorporated.
Pour a third of the batter into your cake pan and spread gently so the layer is even. Arrange a third of the apples as a single (do not do a double layer all the way around) layer on top of the batter. Scatter with half the figs. Repeat. Top with last third of the batter, then finish with apple slices.
Rub remaining dark brown sugar and cinnamon together, then scatter over the apples.
Bake cake for 1 hour and 20 minutes (check at the 1 hour 15min mark), or until a skewer inserted comes out clear (it will have some moist bits on it). Cool for twenty minutes in the pan before running a knife around the cake and removing the ring. Then let cool completely before removing foil and base.
To make syrup, simmer sugar and water for a few minutes over medium heat in a very small saucepan, until sugar is completely dissolved. Stir through lemon juice. Pour syrup over while hot.
Serve with double cream, ice cream, whipped cream or mascarpone.