From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia
(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)
Venetian apple cake
Torta di mele
4 tart apples
juice of 1 small lemon
150 g (5½ oz) caster (superfine) sugar, plus 2 teaspoons extra
150 g (5½ oz/1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
30 g (1 oz) cornflour (cornstarch)
1 scant teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
80 g (2¾ oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line the base and side of a 23 cm (9 in) cake tin with a removable base.
Peel and core the apples and cut them into quarters, then cut each quarter into four or five slices, depending on how big the apple is. Place in a bowl, add the lemon juice and toss so the slices are coated (this will help stop them going brown). Set aside while you prepare the batter.
Beat the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Place the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk briefly. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until well incorporated, then add the butter and vanilla and fold until well combined.
Divide the apple slices into two portions: one of about 250 g (9 oz) and the other of about 150 g (5½ oz). Cut the larger portion of apple slices in half, then fold them into the batter, including any juice from the bowl. Leave the remaining 150 g (5½ oz) apple slices uncut and set them aside.
Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Arrange the remaining apple slices in a circular pattern on top of the cake, pressing them down gently so they partially sink into the batter. Sprinkle the top with the cinnamon and the extra sugar.
Bake for 50 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Most families on the islands in the lagoon have a recipe for apple cake their nonna or grandmother used to make – simple recipes that can be whipped up in a short amount of time, using pantry ingredients and apples, which are available most of the year.
I generally use tart apples when making cakes as I find the tartness balances all the sugar you add. Granny smiths are my favourites, though fuij or pink lady will also do. The addition of cinnamon to the top of the cake is a personal thing – my mother would never have dreamed of using it on her apple cakes as my father had an aversion to it. He used to say in half-Italian half-English ‘non usar quella bloody cannella’ (‘Don’t use that bloody cinnamon’), where ‘bloody’ was pronounced more like ‘blah-di’. I leave the decision entirely up to you.