torta di mele: apple cake recipe
I remember a school trip around the Peak District in Derbyshire when I was about eight or nine. On the itinerary was a last stop for “high tea”. I had no idea what this entailed and to be honest still don’t quite know the difference between high and afternoon tea. Despite having spent quite some time in Italy where of course coffee is the drink of choice the idea of tea and cake on a sunny afternoon is an English tradition I still hanker after.
Now dont get me wrong, I am sure there are some delicious Le Marche cakes out there but the ones I have tried are a tad dry for my taste so we have had to adapt and this apple cake recipe from Maryberry, it uses the traditional italian ingredients for the “pasty” mix but the addition of apple adds moisture and creates a cake that is perfect for afternoon tea, or breakfast, or after dinner or…
- 225g self-raising flour
- 1 level tsp baking powder
- 225g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 150g butter, melted
- 250g cooking apples, peeled and cored
- 25g flaked almonds
- Beat the the the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, almond extract and melted butter together for a minute or so. spread half the mix on the bottom of a cake tin - 20cm spring sided best - lined with buttered grease-proof paper. layout the cut apples and cover with the rest of the mix and sprinkle the flaked almonds on top. cook for about an hour and a half.
In poor Italian households this cake is one of the oldest of all, traditionally children would take a hot slice wrapped in paper to nibble on the way to school. Chestnuts are plentiful in Italy and so the flour is cheap, or free if you collect dry and grind the chestnuts yourself. Chestnut flour is a useful alternative to wheat flour as it is gluten free and therefore suitable for celiacs. This recipe has no added sugar and so is also very healthy.
Unlike a traditional fruitcake the fruit and nuts are added to the top of the cake rather than mixed with the dough, which is simply chestnut flour and water.
Being quite heavy and dry to modern tastes I have modified the recipe and instead of water I use milk. I also add 100g of sugar, an egg, a couple of tbs of sunflower oil and half the fruit to the batter mix. This helps it rise and give the base a bit more taste and I am afraid I do prefer the sweetness a little sugar adds!
450g chestnut flour
cold water to mix
1 tbs caraway seeds
3 tbs chopped pinenuts (or almonds)
pinch of salt
Soak the sultanas in cold water 15 minutes, drain and dry on kitchen roll. Sieve together chestnut flour and salt, stir in enough cold water to make a stiffish batter, slightly stiffer than a pancake batter.
Oil a shallow cake tin (I use a skillet – frying pan with a metal handle) and pour in the batter, smooth with the back of a spoon and scatter with caraway seeds, remaining sultanas and almonds
Bake in reasonably hot oven around 190c, for 20 minutes or until surface is crispy. serve straight from the oven or cold with a glass of dry white wine suitably chilled.
Autumn fruits and religion seem to go hand in hand through myth and legend.
According to mythology the fig tree was created by Gaia the Mother Earth, to hide her son Syceus who was a giant fleeing from the wrath of Zeus. Perhaps that explains why each year I am faced with pruning back a gigantic amount of new wood growth on my trees!
Adam and Eve supposedly covered their nakedness using fig leaves but I bet they regretted that move as fig leaf sap is notorious for causing terrible blisters when combined with sunlight!
In Greek and Roman mythology Dionysus (Bacchus to the Romans), God of wine and fertility, and Priapus, a Satyr who symbolized sexual desire are both connected with the fig which probably goes some way to explain it’s less than savoury use in the local dialect!
Even the Buddha has a connection with the fig as apparently he achieved enlightenment one day in 528 BC while sitting under a Bo tree. The Bo is a kind of fig.
Almonds also have a special place in legend and folklore and are given, strictly in odd numbers, as tokens of hope and good fortune in religious ceremonies around the world.
The Romans showered newlyweds with almonds as a fertility charm, sugared almonds are still presented to wedding guests today in Italy and elsewhere.
According to the Bible the almond tree is a symbol of divine approval. At Christmas time in Sweden they eat a cinnamon-flavoured rice-pudding with an almond hidden inside. The lucky finder gets good luck for the year, always assuming they didn’t choke on it first!
Here in Italy at Christmas time the tradition is to give ‘Torrone’ as a gift. Torrone is a type of confectionary, typically made from honey, sugar and egg-white and toasted almonds. It’s chewy, delicious, bringing good luck to all who eat it and I’m fairly certain that it goes some way to pay for Dentists’ skiing holidays in January…