It doesn't seem right that a cake this good requires so little effort. There should be numerous steps and layers of complexity, right? A secret tome, perhaps? Thankfully that's not the case because I'm no baker. When it comes to making desserts, easy preparations rule.
I learned to make this delicious, torta di mele (apple cake) at the Italian cooking school and farm Fontana del Papa near Rome where I spent three days cooking and eating (emphasis on the eating). After trying it for dessert, I couldn't get enough of the moist texture and sweet, apple flavor so I asked the hosts of the charming 16th century B&B if I could have it for breakfast too.
The next morning, they brought me the leftover cake on their sunny patio and served it along with the perfect pairing -- a strong Italian cappuccino.
The recipe, taught to me by cooking instructor Matilde Viozzi, couldn't be simpler: You blend together eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, flour, baking powder, and a shot of sambuca, and then top the batter with apples slices.
Most torta di mele recipes don't include sambuca but I can see why Matilde added it. Aside from the slight licorice flavor it adds to the cake, it's a specialty of the region. According to the sambuca maker Molinari, the anise-flavoured drink was first produced in 1851 in Civitavecchia, just a few miles from Fontana del Papa.
Torta di mele (apple cake)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 ounce Sambuca
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
3 tart Granny Smith apples
Preheat a convection oven to 325 degrees. Peel and core the apples and cut them into thin slices. Set the apple slices aside. Beat together the eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, Sambuca, and baking powder in a large bowl. Slowly beat in the flour until the batter is smooth.
Butter and flour a 9-inch spring form baking pan. (Matilde used a slightly larger pan with four apples instead of three. I found the 9-inch pan with three apples works great. Go with what you have.)
Pour the batter into the pan. Layer the apple slices so they overlap, as shown in the photos, below. Make sure to push the apples down into the batter so that the apple slices are firmly nestled. You want to pack them in tightly.
Bake for 60 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and serve.