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I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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« homage to alaska: trout with orange two ways | Main | morel, asparagus, and leek pasta »

torta di mele: dessert so good you'll want it for breakfast 

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)

2 eggs
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.

Reader Comments (21)

Absolutely! I'll have this for breakfast.
Angela, seems like my husband going to take me to Italy this summer. I think I'll be checking out the villa and the cooking school that you've visited.
Thanks for sharing...

June 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelra

This cake looks so delicious, and why not have it for breakfast? it has apples in it, right ;)

Thank you for your kind words on my blog. You have created a wonderful space here. I have really enjoyed browsing through your entries. Cheers!

June 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEralda

Elra: You won't be disappointed with Fontana del Papa. It's amazing! Let me know how it goes.

Eralda: Thanks for the nice note. I'm glad you enjoy this space. Cheers!

June 16, 2009 | Registered CommenterAngela

Sounds great and should be a great alternative to my other apple favourite: french apple tarte. If you learned this in Italy, you probably do have metric quantities for this recipe already. Would be so nice if you could post them as well, making things much easier for us Europeans...

June 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWolfram

I have just returned from Fontana del Papa and did actually make the apple cake with Mathilde. Unfortunately I didn't write down the recipe and Assuntina forwarded me the link to your recipe. Is it possible to let me know the quantities in metric rather than cups please! Also is it a fluid ounce of sambuca and what is meant by "1/2 cup sugar + three tablespoons"?

I hope to hear from you soon as I have got all the ingredients and am looking forward to getting cooking!

Many thanks.

June 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Hi Jenny,

Sorry for the delay in posting this!

It's one ounce of Sambucca.

The metric conversions for the sugar and flour are these:

150 grams of white sugar
150 grams of flour

The only other thing I can think to tell you is that Matilde said the temperature should be 160 C. That translates to about 320 F but I thought it took forever to cook at at that temperature in a normal oven so tried my convection setting at 325 and that seemed marginally better (it still takes a long time).

Good luck!

July 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterAngela

Absolutely loving this one.

July 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelra

Though it is not apple season here in NJ yet, I can't wait to make this.
I have a lonely bottle of Sambuca in my closet just waiting to splash over this batter!
very nice blog!

August 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Snacks

Thanks, Elra!

Stacey: I'm with you -- can't wait for apple season again. Thanks for visiting!

August 15, 2009 | Registered CommenterAngela

This looks amazing. It reminds me of a recipe my mom makes often. I add citrus zest and dried cranberries to mine.

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterOlga

Angela, I made your torta di mele, delice! we had it for Saturday breakfast. Bliss!

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterelra

This cake looks fantastic and I could easily have a piece of it for breakfast. I love the photos.
You are already in my blogroll.
Many thanks ...

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterasiajo

Olga: I love the idea of adding citrus and dried cranberries!

Elra: Your version was awesome. What beautiful photos!

Joanna: So nice to "meet" you! Your blog rocks! Thanks again for the invite to FB. Cheers!

September 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

We just got back from Fontana del Papa and I was nervous about trying to convert Matilde's Apple Cake recipe by myself. I'm so glad I found your site! Thanks so much!

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I found your site by searching for the timpano in Big Night. Lucky me! I lived in Italy for 4 months with an Italian grandmother and she always made this for me on special occasions. I'm so happy to see a recipe not in the metric system! Thanks.

January 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeann

Oh how wonderful for you, Leanne! I loved this cake when I was in Italy too -- it is such a treat!

January 24, 2010 | Registered CommenterAngela

Nice recipe.

For a touch of Queensland I used dark rum (bundaberg rum) instead of sambuca and also added some vanilla bean seeds.

Very tasty.

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralister

Nowhere does it say where to put in the 1/2 cup vegetable oil ?

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMEL

Good catch! Thanks, Mel. I just corrected it: You beat together the eggs, sugar, oil, baking powder, and Sambuca, then add the flour. Much appreciated!

February 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterAngela

Hello girl!

I wanted to let you know that I had made this cake 3 times already as well with the plums version. The eggplant parmesan also from your blog are my favorite.

I needed to let you know since I am baking it today again!



PS. Is it so hot in DC today!

Hi Mely,

I'm just getting back to my blog after vacationing in Lake Tahoe. I woke up to two inches of snow the day I left -- a nice break from hot, muggy D.C.! I'm so glad you're making the torta di mele (plum version too) and that you like the eggplant parm. Thanks for the great note. I hope you're staying cool!


June 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterAngela

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