Friday, October 29, 2010

Bolzano Apple Cake

Somewhere up in the culinary expansiveness of the northeastern Italian countryside where Italy begins to edge toward Austria and Switzerland and cultures and languages co-mingle, there are quiet sighs of pleasure because of an astonishing apple pastry.

The world is full of lots of incredible apple cakes. Some are plugged with spice or rum, some are fortified with toasted nuts or glaze. Others are simple and rustic and so purely delicious they elicit your full attention. This is that kind of cake.

The genesis of this pastry begins in the Province of Bolzano-Bozen in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy. Scott Carsberg, chef at Seattle’s renowned Lampreia, trained in the region and features this creation on his menu. Even if you think you’ve had some really great Italian desserts, this apple configuration is one of those pastries that you will likely forever think about only with a kind of sacred longing.

Actually, the first thing I should say about Bolzano Apple Cake is that it is actually not a cake. It is at once a truly simple and yet mysterious thing, composed mostly of really wonderful vanilla-scented apples that are baked to mind-numbing perfection. There is a batter of sorts that barely binds the whole luscious thing together but it’s made mostly of butter, a couple of eggs, some sugar and just the sparest cascade of flour. The edges become caramelized and crunchy and the center is like an endless dreamy delicate applescape. The texture is not strictly cakey and it’s not like a custard. It almost has the mouthfeel of moist crepes but only softer and still very different.

My version of this dessert has considerably less sugar, a pinch of salt, lemon juice and lemon zest. I’ve also revised the method a bit by infusing the melted butter with vanilla bean and changing up the baking temperature.

If you love apples, this is a mother lode. The aroma emanating from the oven is the stuff of dreams. I promise.

Bench notes:
- I used Braeburn apples because I had several on my table that needed to be transformed. Granny Smith is recommended. Choose a favorite that is crisp and not too sweet.
- The original recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar. I found that amount much too sweet for my taste. I’ve reduced the amount to 3/4 C and am even tempted to reduce it a bit further to about 1/2 C + 3 T, although Granny Smiths might mediate that.
- I love the combination of apples, vanilla and lemon so I’ve replicated that delicious triad here.
- The original recipe called for baking this at 375 degrees for 50 minutes. My oven runs hot so I bake this at 350 degrees for 25 minutes and then 375 for 25 minutes. I think that works out well because the higher temperature for the full baking time seems too high to bake this delicate pastry. Don’t be tempted to bake it longer than 50 minutes.

Bolzano Apple Cake
based on a recipe from Scott Carsberg in the New York Times
Serves 8 - 10

4 oz (1 stick) butter
1 vanilla bean
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/4 lbs Granny Smith apples (4 medium-sized)
1/2 C flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C whole milk at room temperature

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9” x 2 1/2” round cake pan with butter and flour and line with parchment. Grease and flour the parchment, tapping the pan to remove any excess.

Melt the butter over low heat. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the butter. Add the vanilla pod and keep on low heat for a couple of minutes, swirling gently. (The idea is to infuse the butter with the vanilla, not to brown the butter.) Take off the heat and set aside to cool.

Place the lemon juice and lemon zest into a bowl big enough to hold the apple slices. Peel, quarter and core apples. Slice thinly and add to the bowl, tossing gently with the lemon juice and zest as you go. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Whip the eggs and the sugar until the mixture is light in color, thickened, tripled in volume and forms a ribbon when drizzled from the beater. This takes about 5 minutes on a stand mixer on medium high speed.

Remove vanilla pod from the butter and gently fold the butter into sugar-egg mixture. Fold a third of the flour into the batter alternately with half of the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Fold in the apples until every piece is coated with batter. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth out the batter and apples evenly.

Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan and raise the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for another 25 minutes until the cake is golden brown. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Remove from the pan, gently remove the parchment and invert onto a serving platter. Savor with unbridled glee.


Kate said...

Simple ingredients brought to a higher plane! I intend to try this tonight. Company is bringing what they called "a simple dinner" of soup and hearty bread and raw veggies...... so, this simple, rustic cake is providential ;)
I, too, think most desserts are too sweet and will cut the recipe down to 1/2 c or 1/3 c. I usually use 1/3 in my apple pie and like it because the fruit shines.
Thanks for another great post and amazing photos.

pastry studio said...

Kate, this sounds like a perfect dinner! I hope you and your guests enjoy every morsel.

Kathleen said...

This sounds so great. You are the very best Pastry Studio on the InterWebTubes.


Bryan said...

after reading this, i hope my apple vendor has sierra beauty apples.
it's supposed to rain tomorrow but i have to go get some.
sierra's tartness might work well with this.

the batter is interesting! i cant wait to try it. almost like a clafoutis, but not.

and i'm totally down with vanilla being the only flavoring here after the apples. with browned edges? yes, please.

Victoria said...

This is so beautiful and sounds luscious. I agree with Kate above. I generally find most desserts too sweet, yours excepted. And I love her word providential. The unseasonably hot temperatures of the beginning of the week edging toward 80 degrees have given way to perfect 50-degree fall weather. All the vegetable stands in the City and the farm stands upstate are awash with apples, wonderful apples. Nothing sounds more perfect than this.

You are the fairy godmother of the sweet table.

Lucie said...

The crisp, deep golden edges make me want to dive right into my computer with a fork. A great fall dessert!

Denise Michaels - Adventurous Foodie said...

The reason I want to make this is because it's as much apples as it is cake - that appeals to me. You never cease to amaze. Great job!

Jean said...

Fabulous way to use fresh apples from Sacramento's Sunrise Market. It really does resemble a clafoutis, except it has more butter! Hubby fell in love with the first bite. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

mr. pineapple man said...

this looks delicious!!!!

Unknown said...

I clipped this recipe from the Times when it was first published, but never got around to making it. Last Friday I tried your version, and it was outstanding!

Thanks for putting up such a wonderful blog--I've made a number of your desserts, and they're always great.

pastry studio said...

Brian, thanks so much for your very kind comments! I'm so glad you enjoyed this unique dessert. We all have so many recipes in our collection and every now and then we uncover a gem that's been in our stack for years. Thank goodness!

Emily said...

Mmmm. I have it in the oven now! 2 teaspoons of baking powder seems like a lot- is it a typo? I guess I'll find out either way in about 30 minutes :)

pastry studio said...

Emily, when saw the 2 t baking powder in the original recipe I also did a double take. But it all works out! Hope you enjoy all that apple lusciousness.

Emily said...

Well, you're right- it turned out deeelicious! I used 50% apples and 50% asian pears because that's what I had on hand. Yum. (Though I think I'd reduce the sugar even a little bit more if I use asian pears again because they are so sweet and low-acid). Thanks for a killer recipe.

saturday mike said...

I made this last night and it was, in a word, perfection.
It's simple, light and incredibly delicious. I found the vanilla flavor a refreshing change from the usual accompaniment to apples: cinnamon.
My cake didn't get quite as dark on top as it is in the photos, but I didn't want to cook it too long (per the recipe), but it was still quite tasty.
I served it with a bit of honey-infused creme fraiche.


pastry studio said...

Hello saturday mike! I'm so glad you found this cake as wonderful as I did. It's so simple and so rustic, it's hard to go wrong. Serving it with the creme fraiche is a terrific idea.

nandita said...

oh my god! what a cake this is! and its such a beautiful looker too! my sis tried it and loved it... unfortunately, i could not eat em as am allergic to eggs... any ideas on how this can go eggless...? like condensed milk / yoghurt etc..? Egg replacers really are hard on my stomach... sorry for the with the questions, but i so want to make it

pastry studio said...

nandita, I'm so sorry you aren't able to enjoy the recipe as written. I haven't tested any egg substitutes in this case so I'm not able to suggest anything that is workable since they are a main ingredient.

I've only ever worked with the Ener-G Replacer so my experience is very limited with substituting eggs. Eggs are a source of fat (which helps tenderize) and a binder so I don't think that yogurt or condensed milk would be the answer. It's a difficult one to try and guess with regard to this recipe. I might be tempted to try applesauce and maybe add just a little bit of cornstarch but I don't have a definitive answer and can't recommend anything without testing. So sorry!

sidra said...

I just made this cake; it tastes like warm apples. I think my apples might have been too big, because I feel like there is too much apple relative to actual cake. It's not bad but a little bland. The flavor reminds me of french toast. But my family is still eating it so it's worth a second try. I think next time I might use tarter apples or more lemon juice, a bit of cinnamon and more flour (or less apple).

pastry studio said...

Hi Sidra. I think the cake is predominantly apples and appeals to people who would probably like something like maybe a Dutch Apple Pancake. It's almost as if the chef wanted a vehicle just to display the delicious quality of the fruit! Let me know if you try it with less apples and how that turns out since the batter has a lot of butter.

Sidra said...

Well amazingly it is 6 pm now and the cake is completely gone! My dad actually liked it alot and said it was one of my best desserts! I was surprised to hear that, but maybe that means I'm unusual in my french toast opinion. I like your blog though and will comment after trying a few other recipes from it.

pastry studio said...

Sidra, well that's an interesting turn! I think sometimes when people think of apple cake they do expect it to be more cakey. This recipe is unusual but I really think it's really terrific. Please do comment in the future!

Chocoholic said...

Ohhh~ It's in my oven now..and the batter looks sooo thin that I'm scared...hehe. But reading all the comments makes me feel slightly more reassured. Thank you lotss for the recipe! Crossing my finger as it bakes! >.< I added some cinnamon into it..but only cause I can't resist the apple pie fanatic in me! Hopefully it comes out just as good as yours did =)