Bolzano (Bozen) is located in the Italian province of Trentino-Alto Adige in the farthest northeastern region of Italy, bordering Switzerland and Austria. Torta Tutta Mele (All Apple Cake) from Bolzano is a good example of the gastronomy of this cultural melting pot and a classic northern Italian peasant dessert. Torta means cake in Italian. But it can also refer to a pie, tart or pastry. The first thing I should say about Torta Tutta Mele is that it is actually not a cake but more like a crustless, custard-y apple pie. Often referred to as “magical apple cake” and “invisible pie” on Italian food blogs, it is a simple and mysterious dessert, composed mostly of layers of apples held together by a light batter creating a soft, custard-like texture with caramelized edges and a golden-brown top.
The vanilla and cardamom scented batter barely binds the whole luscious thing together. Made of butter, a couple of eggs, some sugar and just the smallest amount of flour, the texture is not cakey and not exactly like a custard, but similar to a dense clafoutis. I use Granny Smith apples, my favorite baking apple. They cook up nicely without losing their shape and are tart enough to balance out the sweet batter. I also tested the recipe with Honey Crisp apples, which worked well, but resulted in a sweeter dessert. This torta is simple, elegant and quick to make. Once the apples are peeled and sliced, the rest is just “a piece of cake”! Although it is delicious served unadorned, a drizzle of caramel sauce makes it oh, so yummy!
Torta Tutta Mele
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1½ pounds apples, peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
- 4 ounces butter, melted and cooled slightly
- ½ cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- ¼ cup whole milk, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons bourbon or brandy
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I highly recommend Mexican Pure Vanilla Extract)
- Preheat the oven to 325° convection.
- Grease and flour a 9” round cake pan. Be sure your pan is at least 2” deep and line the pan with a parchment round or you will have difficulty getting the torta out of the pan. I do not recommend using a springform pan. The batter is very thin and could leak out of the pan.
- Prepare the apples. Peel, core, quarter and slice the apples very thinly. This can be done by hand with a nice, sharp knife or you can use a mandolin. Toss the apples with lemon juice and set aside.
- Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom and set aside.
- In a large bowl, vigorously whisk the eggs and sugar together until very creamy and smooth. The more you whisk this, the lighter your batter will be. You can do this by hand or use an electric mixer. A hand-held mixer is perfect for this step. Slowly add the cooled butter, whisking until fully incorporated.
- Combine the milk, bourbon, and vanilla extract.
- Add the dry ingredients to the sugar/egg/butter mixture alternately with the milk mixture and whisk together.
- Add ½ of the batter to the apples and combine well. This is best accomplished with your hands, separating the apple slices to evenly coat them with the batter.
- Scoop out the apples (again, hands are best) and place in the prepared pan. Press and compress the apples evenly in the pan. Pour the remaining batter over the apples.
- Bake for about 45 minutes. The top should be nicely browned and start to pull away from the pan and feel slightly firm. A toothpick should test clean in the middle.
- Cool the cake completely before removing from the pan. Run a spatula around the edge to release it from the pan and turn it upside down on a cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper and invert cake onto a serving platter.
- Serve as is or with a drizzle of caramel sauce.