When you think of Italian cuisine and the beautiful Italian countryside, many foods come to mind: pasta, garlic, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, lemons, and olives . . . but few of us outside of Italy think of apples when we consider the foods from Italy! Yet Italy is the top producer of apples in all of Europe and the 5th apple-producing country in the world! Italian Apple Torta (Torta di Mele) will forever help you remember the importance of apples in Italy’s cuisine!
Italy and Apples!
The heart of the Italy’s apple production is in Northern Italy, where my family lives, the region where the higher elevation altitudes (up to 3,000 feet above sea level) and unique micro-climatic and soil conditions offer idylic natural conditions for the cultivation of fragrant, crunchy and uniquely colorful apples. For over 2,000 years, Italian farmers have cultivated apples that thrive in Italy’s elevated alpine valleys and foothills of the Alps where the weather is cold enough to grow delicious, high-quality apples, unlike Southern Italy where the weather is continually warm and perfect for growing lemons.
The amount of apple orchards is astonishing in Northern Italy — orchard after orchard after orchard fill the landscape, especially in Emilia Romagna’s Po Valley and Appenine Mountains and throughout the other northern regions of Veneto, Piemonte, Campagna and Trentino. From the early, cooler days of autumn until spring, apple crops flourish in Italy! Golden Delicious apples are the leading varietal produced in Italy.
Italian Apple Recipe Traditions
Northern Italy lies just south of Austria, and so it’s cuisine has quite a strong, historical influence from Germany and Austria (and actually in the language as well)! As a result of this location, there is a variety of apple-based recipes for sweets such as strudel and apple cakes, to more savory dishes such as stuffed pastas, including the Christmas lasagna, “Lasagna dal Fornel”, a layered pasta dish in which shredded apples, dried fruits, and nuts replace the customary tomato sauce and cheese. Apples are also creatively added to Northern Italy’s famous risottos! In fact, excellent Apple Strudels are prepared by Northern Italians!
Apple cider, often called the “wine of the poor”, is traditionally served at Northern Italian Baptisms and weddings. The annual Festa della Mele is held every September to commerorate and celebrate Italy’s annual apple harvest.
Yet similar to all fruit, Italians generally enjoy apples at the end of a meal, either eaten as a freshly cut, raw apple with a chunk of cheese such as creamy Fontina, or enjoyed in a cake (torta).
The Traditional Italian Apple Torta (Torta di Mele)
This wonderful Italian Apple Torta (Torta di Mele) is delicious, packed with sweet, delicate apple flavor, is simple to prepare, and is one of my favorite Italian desserts with a focus on apples shining through a lightly sweetened torte!
Incredibly rustic, yet elegant at the same time . . . making an impressive dessert for autumn entertaining. Isn’t that true about all Italian cuisine? Even though Americans prefer apple desserts in both summer and fall, this torte is especially suited for autumn when apples are in season and the aroma of apples and cinnamon perfume our homes with the exotic scents that we associate with autumn, rain, comfort, and warmth. A perfect fall dessert when apples are at their peak of flavor.
For this recipe, the lemon zest is an essential ingredient to enhance the apple flavor . . . I also added a bit of cinnamon for a more “German” flare for my German husband, and some Amaretto to make it truly Italian! Be extra careful not to overmix the batter when you combine all of the ingredients . . . beating only until just combined to avoid developing the gluten that results in a “tough” cake. Serve with a sweet dessert wine, such as a Picolit from Friuli, a Vino Santo from Trention, or a Torcolato from Veneto. For those who prefer coffee with dessert, I would highly recommend a delicious caffe’ latte made from Italian espresso!
- 1 cup Butter
- 4 Golden Delicious Apples
- 2 ¼ cups Flour
- 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
- ½ tsp. Cinnamon
- ½ tsp. Salt
- 4 Jumbo Eggs
- 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
- 1 cup Sugar
- 1 Tbsp. Amaretto Liquer
- ½ tsp. Lemon Zest
- 4 Tbsp butter, melted
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream,
- 1 cup Powdered sugar
- ½ cup Apple Cider
- ¼ tsp. Cinnamon
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Thoroughly butter and dust with flour a 9” springform pan tapping the pan to remove excess flour.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each egg.
- Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes until pale lemon yellow in color, creamy, and thickened.
- Turn the speed down; gradually add the flour mixture, scraping down sides of bowl.
- Still beating on low speed, add lemon zest, vanilla and Amaretto until blended; increase speed to medium for 2 more minutes.
- Peel, quarter, core and slice apples into ½" wide slices.
- Cut half of the apple slices into small chunks; fold these into the batter.
- Pour the batter into prepared springform pan; shake gently or use a spatula to smooth the surface of the batter.
- Arrange the remaining apples slices, core side down, on the top of the batter in circles over the entire surface with edges slightly overlapping. The arrangement of the apples should resemble the rays of the sun or a rose in full bloom. The apples should be close together with very little batter shown.
- Brush the apples and batter with melted butter.
- Generously sprinkle apples and batter with the 3 Tbsp. sugar.
- Place in center of hot oven and bake for 70 - 90 minutes until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and the top of the cake is golden brown. The cake is done when it tests barely moist with a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake and apples are lightly browned.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes; then remove sides of the springform pan and cool cake completely.
- Dust powdered sugar with cinnamon all over the cake.
- Optional: Serve with a glaze or whipped cream.
- Whisk together powdered sugar, heavy cream, apple cider and cinnamon to create a thin glaze.
- Pass the glaze around to guests or serve individual slices of cake on top of a pool of glaze.
A BIG SHOUT OUT to my friend Val, from More Than Burnt Toast who baked this apple torta with magnificent results. Please visit her blog and read her comments and view her photos of her Italian Apple Torta (and tell her Roz sent ya!)