23 September 2013

Rustic Tuscan Apple Cake to Usher in the Season and a Terroir Dinner

Rustic Tuscan Apple Cake (Torte di Mele)

When I think of Italian desserts I think of a towering tiramisu or colossal cannoli but for most Italians, dessert means a perfectly ripe peach sliced into a chilled coppa di vino, plump figs stuffed with mascarpone or a platter of crisp anise-scented biscotti. Elaborate architectural pastries and intricate cakes may take center stage on holidays and feast days, but when it comes to everyday dolci - sweets nibbled with an aperitif or an eye-opening espresso - simplicity and "what's in season" rule.

As you know simple does not need to equal unsophisticated. With their desserts as with their savories, Italian home cooks seem to have a savant-like talent for elevating humble staples such as fresh fruit, nuts and cocoa to elegant heights. Their gift: knowing when an ingredient is at its peak and being unafraid to let its singular virtues shine.

To celebrate the harvest season I had in mind to adorn my dessert table with an Italian dessert that symbolizes the season. I had a recipe chosen....and then I saw it!!! A similar recipe to the one I had chosen but with more butter, a splash of amaretto and a sultry apple cider glaze over at Roz blog La Bella Vita Cucina. Life is just better with more butter!! A hearty cake sweetened with thickly sliced apples that's ideal for autumn, when orchards grow heavy. Stealing a bite of the sweet life has never seemed easier.

A classic. At first glance this may seem like a huge ratio of apple to dough. You are going to be tempted to cut down on the apples. Don't! They magically meld into the batter, and you will love the result. The top half of the cake is chock full of tender apples that float over sweet, moist cake that needs to be eaten the day it is made....so invite friends over. This is a deceptively simple recipe that yields exceptional results. But a word of warning.....I like to bake my cakes in a smaller pan thus creating a taller and in my humble opinion a more impressive cake so watch the baking time. I cooked my cake for at least 90 minutes at 350 increasing the baking time by 20 minutes.

Another way to usher in the fall season is to have dinner with friends. We headed on our first adventure of the fall season to one of the sold out Cuisine du Terroir dinners at God's Mountain in Penticton. "Close your eyes and envision one long communal table, laid out under the stars, on a secluded bluff overlooking one of the oldest Riesling vineyards in the Valley and the shimmering Skaha Lake. In the background, a rambling, whitewashed bed and breakfast full of nooks, crannies, roofless rooms and stuffed armadillos that could be taken straight out of my photo album of a timeless trip to Santorini."

From the flower garden; Spanish style olives with fennel and citrus; the venue (photo by Laura Goyer)

These unique multi-coursed dinners unite curious diners from all over the world, local epicureans and culinary tourists alike. We were seated with new found friend from Britain, Italy, France and of course the locals.The evening included a local "champagne" reception and a carefully chosen, local wine pairing with each course. On the table, roasted Spanish style olives with fennel and citrus, olive fougasse, a long board with culinary delights such as house cured charcuterie, onion tart baked in a wood fire oven and zucchini blossom fritters stuffed with fresh cheese.

This was followed by platters served family style groaning with the edible bounty of the region. Wild white chanterelle and lobster mushroom soup peaked our interest. Our plates were piled high with melt-in-your-mouth; Braised lamb shanks, beet greens with quince, grainy mustard and cream; stone ground polenta with fresh corn, Parmesan and herbs; leeks with anchovy and egg; heirloom tomato and golden zucchini gratin..and for dessert peaches poached in Rose, orange blossom creme brûlée and local hazelnut cookies.

Before the term grassroots, local cuisine or the 100-Mile Diet reached our lips this concept described folks like Cam Smith and Dana Ewart, people who have adopted this philosophy from the ground up. For this couple, it meant leaving their high-profile culinary posts at restaurants like Montreal’s Toqué and Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy and Scaramouche to get back to the land, here in the Okanagan Valley with their Cuisine du Terroir dinners. Cameron and Dana say, "The most direct translation of this concept is “food of the earth”. Terroir is a French term used to describe the unique flavour imparted to food or drink by a region’s specific climate, soil, weather and growing conditions.We chose “Cuisine du Terroir” as our concept for Joy Road Catering because to us it means food with a strong sense of place."
Lobster mushroom; appetizer boards; zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh cheese
Sourcing and showcasing the bounty of the Okanagan is a way of life for Cameron Smith and Dana Ewart, chefs and owners of Joy Road Catering as they host these ethereal mountain top outdoor dining experiences that begin in May and run through till Thanksgiving. In speaking with the young couple their passion is contagious and you understand the devotion the pair have to fresh food and local ingredients. Cam says,  “The immediacy of the cooking experience here is unparalleled. I go to the farmers’ market that morning and it’s on your plate that evening.”
Dana of Joy Road catering; Leeks with anchovy and egg; wild white chanterelle and lobster mushroom soup; at the table
Nothing is more intimate, or more effective at breaking down  barriers, than sharing a meal together family style. When you have like-minded people from multiple countries breaking bread at the same table magic happens!!!!!! It makes me believe the hype and the Okanagan Valley is now a destination:D

**Rustic Tuscan Apple Cake, aka Torta di mele**

1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 ¼ cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
4 jumbo eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
½ teaspoon lemon zest
4 large apples
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
Icing sugar  mixed with cinnamon for dusting (optional)


1 cup heavy whipping cream,
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Cake:

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; scrape down sides of bowl after each addition.

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 1/2" wide slices.

Cut half of the apple slices into small chunks in order for them to cook properly; 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 showing.

Brush the apples and batter with melted butter.

Generously sprinkle apples and batter with the 3 tablespoons sugar.

Place in center of hot oven and bake for 70 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. (When I bake I usually use a smaller springform pan that I have so that my cake is taller and deeper therefore adjust the cooking time accordingly - it took at least 90 minutes)

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.

For the Glaze:

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.

Serves 8 - 10

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. I just love these gorgeous dinners you've been attending, Val! They seem so inspiring and have such a wonderful festive air. :-) I love the sounds of this apple cake. :-)

  2. Fall is in the air! Though it still is in the 80s where I live. However, I can tell the season is changing. The sun rises later and the sky is so very blue. That's Los Angeles Autumn. GREG

  3. delicious dessert lovely pictures Val

  4. This cake is large and in charge! I espeically love how rustic it is.

  5. Rustic..Tuscan..Apple..Cake..
    4 words that sound perfect to me.
    Thank you for this recipe..
    You get to go to the most interesting events-

  6. I love this Val look stunnning!

  7. I love rustic food. This cake looks exquisite.



  8. Everything about this is elegant including that gorgeous setting. I love the height of your cake. And it's so sophisticated and rustic at the same time. Wish I could say bravo in Italian. .

  9. I love rustic and Apple Cakes are a favourite. Can't wait to give this one a try. Thanks Val.


  10. Your apple cake looks luscious, Val. What a perfect way to put the apple harvest to use. I'd love to have a piece. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  11. I like both elaborate desserts and simple fruit desserts.

  12. Both the cake and the dinner look wonderful! In Spain and Andorra dessert, even in restaurants, is often a piece of fruit - usually an orange or a banana... peeled and eaten with a knife and fork, of course

  13. I am failing at baking great stuff recently. I should go back to my origins and go for a torta di mele like this. It looks just perfect.

  14. Hi Val, the cake looks delicious and earthy. I love apple cakes, they feel right. I also enjoyed our evening at God's mountain, another beautiful dinner reflecting the Okanagan bounty and culinary talent. I hope to do it again next year earlier in the season so we can dine in the vineyard under the stars. I particularly enjoyed the vegetable focused menu which is how like to eat and cook.

  15. It's impossible to spend time at a place like God's mountain without counting your blessings. We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful, peaceful part of the world, and I'm happy I was able to share the table with such good company. Great article Val!

  16. the texture of this cake looks particularly appealing! i like the sound of the glaze too, very nice.

  17. This looks fun and your apple cake looks scrumptious.

    Madonna/aka/Ms. Lemon

  18. Apples are a welcome seasonal relief from the onslaught of icky pumpkin foods that pop up this time of year. I definitely want to make this. I love apple cakes.

  19. Thanks for the shout out Val . . . I returned the favor on my Italian Apple Torta recipe link and led another reader to your blog as well to see how this cake turned out for you. Hope all is well!!!


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