Torta di Mele alla Sambuca | Apple Cake with Sambuca
Italian apple cakes are like fingerprints, or a tennis serve. No two are alike, even when the list of ingredients or the technique is the same. The apple cake—torta di mele—is an expression of the baker or cook, and just about every home baker has her own version. Some are more apples than batter, others have nuts folded in; some are rich with spice, others are spiked with liquor; and some are as plain as can be but still, somehow, memorable.
The main ingredients are few and simple: flour, sugar, eggs, oil or butter, baking powder, and flavoring—often lemon zest. And, of course, apples, sliced or diced. I like to use a mix of apple varieties to give the cake a more complex apple flavor. Among my favorites are Crimson Crisp, Honeycrisp, and Gold Rush, which I get at my local farmers’ market. If you have favorite local apples where you live, by all means use those.
This version, one of my favorites, is made special thanks to a generous splash of Sambuca—Italy’s famous anise liqueur—mixed into the batter. The recipe comes from my friend Marta Carozza, who owns B&B Il Marchese del Grillo, in Sulmona (Abruzzo). Contrary to what you might expect, given Sambuca’s assertive taste, the anise flavor that it imparts to the cake is subtle, warm and welcoming. A dusting of confectioners’ sugar is all the cake needs as a finishing touch.
Something else I love about this cake: it seems to improve with age. The crumb stays moist and the anise flavor mellows even more. I had one slice left this morning from a cake I baked four days ago. It was just as good, if not better, than when it was fresh.
Yields 12 servings
Heat the oven to 350° F (170° C). Coat a 9-inch (22-cm) springform pan with sunflower oil. Fit a piece of parchment into the bottom of the pan and lightly oil the parchment.
Peel the apples and cut them into bite-size pieces. Put them in a bowl with the Sambuca as you go to prevent browning. Toss gently to make sure the apples are thoroughly coated and let sit while you mix the other ingredients.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and the sugar until light (I use a whisk). Whisk in the lemon zest, oil, and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and lievito or baking powder. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Set aside a handful of the apple pieces and fold the rest into the batter, as well as the Sambuca juices. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Scatter the reserved apple pieces on top.
Bake until the top is golden-brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 60 to 75 minutes. If the top is browned before the cake is done, gently lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top and finish baking. When done, transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Use a sharp knife or metal spatula to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Remove the ring from the pan and let the cake cool to room temperature.
Invert the cake onto a plate, remove the springform bottom and peel off the parchment. Re-invert the cake onto a serving platter. Dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving.