Bolzano Apple Cake

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Sometimes you just need a change from the traditional apple pie, or the myriad of apple cake recipes from which to choose. Some feature roasted walnuts, others make spices the co-star to the apples, others might add a little hard cider, while still others may be glazed with a marmalade softened in warmed dark rum.

However, there is one apple cake recipe that I recently rediscovered that elevates the apple cake to a higher plateau, the Bolzano Apple Cake.

As I understand the story behind this recipe, it speaks to a cultural mix that has its roots in the Italian province of Trentino-Alto Adige in the farthest northeastern region of the country, bordering Switzerland and Austria. It is said to have originated in the town of Bolzano-Bozen located in that Italian province.

I noted that I rediscovered the recipe while I was looking through some of my recipe files in an effort to prepare an apple dessert to take advantage of the bounty available at this time of the year.

Back in 2004, Mark Bittman, writing for the New York Times, featured an article about chef Scott Carsberg, who at the time was running a popular Seattle restaurant, Lampreia. Carsberg included the Bolzano Apple Cake as part of the Lampreia dessert menu, which is, where I’m guessing, Bittman first encountered it and included an adaptation of Carsberg’s recipe in his article. He called it Balzano Apple Cake.

Well Carsberg and others I have read call the cake Bolzano, named after the town, Bolzano-Bozen, so I’m sticking with that moniker. Although Lampreia closed back in 2012, the recipe for this cake lives on thanks in part to the Internet and also to a beautifully produced digital book Carsberg co-wrote, entitled All About Apples.

The cake is not unlike a very dense clafoutis. It is laden with layers of apples held together by a light, minimalist batter, which becomes compressed and creamy when baked. The finished cake has caramelized edges and a golden brown top, all wrapping the layered apple middle. It is simply a light and delicious way to finish a meal.

Carsberg’s recipe has the cake prepared in a square baking pan, which I have used several times, both with and without the aluminum foil liner he recommends. I prefer the non-liner approach, which is how I am sharing the recipe here.

The square baking pan allows for the cake to be presented in long, slender, straight slices on the plate. I have since discovered a variation which is baked in a standard round cake pan that I am going to try the next because I believe a triangular sliced piece will include more of each of the cakes best features: caramelized edge, golden brown top, and layered center (compared to the square cake because the closer you get to the center some of the nice caramelized edges are lost). The recipe that follows can be baked in either shape pan.

One final ingredient note: Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, or Braeburn apples are all good choices to make this cake.

 

Bolzano Apple Cake

Ingredients (8 to 10 servings)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 vanilla bean
½ cup Half & Half
1 stick butter (4 oz)
Juice of 1 lemon
5 apples
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup flour

 

Method
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Generously butter a baking pan, lightly flour, discarding the excess, and set aside.

In a large work bowl add the sugar and the eggs. Whisk rapidly until the mixture is thoroughly combined.

Split the vanilla bean with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds into the sugar and egg mixture. Whisk rapidly to combine and continue whisking until the sugar dissolves and the batter forms a thin ribbon when the whisk is lifted. Set the bowl aside.

In a small saucepan over very low heat, warm the Half & Half along with the vanilla bean pod.

Place the butter in another small saucepan and slowly melt over medium-low heat.

In another large work bowl squeeze the juice from the lemon. Cut approximately 1/8 inch off each end of the apples and set in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator. These will be used to make a garnish for serving.

Peel, core, and quarter the apples, placing the quarters back in the lemon juice to prevent browning.

Apple quarters

Using a mandoline or other sharp slicing tool, cut each of the apple quarters into paper thin slices, placing them back in the lemon juice as you go and set aside when complete.

Apple slices

Slices in lemon juice

Return to the work bowl with the batter and slowly add the melted butter, gently whisking at first and then rapidly whisking to completely incorporate the butter.

Next, remove the vanilla bean pod from the warm Half & Half and pour it into the batter, again whisking to thoroughly combine.

Add the baking powder and the flour to the batter and once again whisk to completely combine so that no dry ingredients are visible.

Batter

Finally, pour the apple slices into the bowl with the batter and using your hands gently fold the apples into the mixture until completely coated and dispersed.

Slices poured into batter

Slices mixed into batter

Pour the apple mix into the prepared pan and use a fork to spread it out evenly.

Ready to bake

Bake for 25 minutes at 375 degrees, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees, turn the baking pan around and bake for another 25 minutes.

The cake is done when a tester comes out clean, the top is golden brown, and the edges are nicely caramelized and begin to pull away from the sides of the baking pan.

Place the baking pan on a rack to cool completely before turning it out onto a platter or simply slicing it in the pan to serve.

Out of the oven

A garnish can be made from the reserved apple ends by slicing them across into matchstick (batons) pieces, sprinkling with a little sugar, and placing them alongside a slice of the cake which has been dusted with powdered sugar.

Plated

This cake is intensely flavorful and simply delicious, do give it a try, whether square or round.

Eat well. Be well.

DM

It is the perfect time to be someone who loves to cook!

 

 

 

 

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Polpette di Pesce al Pomodoro . . . Fish “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce

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A quick update to the previous post: The Old Witches Magic Nut Cake; bake at 350 degrees for 1¼ hour, or until done after a tester comes out clean.

This is not the first time I have been the beneficiary of my neighbor’s generosity when he shares of his catch of the day. I am always presented with pristine fish filets (reference the blog post Cooking in a Pouch, June 12, 2016), and this time was no different. He gave me filets of Tautog or blackfish, a species of fish I had never worked with before. Tautog can be found along the Atlantic coastal region from South Carolina up to Nova Scotia. It is a good fish to work with, because of its nice white, non-oily flesh and a delicate flavor. Looking to make another batch of fish meatballs, after recently preparing some using marlin trim pieces I had in the freezer, I thought why not give the tautog a try, although almost any white fish would work for this dish. Other examples are; baccala, black cod, fluke, grouper, and swordfish, to note a few.

The polpette in this recipe are good, unfussy comfort food, the kind of dish you want to prepare often. With a few minor differences, the preparation is no different than making meatballs with beef, pork, or veal (reference the blog post Meatballs, December 11, 2015).

Bread is a key ingredient in making fish meatballs, similar to how it is used in the actual meatball recipe, by expanding the overall volume and adding texture to the sauce. Additionally, mashing in a small boiled potato or two, or folding in a whipped egg white can also expand the volume or lighten the texture of the finished meatball.

More often than not, these fish meatballs are either fried or pan sautéed to brown them before serving. They are commonly served with a dipping sauce, an aioli for example, accompanied by a salad, or served in a tomato sauce. My preference is to both poach the polpette in the sauce and then serve them with the sauce ladled over, which is how they are featured in the recipe that follows.

 

Polpette di Pesce al Pomodoro

Sauce

Ingredients (serves 2 to 4)
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 to 3 fennel stalks, halved
3 to 4 anchovy filets
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, red chili flakes to taste

Method
Either crush the tomatoes by hand, which will yield a rough chunky sauce base with some seeds, pulp, and skin, or process the tomatoes using a food mill, which will yield a smooth silky tomato base without the fiber or seeds. Set the tomato base aside.

In a large saucepan with a lid, heat 4 or 5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic and the fennel stalks and sauté until the garlic gives off its fragrance but does not brown.

Add the anchovy filets, stirring so that they dissolve and disperse into the oil and sprinkle approximately ½ teaspoon of the red chili flakes around, or more if you prefer a spicier sauce.

Pour the prepared tomatoes into the pan and sprinkle with the salt and pepper to season. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pan, slowly cooking the sauce until the garlic is very soft. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the fennel stalks, and crush the garlic cloves with a fork then stirring the mash to disperse it within the sauce.

Set the finished sauce aside to be used to poach the polpette and serve the dish.

 

Fish “Meatballs”

Ingredients (makes 15 to 20 meatballs)
1½ pounds skinless fish filets, (Tautog used in this recipe)
1 cup fine bread crumbs
2 small Yukon Gold potatoes, (optional)
1 large egg
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
Zest from 1 lemon, finely minced (use microplane)
Herb mix, finely minced celery leaf, mint, parsley
Salt and pepper

Fish filets

Method
If using, slice the potatoes in half without peeling, and gently boil until very soft tested with a fork. Drain and cool.

Cut the fish filets up into half-inch-size pieces and place in the work bowl of a food processor.

Cut to process

Pulse several times until the pieces begin to break down and combine into a thick textured mixture, not a smooth paste. Using a rubber spatula, turn out the fish into a large work bowl and if using, place the cooled potatoes in the food processor and run to yield a smoother mash than the fish. Using the spatula, add the potato mash to the fish.

Again, using the rubber spatula, fold the bread crumbs, egg, garlic, zest, and minced herbs into the fish mixture. Sprinkle salt and pepper over and continue to fold the ingredients together until completely combined.

Before forming the mixture into balls, take a teaspoonful and gently sauté on both sides until firm; taste to determine if the seasoning is correct. Adjust as needed.

Cover a sheet pan with either wax or parchment paper. In a baking dish or another work bowl pour in a cup of bread crumbs. Using your hands, take a generous tablespoon size amount of the fish mixture and form a ball just a little larger than golf or ping pong ball size. Roll the formed ball around in the reserved bread crumbs, shake off the excess and place the ball on the sheet pan. Repeat forming the balls until all the fish mixture is used. Set the sheet pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour for the polpette to firm up.

Polpette

At this point the polpette are ready to poach in the sauce or freeze for later use. Set aside the amount you want to cook and place the remainder on a smaller sheet pan or on a platter directly into the freezer overnight. Once frozen, they can be placed in freezer bags for use in future meals by simply thawing in the refrigerator before cooking.

Gently reheat the sauce until it is simmering. Place the polpette in the simmering sauce, turning once or twice for 12 to 15 minutes until cooked through. If the sauce reduces and appears to thicken, add a little water to losen. To serve place 3 to 4 fish meatballs per person in shallow bowls, ladling some of the sauce around and over. Finish the dish with a sprinkle of fresh minced parsley or a mixture of minced herbs of your choice. Another approach is to serve the polpette over pasta.

Plated

So the next time you are considering cooking something with fish polpette de pesce al pomodoro, with or without the pasta, is an easy, economical, and tasty way to go. Let me know which fish variety you try in your recipe.

Eat well. Be well.

DM

Food is one way of staying connected to the people who surround us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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