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
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup flour
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pour the apple mix into the prepared pan and use a fork to spread it out evenly.
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.
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.
This cake is intensely flavorful and simply delicious, do give it a try, whether square or round.
Eat well. Be well.
It is the perfect time to be someone who loves to cook!