Wednesday, October 17

Missing New England, Finding Solace in Tuscan Torta di Mele

I miss apple-picking in New England. Overall the produce found in Southern California is superior to anywhere we have lived, but just like football, when it comes to apples, you simply can't beat New England. (Sorry Bolt fans.)

New England has scores of picturesque orchards with rolling hills and countless trees. There are few pleasures in life as satisfying as biting into a just picked Macoun apple while standing in the warm sun on a chilly fall New England day.

The first autumn that Jeff and I lived in North Carolina, we planned our annual apple-picking day. When we arrived ready to pick, we were aghast that our treasured McIntosh, Macouns, and Cortlands were nowhere to be found. Instead we had to make due with Red Romes, Galas, and Arkansas Blacks (a hard, tart apple which became my new favorite).

Just as we got used to our apples in the Southeast, we then moved to California and had to learn an entirely new set of apples. Though crunchy, sweet Fujis are probably the most popular apple here, my local favorite is the Pink Lady. Unlike her name, she's quite sassy, just right for an eating apple. Then there's the Winesap, which according to Riley's Farm of Oak Glen, CA, is the "Celebrity Rock Star of Apples." No wonder. It's deep crimson red, super firm and crispy, and assertively tart. Definitely not an apple for the timid.

When my mom's lovely friend Anne gave me an authentic Tuscan recipe for Torta di Mele (apple cake), she said it called for Golden Delicious apples. I was stunned. Of all of the apples I have eaten in my life (and I have eaten a few pecks), I have never eaten a Golden Delicious apple. This is probably because I always associated them with Red Delicious apples -- the tasteless, waxy school cafeteria apple -- the thought of which elicits painful middle school memories.

Since downtown San Diego isn't home to any apple orchards, I went to the supermarket and purchased eight Golden Delicious apples. Expecting them to be bland and mushy, I was pleasantly surprised when my first bite (which snapped with crispness) revealed a mild, juicy sweetness.
Golden Delicious apples don't seem pale to me anymore; they seem delicate. Their soft golden skin is dotted with tiny brown specks and a shy pink blush. They are ideal for eating and maintain their shape well when baked. It's official. I'm a Golden Delicious convert; after trying this Tuscan apple cake, you will be too.

Since the egg whites are whipped and folded into the batter, it makes a lighter cake, yet it's so chock full of juicy, sweet apples that when you slice it, it looks almost custardy on the inside. It's a lovely cake to have with an afternoon tea or even a glass of wine. It's slightly sweet, exceptionally moist, and whole-heartedly satisfying.

I am submitting this post to Andrew of Spittoon Extra, this month's host for the always scrumptious Sugar High Friday, created by The Domestic Goddess. This month's topic is drunken apples, or apples and alcohol. With Golden Delicious apples and Calvados, an apple brandy from Normandy, France, this dessert fits the bill, deliciously.

Torta di Mele (Apple Cake)

Print recipe only here.

4 eggs, separated
2 lbs Golden Delicious apples, peeled and sliced (about 6 apples)
juice of 1 small lemon
1/4 cup Calvados**
1 cup sugar
12 Tbsp butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
2 Tbsp baking powder (that's correct, I swear!)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

To coat the pan:
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place sliced apples in a medium bowl; add lemon juice and Calvados and toss well.

In a medium glass or metal bowl, beat egg whites on high until stiff peaks form, about 5-6 minutes.

In another medium bowl, combine butter, sugar, and egg yolks. Mix with a hand mixer until well combined. Add sifted flour, baking powder, and spices, and mix until well combined.

Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter, then fold in the apple slices.

Coat a 9-10 -inch spring form pan with cooking spray. Add 1 Tbsp of butter in small pieces to the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp sugar. Pour the batter on top, and smooth it out with a spatula.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F. Then bake for 50-60 minutes at 325 degrees F or until a knife inserted comes out clean and the top is golden brown and puffed up.

**Calvados is an apple brandy available at liquor stores and some supermarkets.

You might also like:
Warm Citrus and Banana Cups
Italian Pignoli Cookies (Pine Nut) Cookies
Italian Ricotta Pie with Pineapple
Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Lemon

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Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Greetings from Apple Valley, the part of Rhode Island that still lives up to its name, with dozens of orchards within a few miles of my house. My favorite New England apples are the Macoun, which I use for baking as well as eating. Right in this area, though, we also have Jonathans, Gravensteins, Cortlands, and some heirloom varieties from one orchard just up the road. We do see Golden Delicious, too, so I'll give this wonderful recipe a try.

Deborah Dowd said...

We were recently at Saunders Brothers in the mountains of Virginia and they had Romes, Galas, and Piney River Golds, which we bought. There is nothing like apple picking... except maybe apple butter making!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh Susan yes I like those pink ladies also!
You understate with "fits the bill, deliciously"! Your cake looks divine. And Calvados - wow! I only discovered that about 2 years ago and now am trying to make up for that.

Gattina Cheung said...

Susan, such a "sweet" memory! In baking I like Golden Delicious and Fuji as they always gurantee a good result, but not Granny Smith as it juiceness (usually too much)forever unpredictable.
Now just looking at these beautiful photos, I always feel the autumn scent drifting to here... really lovely!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Give me any baked good with apples and I'm a happy girl forever - Susan, this is luscious!

Asha said...

Mmm...!!! That is one great looking drunken apple dessert Susan!:))

Anonymous said...

I came to your blog from the NPR piece on Medjools. I am impressed. Do you take your own photos? I look forward to seeing more of your work.

Mishmash ! said...

I have been seeing similar apple cakes recipes lately....btw, very legibly hand written recipe in that pic :)


Anonymous said...

So nice walking through the "orchard" with you, picking all these different kind of apples..I love the Golden Delicious and the Pink Lady and my all time favorite apple is the tart, juicy, crunchy Granny Smith. Of course, when it comes to apple pie and apple cake, like yours(still slightly warm)...I just love them all!

Anonymous said...

I am a Vermont girl living in the west and miss my apples. My parents send me a box of McIntosh's from home every year and I literally cry when I eat them. The smell, the taste, the memories. I am new to your blog and am loving it.

wheresmymind said...

Could always go orange picking? *smirk*

Anonymous said...

this makes me so excited for the homey!

Elizabeth said...

I too have recently discovered the wonders of Golden Delicious Apples. I used them to make a pretty wonderful apple and goat cheese tart. A few weeks later, I went apple picking with a friend and was very surprised to learn that Golden Delicious were not recommended for baking. Ha. Shows what they know!

Mmm. The apple cake looks good.

Could you taste that you had added the Calvados? (I would be tempted to omit it from the cake and serve it instead in a small glass on the side with the cake.)


thepassionatecook said...

apart from the ones we picked in my grandparnets' orchard, golden delicious were the apples i grew up with... i now prefer a firmer apple and more sour! the cake looks amazing. i will definitely have to try this!

Katie Zeller said...

We had wonderful apples in Minnesota, as well. Haralson were the best there. I had a Golden Delicious tree in Andorra and the apples were great, but, usually, when I buy them in the market they're too ripe and sweet for me. Love the Pink Ladies...
Great cake!

Nabeela said...

Ok, I'm sold on the cake! My aunt has a tree which delivers hundreds of golden delicious apples....but since she keeps her tree organic, you never know when a surprise will hit I stay away from those apples!! ;)
Btw, what's wrong with red delicious? We used to get very few varieties of apples back in India and red delicious was prominent among them. I grew up eating them and still like the crispy crunchy texture with enough sweet juice to run down the chin when bitten into....sigh, good memories :)
P.S: You being from New Englad probably know more about apples than me...hence the question!

muffintop said...

This is wonderful!! A couple of girlfriends gave me a sack of Golden Delicious apples fresh from their backyard tree yesterday (and they said you couldn't bake with them, heh).

Susan: Please click on my name... surprise! I had to run away and change identities.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

What a delightful post and a stunning cake. You make me feel like I'm walking through the orchard, and those slices are so enticing! I think these simple torte recipes are the best!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Lydia-Oh,you don't know what I would give to come to your neck of the woods this weekend! Macouns are my favorites!

Deborah-Ooh, apple butter making. You've piqued my interest.

Tanna-You're so sweet.

Gattina-I love Granny Smiths for eating, but I don't usually bake with them.

Patricia-Apples are a happy food, especially when baked in a moist cake.

Asha-I'm glad you liked it!

Steve-Welcome! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I take all of my own photos, which I enjoy. I hope to see you again.

Shn-That's Anne's beautiful handwriting, not mine!

Ronnell-I just love the tartness of Granny Smiths. I always have them in the house no matter the season because they're such a satisfying eating apple.

Amy-My heart really goes out to you because I know how you feel. I look forward to future visits.

Jeff-Yeah, but I'm not sure about orange cider.

Veronica-These types of desserts do bring me right back home.

Elizabeth-No, I wouldn't say I really "tasted" the Calvados. It just infused the cake ever so mildly.

Johanna-And I grew up eating the tart, bold apples, so these Golden Delicious ones are a pleasant change for me!

Katiez-I'm eager to try a freshly picked Golden Delicious, as I'm sure the taste is superior.

Nabeela-The Red Delicious apples we had growing up were they terribly waxy, tasteless things that were usually mushy--hence my aversion to them. Like anything else, though, I'm sure that truly delicious ones exist out there (like in India).

Muffintop-I'll be visiting your new home. I don't have to change my name now too, do I? ;)

T.W.-Many thanks. The pictures are going to have to suffice this year since we won't be going to New England for real apple picking.

Anonymous said...

Your worries about Golden Delicious apples based on your experiences with Red Delicious are understandable, Susan. But they are actually completely different varieties. Goldens are not overly sweet like Reds, having a milder taste as you described. They're also much crisper, not having the mushiness often found with the overrated Red.

sra said...

Susan, for the last 10 years or so, we've been getting a lot of imported apples here in India - I rarely buy them for various reasons, but I do buy the Golden Delicious a little more often - I really like its juicy sweetness. Nice post.

Anonymous said...

Oh, this looks absolutely wonderful!

I agree, Red Delicious apples are not pleasing at all. My son, who has sensory issues and balks at most food items, surprised me the other day when he said his Kindergarten class taste-tested various apples and HE participated. He said the Golden Delicious was his favorite choice. Guess what I'm stocking up on?!

bazu said...

Oh, that looks so divine. Both Daiku and I are calvados fans, and of course have more apples than we know what to do with.
I wish I could send you some Upstate NY apples, Susan!

Curt McAdams said...

Looking at all these great apples, I'm really mourning the apple season here in SW Ohio; many of the orchards have 0 crop this year due to a late freeze in the Spring and drought this season.

Apples, to me, more than any other fruit, have more to them than just the fruit... They mean autumn, and great scenes like you show here, memories of freshly pressed cider from the press and homemade apple pie.

Anonymous said...

That looks HEAVENLY and I love your picture of the apples!! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I'm planning on going apple picking this weekend with my family. We were going to bake apple pie but I might make your cake instead. It looks absolutely fabulous!! And I love the picture with the slice missing because you can see all those yummy apples inside.

Wendy said...

Just when I thought I couldn't feel more autumn-y, I read this post. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I love this post about your apple varieties Susan. Thankfully, in the UK recently there has been a renewed interest in our traditional apple varieties that have been ignored for years and are absolutely delicious. I'm anjoying our Bramley's which are in season right now.

Stella said...

This apple cake is definitely something to bookmark!! Plus, I love all the spices you used Susan:)

Toni said...

From the first photograph, I knew I was going to be hooked. I, too, don't care for red delicious. Goldens are OK - a MUCH better variety than the reds. But I'm with you on the Arkansas Blacks (better have strong teeth for those!) and the Pink Ladies!

Downtown San Diego isn't much of an apple growing region, but Julian certainly is. In fact, I'm headed up that way tomorrow for an apple run.....Just might have to try this recipe on for size when I get back. Thanks!

KellytheCulinarian said...

That looks delicious! I also bake and cook when I feel homesick.

Amy said...

It's been years since I've visited the East Coast. I really want to visit and pick some apples. This cake looks delicious! I've never been a fan of red delicious apples either.

Anonymous said...

Minnesota is home to many apple orchards and of course, the Honeycrisp apple. Honey Golds are available as well, a delicious alternative. We buy bushel bags of them when they are ready and eat them like candy. I love dipping them in crushed peanuts and almonds.

That cake looks so delicious!!

Anonymous said...

That cake sounds just lovely, Susan. Apples are a precious commodity here this year since so many trees got blasted in the spring freeze, but this cake looks like it deserves the ones we've got!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Terry B-Goldens=good. Reds=bad.

Sra-They really are quite juicy, aren't they?

Melissa-Oh, I'm so glad to hear your son discovered a new apple he liked; and they're so healthy for him too!

Bazu-Oh, I envy your upstate New York apples!

Curt-I'm so saddened to hear about the ruined crop, especially since I couldn't agree with you more about apples symbolizing the wonders of autumn.

Hillary-Thanks! I'm so happy you enjoyed it!

Ann-Really? That's wonderful! I know, it was really chock full of apples.

Wendy-A little more autumn-y is a good thing. :)

Helen-I've never heard of Bramleys before. Perhaps I need to come to the UK for a taste. ;)

Valentina-Oh, thanks! I really appreciate that.

Toni-I hope you had fun in Julian. It's such a quaint, charismatic town, isn't it?

Kelly-It just makes you feel better, doesn't it?

Amy-Oh, yes, there's nothing quite like New England in October.

Kate-You know, I just bought my first Honeycrisp yesterday. They're quite good, a little bit like a Mac. I don't think I've had Honey Golds; though I'd like to try them!

Christine-It does deserve them!

Julie said...

You're so right that nothing beats fall or football in New England! This is such a beautiful torte--I love the custardy interior. It sounds perfect with a Reisling.

Chris said...

I soooo miss the falls at home! But this torte...looks deeelish!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Julie-It would be lovely with a Reisling.

Chris-I know. It helps anyway. :)

Anonymous said...

Susan..Another New Englander here, living in Oregon. Fortunately, Oregon has lots of wonderful apples. The foliage isn't quite a beautiful as New England. We spent our anniversary at Cannon Beach and on the way home picked up chanterelles, chicken in the woods, pears and apples at a roadside stand. I made a chicken in puff pastry with wild mushrooms
and sherry...and this AWESOME apple
torta..It was outstanding. I debated about the Calvados and was unable to find it here. I did purchase an Oregon apple brandy made with Golden Delicious. It really defined the apple flavor and I think is a must as an ingredient. My husband says this edges out apple pie..and this is so much easier..Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Lovely story and delicious-looking cake! We also used to go apple-picking-- both in the the blueridge mountains of Virginia and in New Hampshire (my sister's house is surrounded by orchards).

Jeanne said...

Oooooh, Macouns! Happy memories of our trip last year to NYC, Connecticut and Boston! We stopped at a roadside farm stall and stocked up on Macouns - I had never heard of them but the guy manning the stall recommended them and I fell instantly in love. Pity they don't seem to travel much outside New England :( I have also never seen the point of Golden Delicious - I grew up on Granny Smiths and have retained my taste for a crisp, tarp apple ever since. Winesap sounds like my idea of heaven!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Fellow Englander-Welcome! I'm so pleased to hear you made the torte and loved it! It really is easy, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by and sharing. It's always a pleasure to meet new readers and to receive feedback on recipes.

Ann-When we lived in NC, we went apple picking a couple of times in the Blueridge Mountains. Your sister's place must be lovely, especially at this time of year.

Jeanne-If you like Macouns and Granny Smith's, then you'd go crazy over Winesaps.

The Passionate Palate said...

Yummy recipe and great memories. I grew up in NE too and spent a lot of time in the apple orchards and celebrating and eating all the fruits of the harvest. (Like you, I live in So. Cal. and don't get that same old feeling about apples here.)

Speaking of apples and memories, you should enter our Apples & Thyme event. See my blog for more details.

Love your blog and will be back.

Madame K said...

I love the look of this cake.

We can pick apples here in the Midwest, but there's nothing like those New England Mcintosh, fresh from the tree. I don't think I've had a good one since I left R.I, 15 years ago!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

The Passionate Palate-I'm so glad you dropped by. It's always great to meet East Coasters who are now West Coasters.

Karen-The last really good one I had was last fall in CT when I visisted my family!

Anonymous said...

I grew up outside of Philadelphia, and though the apple picking wasn't quite as good as New England, it was pretty close. I used to love all the crisps and pies we'd make (not to mention the apple cider doughnuts!). I LOVE Torta di mele, so I must print out this recipe.

Anonymous said...

I'm a New Yorker by birth and am now in VA. I miss apple picking, too but I can say I've been a Golden Delicious girl for longer than I can remember. To the extent I use them for most of my cooking except applesauce (I may use a couple leftover for that but primarily a cooking red is better). HOwever, the best I've had yet (besides this torte, I'm sure) is a apple/onion glaze I've made to put over pork chops. Try it, golden delicious, vidalia onion, some spices/herbs your tastebuds want that night and voila. Great, thick glaze for pork. Sweet and savory but not as good with any other apple! I can't wait to try this recipe.

Rachel said...

Hello! Relative newcomer to the blog, but have already tried a few recipes to rave reviews and will definitely be a faithful reader. Stumbled across this recipe and was wondering about the brandy. Would it still work with other liqueurs (amaretto perhaps?)?