People often ask me who my biggest baking influences are. Of course, Julia Child and Martha Stewart figure pretty prominently on the list. But I think the person who inspired my love of baking the most was my nonna Maria. I grew up hearing stories from my mother, aunts and cousins about what a fabulous cook and baker my grandmother was. How she would make pizza every Sunday and homemade cavatelli or gnocchi. I never really got to taste any of my nonna’s food; my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was relatively young, so by the time I came along she was too sick to cook. I wish I could have asked her the secret to her perfect pizza dough, or to share her many simple Italian recipes with me. I think it is her absence that has inspired me to write down my recipes so that they may be shared.
This apple cake is my nonna Maria’s recipe. She would often make it as a dessert following Sunday lunch. My mom tells me that during apple picking season, my grandmother would buy big crates of apples and store them in the cantina. The apples were cheap and would last for months in the cold room. One day, she decided to toss some leftover apples into a simple cake recipe she had on hand. Like many women of that generation, my nonna never wrote down her recipes. But, thankfully, my grandmother’s sister, Zia Lucia, did write this one down. The handwritten, yellowed recipe card she gave me consisted of a list of ingredients, few measurements and no method. Armed with that, and the memories I have of my mother making this cake for us growing up, I have recreated a cake that, I hope, comes close to the one my nonna Maria would make on Sunday afternoons.
- 1 apple, sliced
- 5 large apples, chopped
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- juice and rind from one lemon
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- powdered sugar (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375F and grease a nine inch tube pan with non-stick spray.
- Sprinkle the brown sugar on the bottom of the prepared pan and arrange the apple slices on top of the sugar.
- In a bowl, combine the chopped apples with the lemon juice and cinnamon. Stir until the apples are completely coated. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, mix together the eggs, sugar and oil until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes. You want the mixture to be a very pale yellow and almost doubled in volume.
- Add the vanilla and grated lemon rind.
- Reduce mixer speed to low and add in the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Using a wooden spoon, fold in the chopped apple mixture. Stir until combined.
- Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
- Cool completely before removing from pan. Dust cooled cake with powdered sugar, if desired.