Nonna Maria’s Apple Cake

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and grease a nine inch tube pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Sprinkle the brown sugar on the bottom of the prepared pan and arrange the apple slices on top of the sugar.
  3. In a bowl, combine the chopped apples with the lemon juice and cinnamon.  Stir until the apples are completely coated. Set aside.
  4. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the eggs, sugar and oil until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the vanilla and grated lemon rind.
  6. Reduce mixer speed to low and add in the flour, baking powder and salt.
  7. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the chopped apple mixture. Stir until combined.
  8. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
  9. Cool completely before removing from pan. Dust cooled cake with powdered sugar, if desired.
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Nonna Maria making cavatelli on Sunday morning, c.1970.

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Triple Berry Coffee Cake

I always wondered why coffee cake was called coffee cake when there isn’t any actual coffee in it. After some research (i.e. I googled it), I learned that it’s because coffee cake is meant to be eaten with coffee. Makes sense. This coffee cake is made with a luscious berry filling and topped with a cinnamon-almond streusel. Perfect with your afternoon coffee…or you can eat it without coffee.  Then it would just be a really delicious cake.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yoghurt

Berry filling:

  • 2 cups mixed berries (I used strawberries, raspberries and wild blueberries)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Streusel topping:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds

Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-4 tbsp milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 9 inch tube pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Make the filling: in a bowl, stir together the berries, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  4. Make the streusel: In a small bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and almonds.  Using a pastry cutter — or your fingertips — cut in the butter into the mix until it resembles large, coarse crumbs.  Set aside.
  5. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated.
  7. Next, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream.  Mix until just combined.
  8. Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan.
  9. Spoon the berry mixture evenly on top of the batter.
  10. Spoon the remaining batter on top of the berries in an even layer, making sure the berries are entirely covered.
  11. Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the batter.
  12. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean. Cool cake completely.
  13. To make glaze, in a small bowl whisk together the powdered sugar and milk.  Drizzle over cooled cake.

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Peach & Almond Coffee Cake

One of the first cakes I ever made was a coffee cake.  A few girlfriends and I were getting together to watch the much-anticipated season premiere of Beverly Hills 90210, and I decided we needed cake!  I’m still pissed that Brenda and Dylan broke up, but the cake was delicious and made everything ok. Coffee cake is perfect for beginners because it’s pretty foolproof and forgiving. What’s great about this recipe is that it’s very versatile — you can use almost any combination of fruit and nuts you like.  I love the combination of peaches and almonds, but pecans would also be great in this streusel topping.  You can also replace the peaches with apples, cherries or mixed berries.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup canned sliced peaches, well-drained

Streusel topping:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds

Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-4 tbsp milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 9 inch tube pan with non-stick spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  3. Make the streusel: In a small bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and almonds.  Using a pastry cutter — or your fingertips — cut in the butter until the mixture resembles large, coarse crumbs.  Set aside.
  4. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated.
  6. Next, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream.  Mix until just combined.
  7. Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan.
  8. Arrange the peach slices on top of the batter.
  9. Spoon the remaining batter on top of the peach slices in an even layer, making sure the peaches are entirely covered.
  10. Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the batter.
  11. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
  12. Allow cake to cool completely before removing from pan and drizzling with glaze.
  13. For the glaze: whisk together the powdered sugar and the milk.  Drizzle over the cooled coffee cake.

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Olive Oil & Orange Ciambella

Ciambella is a traditional Italian sponge cake.  This moist, simple cake is perfect when you’re craving something sweet to dunk in your coffee or tea.  It is important to use a high quality, extra virgin olive oil in this recipe.  The olive oil lends a subtle fruitiness and tenderness to the cake.  Beating the batter for 20 minutes really helps to incorporate a lot of air into the mixture resulting in a light, airy sponge.  This cake is my take on a recipe that was passed onto me from an Italian Zia who’s been making it for years.  I wouldn’t mess with her method!  For a coffee-flavoured sponge cake recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

  • 7 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp orange zest, grated
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp orange juice

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, sugar and oil.  Beat for 20 minutes, until the mixture is pale yellow and fluffy.
  3. Slowly add flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla and orange zest.  Beat until fully incorporated.
  4. Pour batter into an ungreased angel food or ring cake pan. . Bake for 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
  5. Once cake is done, immediately turn upside down and let cake cool completely before removing from pan and adding glaze.
  6. For the glaze: mix together the powdered sugar and orange juice.  Stir until smooth.  If the glaze is too runny add some powdered sugar.  If it’s too thick, add a little more orange juice. Pour glaze over cake.

*Yield: Approximately 10 servings

 


Marble Bundt Cake

This is a moist and rich pound cake recipe.  Try to sneak a slice when it’s still warm…it’s heavenly!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a bundt or ring cake pan.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, until fully combined.
  5. Turn the mixer on low and add dry mixture and buttermilk in batches, alternating between the two.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, oil and warm water.
  7. Add half of the batter to the cocoa mixture and stir until fully combined.
  8. Spread alternating spoonfuls of the batters into the cake pan.  Use a thin knife to swirl the batters together.
  9. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
  10. Sprinkle cake with powdered sugar just before serving.

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Pan di Spagna al Caffè

Pan di Spagna is an Italian sponge cake.  This version is light, airy and has an intense coffee flavour to it.  The walnuts add great texture and crunch!  This Pan di Spagna is my adaptation of a recipe passed onto me by my husband’s aunt…you can find the original recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 8 eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup strong coffee, cooled
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy (about 10 minutes)
  3. Add oil, vanilla and coffee.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and beat into egg mixture until combined.
  5. In another bowl, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form.
  6. Carefully fold the egg whites into the batter.  Add walnuts and stir until just incorporated.
  7. Pour mixture into an ungreased angel food cake or ring cake pan with a removable base. Do not use a non-stick pan for this recipe because it will prevent the cake from rising properly.
  8. Bake for 1 hour.
  9. Once cake is done, immediately turn upside down and allow to cool completely before removing from pan.
  10. Before serving, sprinkle some powdered sugar over the cake.

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