Strudel di mele

Last weekend our blogger friend Frank from Memorie di Angelina messaged us on the Due Spaghetti Facebook page asking whatever had become of us.  Had we quit blogging?  It’s been SO long since we’ve published a post!  July 28th, in fact.

We haven’t stopped cooking, of course.  But life became ridiculously busy for a few months, and the time simply was not there for photo taking, photo editing, and writing.  The arrival of autumn and the apple harvest changed that.

Strudel di MeleCara’s computer does a funny thing – every time she connects it to an LCD projector, which she does often at work, it changes the desktop image to a photo of a slice of torta di mele, apple cake, the subject of a blog post from autumns past.  Her computer executes this backdrop change entirely of its own will, with no human solicitation, as technology gadgets sometimes do.  This week, it served as a hint that it is time to do some baking.

Torta di mele

There is nothing better than baking with apples during the fall season.  Apples are native to our resident state of Minnesota, and people make weekend pilgrimages to local apple orchards for fruit to transform into apple pies, apple crisp and apple butter.

Credit: CBS Minnesota http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/top-lists/best-places-to-go-apple-picking-this-fall-near-the-twin-cities/

Credit: CBS Minnesota
http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/top-lists/best-places-to-go-apple-picking-this-fall-near-the-twin-cities/

In Italy, apples are cultivated in all regions but are particularly common to Valle d’Aosta, Piemonte, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige.  In fact, when we toured Northern Italy in summer of 2011, we were surprised to discover what looked like vineyards from a distance were actually row after row of apple trees.

Strudel di mele, a distant cousin to baklava, is a recipe with Byzantine origins.  The word strudel is borrowed from German, and it follows that the recipe is native to northern Italian regions which were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Strudel di meleGolden delicious apples are the preferred baking variety in Italy for their delicate flavor and ability to maintain structure during cooking.  However, feel free to experiment with your favorite apple.  Sultana raisins, pine nuts and a dash of rum give this baked dessert sophistication and an subtle Middle Eastern  quality.

We adapted this recipe from one we found in the Cooking section of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.  The crust was good, but not perfect.  In future versions we will experiment with a lighter and flakier crust.  If you have a favorite strudel crust recipe, please share it with us!

Strudel di mele

Ingredients
For the crust
300g (just over 2 cups) flour
50g (about 1/4 cup) sugar
100 ml (a little less than 1/2 cup) milk
1 egg
75 grams (just over 5 Tablespoons) butter, plus a few tablespoons for melting

For the filling
1 kg (2.2 lbs) apples.  We used 6 medium Golden Delicious apples
70 grams (about 5 Tablespoons) butter
2 dashes of rum
50 g (about 1/2 cup) bread crumbs.  We substituted with the soft, inside part of day-old crusty rustic bread.
100 g (about 1/2 cup) sugar
100g (just over 1/2 cup) sultana or golden raisins
50 grams (just under 1/2 cup) pine nuts
A dash of cinnamon

Other
Parchment paper

Directions
Prepare the dough for the crust by adding the sugar, 75 grams of butter, egg and milk to the flour, either in a small mixing bowl, or on a smooth counter top and forming a well in the mound of flour.  Mix vigorously until the dough is a smooth ball.  Cover with a dishcloth and set aside.

Strudel di mele

Strudel di mele

Peel and core the apples, halve them, and slice them thinly.  We used a mandolin slicer on the second-largest width setting for uniform slices.

Torta di melePlace the apples in a skillet with 70 grams of butter, and cook over medium heat until the butter is melted, stirring occasionally.  Add two generous dashes of rum, and allow the liquor to cook off.  Add the sugar, breadcrumbs, raisins and pine nuts, and cook together over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Torta di meleTorta di mele

Sprinkle flour onto a smooth work surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle of about .5 cm, (1/5 inch) thickness.  Place parchment paper onto the surface of a baking sheet, and brush a thin layer of melted butter on top of it.  Carefully transfer the sheet of dough onto the parchment paper.  The dough will extend over the edges of the baking sheet.

Torta di meleTorta di mele

Transfer the filling onto the dough and spread it lengthwise over the center of the dough.  Fold the shorter sides of the dough up over the filling, and then carefully wrap the longer sides over the filling.  Seal the dough with a bit of milk, brush melted butter over the top, and perforate the dough with a few air-holes to allow the steam out while cooking.

Torta di mele

Bake at 180° C (350 F°) for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  Allow the strudel to cool.  Serve warm or at room temperature, with a dusting of powdered sugar on top.

If you wish, accompany with an Italian Moscato such as Paolo Saracco’s Moscato d’Asti, which compliments the sweetness and tartness of the apples.

Torta di meleTorta di meleUna mela al giorno leva il medico di torno.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

 

Torta di mele

Autumn is unquestionably here.  The air is crisp, the leaves are turning.  The tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and berries that crowded the farmers market stands all summer long have given way to squash, potatoes, carrots and onions.  And there are apples – bushels and bushels of apples.  With the cool weather comes the instinct to fire up the oven again, awakening it after its summer hibernation, and bake.  This Wall Street Journal food article about a Tuscan apple cake reminded us of Italy and inspired us to make our own version of torta di mele.

Torta di mele is a classic Italian homemade treat.  As is so often true, recipes vary.  Stefano’s mom uses more flour and fewer apples, resulting in a delicate, springy cake. Our sister-in-law Valentina and her mom Marinella use less flour and more apples, which makes a more dense, almost pudding-like cake.  Our recipe is somewhere in between.

Despite these variations, a few things are true of all authentic torta di mela recipes.  While our apple crisps, pies and cobblers are heavily seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, no spices are used in the torta di mele. Only freshly squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest give the cake a light, delicate taste, and not-too-much sugar lets the natural sweetness of the apples come through.

Use Golden Delicious apples; their flavor, consistency and moisture level are perfect for this cake.

Ingredients
700g Golden Delicious apples, peeled and sliced thinly.
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
3 eggs
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
1 cup whole milk
200 g sugar (1 cup)
250 g flour (1 and 3/4 cup)
1 pouch Pane degli Angeli* (or substitute 1 teaspoon baking soda)

*Pane degli Angeli is an Italian leavening agent lightly sweetened with vanilla.  It is a common ingredient in many Italian baked goods.  If you decide to buy some, search Amazon or another online gourmet foods vendor for “Lievito Pane degli Angeli.”

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter and flour a 9″ or 10″ round cake pan, preferably a springform pan.  Set aside.

Core, peel and thinly slice the apples, and place them into a bowl.  Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the apples.  Stir and let rest.

Beat the eggs and sugar with a mixer on high speed for 5 minutes, until the mixture is light and airy.  Warm the butter until it is very soft but not melted and add it to the eggs and sugar, along with the milk and the zest of one lemon.  Stir in the butter, milk and lemon zest.

If you use Pane degli Angeli, pass it through a small strainer, such as a tea strainer, to eliminate any small clumps, and add it to the batter.  If you use baking soda, add it now.  Add the flour, and fold the dry ingredients gently into into the batter, taking care not to over-stir.  Add the apples and mix carefully until coated.

Pour the batter into your buttered and floured pan.  Arrange slices of apple around the top surface of the cake, and bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  If you wish, turn on the broiler for a few minutes at the end of cooking in order to give the top a golden brown color.

Serve warm or at room temperature for dessert, with afternoon coffee,  or even for breakfast.