The sun was shining but I had no desire to step outside. My head felt a little like cotton. My body, a vessel fueled by something other than blood and oxygen that morning. A little red wine goes a long way it seems. Or maybe it was the white. It could have been the absence of water. I do tend to ignore proper hydration when vino leads me by the hand.
My recovery and duty, apple cake. Roberto's mother's recipe.
I went into the drawer that houses my recipe box and retrieved the index card. Stained and warped with use. I didn't have to look very hard. It's always right near the top.
I remember the first time I tasted Annunziata's apple cake. It was a Sunday dinner. Espresso was percolating. Roberto sliced a nice wedge for me, then for himself. Sweet, moist, dense cake. I had been eyeing it up in the cake dome all afternoon. Telling myself to save room for it. Knowing full well that it really didn't matter how full I was, I had to try that cake. I won't lie, there's always room for dessert.
I can't remember with exactness when I wrote down the recipe, but I do remember the first time I watched Annunziata make it. She pulled the blue and white checkered tea towel off of her stand mixer and starting gathering the ingredients. She peeled and sliced the apples, tossed with cinnamon and sugar. Combined the dry ingredients and then set about beating the wet together. When everything had finished mingling in the mixer, she poured half of the batter into a greased and floured tube pan. The second layer of the cake, the apples. The final, the remainder of the batter.
I remember how nervous I was when I first tried the recipe. I'm always nervous trying out a new recipe. It's science to me, that first time. I have to be exacting, otherwise how am I to know if the recipe truly works. I feel obligated to extend that respect to the author, or to the mother, in this case.
Problem is, the author of this recipe doesn't use a teaspoon measure, she uses a teaspoon. Her cups of this or that aren't leveled, they're scooped. Therefore my version didn't rise as high or taste as sweet. That said, Roberto still appreciated the effort and managed to convince me that it tasted good.
It tasted good.
Years later, I've tweaked the recipe only slightly. I still use my exacting measures, but I've reduced the amount of sugar by half. My version, having never fully realized height, is denser and less sweet.
So, the entire afternoon was spent recuperating in the kitchen. While the cake was baking I was prepping a salad for a late lunch. After that I prepared a batter for molten chocolate cakes, Nigella's recipe, that we would be bringing to some friends later that evening.
When Roberto finally came in from cleaning the courtyard and patio, he said he smelled the cake baking.
'Did it smell good?' I asked. His response, 'Yes, it smelled good'. A silly question to ask, in retrospect. It smelled wonderful. Apples, cinnamon, sugar.
This is the kind of cake that improves with age. Each day the flavors intensify, the crumb becomes a little more moist. Not to mention it's a lovely site to behold under the cake dome.
To make my version of one Italian mother's apple cake, you'll need:
Stand up mixer with paddle attachment
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 large apples (your preference)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
Grease and flour tube pan. Set aside.
Peel and slice apples. In a bowl, blend apples and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a second bowl whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.
In mixing bowl, beat sugar with eggs, one egg at a time. Add canola oil, mix until combined. Add orange juice and vanilla, mix until combined.
In thirds, add dry mixture. Mix until just combined.
Pour half of the batter into tube pan. Layer apples. Cover apples with remaining batter.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, 10 minutes.
Cake is ready when a tester (I usually use a butter knife) comes out dry.
Let cake cool completely before removing from pan. Although, feel free to disregard this, as I can never wait that long to place into cake dome and slice a piece for testing purposes. Enjoy with the one you love.