Is there a fruit in the world imbued with more significance than the apple? Whether it’s Eve offering a shiny red one to Adam or your mom telling you to eat one a day, apples are more than just a simple fruit.
While Piemonte is well-known for its production of rice and wine, did you know that it is also a major producer of apples? In fact, Italy is one of the top five apple-producing nations in the world. Apples are grown in Piemonte, as well as Emilia Romagna, the Veneto, Campagna and Trentino Alto Adige.
In Piemonte, apples are grown in areas such as Cavour, Bibiana and Pinerolo. Approximately 70 per cent of the apples grown in Piemonte are of the Golden Delicious type. Another 15 per cent are of the Red Delicious cultivar. The remaining 15 per cent is comprised of a variety of apples including Gala.
The Piemontesi also turn out varieties that are designated as "Ancient Piemonte Apples". This designation has been trademarked by the Paniere of the Provincia di Torino, which recognizes the production of local products that are tied to the region’s history. There are eight antique varieties of apple that claim this designation and they have names like Buras, Calvilla bianca, Grigia di Torriana and Magnana.
As our Olympic meal slowly winds down, I decided that an apple dish would be a fitting way to begin our farewell to this region of Italy. While researching the cuisine of Piemonte, I came across a cookbook called A Passion for Piedmont by Matt Kramer. While I generally do not buy cookbooks sight unseen, I did so with this one. Call it cook’s intuition,but I just felt that this would be a treasure of Piemontesi recipes … I’m glad to say that I was right.
One of the recipes that instantly caught my eye was the Apple and Bread Crumb Cake. This is exactly the type of sweet that I would expect to see on a Piemontese table. A simple cake, it shines because of the quality of the individual ingredients, in this case, the juiciest apples and the crumbs of a rustic loaf of country bread.
The subtitle of Kramer’s book is: Italy’s Most Glorious Regional Table. My "travels" across Piemonte during these Olympics have shown me that this title is most fitting!
Apple and Bread Crumb Cake
Adapted from A Passion for Piedmont by Matt Kramer.
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- 3 pounds, Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (the original recipe indicates that you can also use McIntosh)
- 2-1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (I used a typical Italian country bread. I sliced off the crust and processed the interior of the bread in the food processor to make the fresh bread crumbs.)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 6 tablespoons apricot jam
- juice of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a loaf pan (8 x 4-inches). Line the bottom of the pan with waxed paper or parchment paper. Butter the paper and set the pan aside.
- In a large skillet, melt a 1/4 of the butter. Add the apples and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the apples have softened. This should take between 15 and 20 minutes. Once the apples are cooked transfer them to a bowl.
- In the same skillet, melt the remaining 1/2 cup of butter. Add the bread crumbs, the sugar and the cinnamon. Combine and cook over medium heat until the bread crumbs have absorbed the butter and turned golden. This should take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Once this is done you are now ready to begin assembling the cake.
- Sprinkle 1/3 of the bread crumbs in the bottom of the loaf pan and pat them down firmly with a spoon.
- Spread 1/2 of the apricot jam over this layer as smoothly as possible.
- Place half the apples over the jam, smoothing the apples out and pressing them down firmly. Sprinkle half of the lemon juice over the apples.
- Repeat with 1/3 of the bread crumbs. Spread the remaining apricot jam over the bread crumb layer and top with the remaining apples. Press down firmly to ensure that the entire loaf pan is filled and that there are no air pockets. Sprinkle the remaining lemon juice over the apples.
- Top with the final 1/3 of the bread crumbs. Press them down as evenly as possible.
- Bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until it is nicely golden and bubbling at the sides.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool completely. I advise keeping it in the loaf pan for at least eight hours before inverting it onto a plate. I left my cake in the pan for about 12 hours.
- When you’re ready to remove the cake, run a thin knife all around the sides of the pan. Carefully invert the cake onto a dish. Peel the parchment paper off.
- Serve the cake with ice cream or whipped cream.