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Nonna’s Homemade Italian Apple Cake

Italian apple cake

Italian apple cake.

I was only 5 years old when my Nonna Luigia passed away, but memories of her are vivid and the influence she had on me is everlasting. A sweet, loving woman with a warm smile and a sparkle in her eyes, Nonna always wore an apron draped across her ample body as she bustled around the kitchen preparing traditional Northern Italian meals for her husband and three sons. Her excellent home cooking was not only highly appreciated by her family, but by the numerous boarders she hosted in her home to make ends meet since immigrating to the U.S. after WWI from a small town in Trentino-Alto Adige in the Dolomite mountains

Deborah dal Fovo family

Nonna’s legendary cooking lived on through my mother, her daughter-in-law, and eventually through me. When my parents married, Nonna taught Mom how to make my father’s favorite regional Trentino dishes—but did so without recipes or verbal instruction—she showed her how it was done. My mother sat at the large table in Nonna’s kitchen avidly scribbling notes of what her mother-in-law cooked. There were no written recipes but rather a little of this, a pinch of that, how she did this, and when she did that. The room was silent without the constant chitchat I learned to know in Italian kitchens and only punctuated by chopping, pounding, and sizzle in the pan. No words were exchanged and no explanations given. This quiet was not due to reverence but simply because the two women did not speak the same language. My Nonna never learned to speak English in the 44 years she lived in the U.S. and my mother did not understand the Italian dialect her mother-in-law spoke.

 After Nonna died, my mother carried on the tradition and our dinner table was graced with all the regional Italian dishes my father loved. Polenta, risotto, torta di patate (potato cake) and the like...this is where my love of food and passion for cooking was born—at our family table. When I decided to leave the comfort and security of home to live in Italy at age 24, it was to pursue the quality lifestyle inspired by Nonna. By choosing to live my adult life in Italy, I regained my family heritage and learned not only how to be an Italian woman like Nonna, but also how to cook like her—and then some. Today, I owe my successful career as an Italian Chef and cooking instructor to the rich culture of food and cooking instilled in me as a child by Nonna and my parents.

This apple cake recipe is a tribute to my Nonna Luigia. It’s a simple, homemade cake that every woman from her region knew how to make and had a family recipe for. Since I did not have a precise recipe from my Nonna, I perfected this cake in her honor using bits and pieces of information, recollections, and professional know-how. Now, every time I make this apple cake or share it with my students and followers, I’m reminded of the precious gift she gave me.

Read more about author Deborah Dal Fovo's memories of the Dolomites and visit her website for information about signing up for her 2024 Taste Trentino Culinary Tour.

Nonna's Homemade Italian Apple Cake

Nonna's Homemade Italian Apple Cake

Recipe by Deborah Dal Fovo
3.2 from 6 votes
Servings

8-12

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

1

hour 

Ingredients

  • 1 1 untreated lemon, washed and dried

  • 2 pounds 2 /1 kilo Golden Delicious apples (about 5 apples)

  • 8 tablespoons 8 /113g unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing cake pan

  • 1/3 cup 1/3 /75ml milk

  • 1 1 3⁄4 cups/210g all-purpose or Italian ‘00’ flour, plus more for dusting pan

  • 2 teaspoons 2 /10g baking powder or Italian vanilla baking powder

  • Pinch salt

  • 2 large 2 eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 cup 1 /200g granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling cake top

  • 1 teaspoon 1 /4g vanilla extract (omit if using Italian vanilla baking powder)

  • Confectioner’s sugar to garnish cake

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C, positioning the rack in the center. Butter and flour the springform pan, then set it aside.
  • Zest the lemon using a fine grater and set aside. Cut the lemon in half.
  • Peel the apples and halve them lengthwise through the stem end. Carefully hollow out the cores with a melon ball tool: this ensures the same size hollow in each apple, creating a uniform look when sliced. Place apple halves flat side down on a cutting board and cut into half-moon slices approximately 3/16-inch thick. Transfer apple slices to a large mixing bowl, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them, and gently toss to coat using your hands.
  • Melt 7 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat, pour in the milk, and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl or bowl of an electric mixer. Using a large whisk (or whisk attachment for the mixer), beat the eggs while gradually adding the sugar. Beat until the mixture is pale yellow, creamy, and sugar grains are not felt when rubbed between two fingers, (about 3 to 5 minutes). Add the lemon zest, vanilla extract, and whisk to incorporate.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients gradually, whisking gently between additions, until just incorporated, without overworking. Pour in the butter and milk, whisking until a smooth cake batter forms.
  • Gently fold half of the apple slices into the batter until evenly distributed, reserving the remaining half to decorate the top of the cake. Don’t worry if the apples break up while folding; they will evenly distribute moisture and flavor throughout the cake. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the surface.
  • Adorn the cake surface by arranging the remaining apple slices in circular rows over the batter, fanning them out with edges slightly overlapping. Evenly sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar evenly over the apples, then dot the surface here and there with bits of the remaining 1 tablespoon butter.
  • Place the cake pan on a baking sheet and position it in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. To check for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center; it should come out clean with a few moist crumbs attached.
  • Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack before carefully removing the sides of the springform pan. Let the cake cool completely before dusting it with confectioner’s sugar and slicing into portions. Serve the apple cake on its own or with a dollop of whipped cream.

Recipe Video

Notes

  • Special equipment: 9-inch springform pan with removable bottom

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