Edwardian grandma has taken a break from cake making (and, therefore, blogging) over the summer – too many calories!
However, early in July I spent four days in the delightful Albergo La Marina in the quiet seaside town of Deiva Marina, close to the beautiful Cinque Terre, Italy. It was a spur of the moment decision to head to the Ligurian coast. We’d been staying in Lake Como, but the threat of bad weather sent us off in search of the sun.
Deiva Marina one of those quiet Italian resorts where Italian grannies spend the summer months playing canasta with their friends and minding their grandchildren. We’d found the Albergo La Marina on a Google search on an iPhone. It was the top hotel in the resort on TripAdvisor – there are only four hotels!
From the first phone call with the owner’s son Marco to our departure day we couldn’t fault this charming hotel. Family run and recently renovated, the hotel was simple, spotlessly clean with crisp white sheets and fabulous food cooked by mamma Ana.
For 30 years Ana has been cooking Ligurian dishes such as seafood spaghetti, fresh swordfish, handmade pasta and pesto. She also makes homemade cake for the breakfast buffet. Yes, cakes for breakfast! And why not?
I couldn’t leave Albergo La Marina without a recipe from mamma Ana. Elena on reception, who spoke excellent English, was going to translate the recipe from Italian, but we were leaving and didn’t have time.
The recipe was simply a list of ingredients, an oven temperature and an approximate cooking time. Rather like the recipes in Edwardian Grandma’s little book, but in Italian. I’d assumed this was a recipe for an apple cake as we’d eaten Ana’s cakes for breakfast.
Back home I translated the list of ingredients and then realised that I didn’t have a clue about methods. Any good Italian cook would know what what to do so wouldn’t need instructions – just as my granny didn’t need to write down how to make a basic Victoria sponge.
I Googled Italian apple cake and found several recipes with photographs of what definitely looked like a cake. So, assuming that I was making a cake, I creamed butter and sugar together, then added the eggs and flour. The mixture was a bit stiff, so I added milk as instructed in the recipe.
Almost an hour later my cake looked done, so I turned it out onto a cooling rack and it fell apart. It looked like a complete disaster, but actually tasted delicious and we ended up eating it as a pudding with cream.
I emailed Elena who came back immediately to tell me that I should have been making a pie! She even sent a photograph of how the ingredients must be worked together using a method the Italians call ‘a fontana’.
This time it seemed to work and I emailed Elena a photograph of my apple tart or pie – it was given the seal of approval.
So, here is the recipe for Ana’s torte de mele – a rich tart of two discs of pastry sandwiched with apple and amaretto biscuits. The pastry is almost a cross between a sweet dessert pastry and shortbread. It’s a tart that tastes of Italy and begs to be accompanied with a decent cappuccino.
Below is Mamma Ana in her kitchen
Mamma’s Torta Di Mele (apple tart)
350g plain flour
1 egg & 1 egg yolk
Grated zest if one lemon
Pinch of salt
Half packet baking powder – 1 1/2 tsps
3 large apples – peeled and sliced – cook partially so that they retain their shape (note: use dessert apples such as Golden Delicious or Granny Smith’s. You may need four or even five if they’re small to medium as Italian apples tend to be very large)
Crushed amaretto biscuits 10 – 12
Prepare a 26 cm diameter round tin – a loose bottomed tin is best
Oven 180 degrees for 40 mins (exact time depends on your oven – the tart should be a pale gold)
Put the flour onto a pastry board, ideally made of wood or marble and create a hole in the middle. Then you put butter (at room temperature), then the eggs, the sugar, the salt, the baking powder and the grated lemon. This is the ‘fontana’.
Knead fast to create an elastic paste. If it crumbles away don’t worry, just add some cold water or half a yolk. And if it’s too hard, add some milk.
Divide the pastry into two and roll out two circles to fit the tin. Put one in the base of the tin, top with the apples and then sprinkle over the crushed amaretto biscuits (this melt into the apples). Top with the other disc of pastry and bake for approximately 40 minutes. I sprinkled icing sugar on mine.
I must thank my better half Roger for the lovely image of the Albergo La Marina. He’s taken several of the photographs for this blog and in return gets to taste the recipes.